Heaven Hath No Fury: Prologue

It was the one day in the Heavens where gods could make wishes, and these words passed from the lips of the King to the Minister of the Department of Wishes.

The older brother of Miho, Goddess of Corvus.

He knew his sister’s shadow had been crowded by the King most recently, but that she, like him perhaps, was not one to bow so easily.

Her position among the gods, her role in the Heavens, and perhaps most poignantly the nature of her power, had led her to live a life resistant to romantic entanglements – for if she had the ability to seduce a person, convince them to do what she desired with just her words alone, she feared anyone for whom she developed fondness might question if their reciprocation was their own will, or hers.

She refused to set herself up for heartbreak like that.

And so she chose to love no one, and allowed no one to love her.

But the Goddess of Corvus, whose talents were best used for convincing the souls of the dead to move on to their next incarnation, was beautiful, perhaps even more so in that she had made herself unattainable. Myriad gods and goddesses tried to woo her, but she was impervious, isolating herself but for the relationships she required for her work, most often with the Department of Punishments.

Through this, the cool, often frightening God of Libra, narrowed his steely gaze upon the goddess and sought to change her mind. It took years of subtle suggestion and persistence, clear statements of intention and infallible follow-through, before Zyglavis could even get her to entertain the possibility of allowing him into her heart.

Doubt, however, was always there. She wondered when he would turn around and accuse her of deception, accuse her of manipulating his feelings for her own ends; of this, she could never quite let go.

These changes in her, the slowly developing bond between she and Zyglavis did not go unnoticed.

Ever selfish and flippant in his complete disregard for anyone other than himself, the King of the Heavens called Miho to him, and expressed his decision to make her his.

Like her brother, she was defiant.

It was not out of disrespect of course, and who would not have been flattered by compliments from that silver tongue? That magnificent creature? Who would not appreciate the benefits one would receive from such courtship? Miho understood all these things, but she had only just come to open herself up to Zyglavis, Zyglavis who had worked so hard to earn her guarded trust – and the King, for all the dominion he held, was not to be trusted.

Callous.

Demanding.

Even malicious.

Rejection was met with not unexpected retribution.

The King forbade her from seeing Zyglavis completely, stripped her of her position and exiled her to isolation where only he might visit, but the more he pushed, the more resolute Miho became. He could not command her to love him.

Leon demanded his sister be released, facing down the King to whom he was second in power, but the King was unmoved. Zyglavis’ protests also fell upon deaf ears, and so the Goddess of Corvus remained in her divine cage, an unwilling and increasingly melancholy pet.

And then came that night, that single night each year when the wishes of the gods themselves could be granted – and to Leon’s ears came a most insistent wish:

“I wish for the Goddess of Corvus to fall blindly, passionately in love with me.”

Many times the King had wrought unhappiness upon those he claimed to love, toying with their feelings, testing their loyalty and expecting nothing short of absolute obedience. If there was one law no one ever broke, it was that the orders of the King were inviolate.

Still he could not command her to love him… but he could, on that day require her own brother to fulfil a wish that would steal away her free will.

Testing the King’s patience, Leon visited her, the normally arrogant god humble in his apology to her – he would have to comply, this wish would be granted, and she would never even know how she had been so terribly wronged. All she would understand was an all-consuming want for the King’s affections, an unreserved and blinkered need, and a soul-deep love she could not, nor would not want to, question.

When it was done, the King welcomed Miho into his arms, lavishing unparalleled adoration upon her, and she felt happy beyond any measure she had ever known. She thought nothing of the doubts she’d harboured over taking chances with Zyglavis, in fact thought nothing of Zyglavis at all. Upon the King’s arm, a superb trophy, she thought only of how she might best please him.

And she did, at his every whim, her desperation to bring him the utmost pleasure, nullifying any concept that this splendiferous immortal had taken something from her that could never be given back.

Something she might once have given to Zyglavis.

Perhaps he should have fought harder for her, if he had truly, genuinely loved her? But he did not, had to live knowing Miho laid with the King not actually through choice, and it was a dreadful burden of pain that haunted him – it haunted him even after the fickle King’s lust for Miho waned.

Though she gave him everything, the Goddess of Corvus soon found even her most daring, displays of devotion for the King were not enough to keep him interested. He shunned her, disinterested, dismissed her, treated her like a ghost – a whisper of the past even though for her he was so intensely the focus of her present.

And she diminished, became a pining shadow slowly eaten away by unrequited love.

The perfect prey, a perfect weapon for the likes of the Dark King.

Though sealed away long, long ago by the King himself, the Dark King was not so ill informed as one might think. Through minions, deities likewise disgruntled by the King’s cruelty, the Dark King saw Miho as an ideal tool with which to strike at the King and the Minister for the Department of Wishes both.

He sent his strongest ally to visit upon her in the dead of night, when her pillow was already heavy with tears, to lift the veil obscuring the truth.

Into her receptive ear he poured promises of vengeance, fanning the flames of her now unbridled outrage, of love upturned, turned sour, turned vitriolic. He offered his hand, his help, and readily she took it – for what was left there in the Heavens for her but objects of ire?

Rumour had it she simply vanished, willing herself out of existence. Other gossip said the King himself had banished her from the Heavens. Another story suggested he’d killed her for denying him. Not even the King knew where she had gone, but speak of her brought about his wrath, and in time Miho, Goddess of Corvus, became a distant memory to all but a scarce few.

Astoria: In Chaos – Part Seven

Though Miho laughed, Cyprin was clearly trying not to hit out at Hydra with their aura.

“Hydra!” Jazz barked, and he momentarily stopped.

Jazz,” he acknowledged, licking his lips.

Oh, how she knew that look.

“What’s going on?” Cyprin managed, straightening out their clothing.

“Everyone is the building is on heat,” Miho chimed in, even as Jazz fended Hydra off and warned him to calm down.

“How about you then?” Hydra leered, side stepping Jazz and grabbing Miho’s wrist faster than either she or Jazz could intervene.

“No thanks,” Miho laughed, but his grip tightened and he nudged her against the wall.

“Hydra!” Jazz growled, reaching for him as Miho protested again.

“Get off!” she snapped, no longer laughing, no longer smiling.

His face grew closer, a split second from contact when Miho spoke the second syllable lept from her lips, Hydra stalled.

Blinking like he’d just woken, Hydra had very little time to consider his proximity to Miho, before Jazz pulled him back so hard he stumbled across the office.

“Jeez,” Miho exhaled heavily, slumping a little.

“What the hell?” Hydra gasped, touching his mouth with the back of his hand like he’d actually kissed Miho.

“Yeah,” Miho agreed, looking back out into the hallway to find the semi-naked threesome participants sitting up and looking dazed, then horrified.

“Agent Mann,” Cyprin prompted. “Whatever just happened is going ot have substantial fallout.”

Nodding, Jazz glanced at Miho.

“You okay?”

Fabulous,” Miho replied. “Not sure how, but if I can do something to help with the mop… up…”

Yeah… ew… that wasn’t really what she meant.

“Let’s get on with critical incident protocol,” Cyprin said. “You’re welcome to assist Agent Mann, Miss Fujiwara,” they added.

“Just stay close,” Jazz told her and Miho inclined her head. “That came out of nowhere…”

He he, get it, came out of nowhere?

“… there’s no telling what else might happen.”

“Frogs from the sky,” Miho murmured.

For the rest of the day, Miho worked with Jazz, consoling distraught HERA staff, assessing their needs, and filling out referral documents for appropriate services. It was rewarding when you put aside the bizarreness of what had occurred. At the end of the day, there was still no explanation as to what caused everyone to suddenly become so horny they couldn’t resist one another; all HERA knew, was it had occurred locally, spreading no further than the building.

Day 31

Agents and administrative staff were understandably reserved the following day, edgy, wondering if some unseen force would drive them toward lewd acts again – or worse.

Miho had slept through the same dream of being chased by Zeus and friends to the whooshing, rhythmic sound from above.

In a tangle of blankets she woke with a start and nearly fell from the bunk. Breathing heavily, she took some time to calm herself before getting dressed. She’d always managed on her own, lived on her own, been fine on her own, but now she found herself wishing she could wake beside Hades… and not just because the ‘wake up’ was amazing.

She greeted Jazz with a yawn and went through the motions of a yawn, before asking if she could spend some time with Mieke in achieves.

“Cyprin wants me investigating what happened yesterday,” Jazz told her.

“The archives are pretty well guarded though, right?” Miho pressed. “Should be fine, and it’s like you said, Zeus would be an idiot to attack the building head on.”

“After yesterday I’m not leaving anything to chance,” Jazz said, ignoring Miho’s sigh. “Don’t tell me you’re stir crazy already.”

“Not stir crazy,” Miho frowned, “just – I don’t have a whole lot of friends, and it would be nice to at least see the one I can talk to about all this stuff. I also need to make sure she’s okay after yesterday.”

“Send her a message, she can meet us for P.T. this morning,” Jazz compromised.

“P.T.? Doing what?”

“Cardio and weights in the gym, sparring, then swimming,” Jazz listed, and Miho stretched her arms above her head.

“You and me, sparing?” she grinned. “No auras though, that would be cheating.”

“Sure,” Jazz smiled, accepting the challenge.

Naturally, Jazz knocked Miho on her ass a whole number of times – her training making her far superior to a mere journalist – but that wasn’t to say Miho didn’t have her moments. Mieke cheered and grinned when Miho pulled a number of dirty tricks to gain the upper hand, and in the face of criticism declared when it came to physical combat there should be no rules.

“Normal baddies don’t play by the rules,” she argued, stepping out of the women’s change room with both other women behind her, “I don’t imagine the godly monster kind would be any different.”

“It’s not about rules,” Jazz argued, “rather technique.”

“I have technique,” Miho laughed.

“Dirty fighting is not a technique,” Jazz persisted. “You know as an agent here, you’ll have to pass a number of physical tests.”

“So you accepted the offer?” Mieke queried, looking happy.

Luckily for her, yesterday had been her day off, so she’d not been caught up in the libido incident.

“More or less,” Miho nodded, dipping her toe in the luke warm water of the indoor swimming pool. “We got a little distracted, what with Zeus and all.”

Her comment was flippant, but Mieke knew her well enough to see the vague shadow of uncertainty in Miho’s eyes.

Perhaps to hide this fact, Miho lined herself up with the edge of the pool, and arched a graceful dive. Her body broke the surface, but the impact was a little harder than it should have been, not because she had misaligned her entry, but because the water was…

“Wha!” Miho gasped, struggling to the blue, giggling surface and grappling for the pool’s edge.

“Is that…” Jazz began, but Mieke finished for her as she helped pull Miho to safety.

“Jello.”

“I like jello as much as the next person,” Miho said, trying to wring the sticky goop from her hair, “but only if naked men are wrestling in it.”

Though they might have liked to ponder that a little more, or at the very least access the Tres Spades Jello Tournament fiction, Jazz contacted Cyprin while Mieke went to change and Miho slipped into a shower stall.

Except when she turned the taps, a steady blue stream of sloppy jello emerged.

“Uuuuugh,” she growled, stomping out and turning on one of the basin taps to find much the same. “Great, guess I’m staying sticky.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Mieke snickered, and Miho swatted her backside.

“I’d have thought HERA would have some kind of protection against stuff like this,” she grumbled.

“I’m not sure anyone anticipated water turning to jello,” Mieke argued, handing Miho a towel.

“Looks like the whole building has been affected,” Jazz reported, striding back into the change room. “Toilets blocked…”

“Showers useless,” Miho huffed.

“… catering is in an uproar,” Jazz finished.

“On the bright side, the jello isn’t trying to hump anyone,” Miho added.

Later that day in Cyprin’s office, they confirmed agents had been unable to discover the origin of the power that had unceremoniously transformed the building’s water to blue jello. Though once again it had only affected the single HERA building – not the primary building, and none of the agents reported anything offsite – the daily operations of the organisation were seriously impeded.

And it didn’t get much better.

When furniture started to move around on its own as if alive – fridges chasing people out of kitchens, chairs refusing to be sat on, tables rolling onto their backs – there was no way work could be done in the building, and most HERA employee were forced to evacuate.

This included Miho and Jazz, who – with armed agents just in case – left for Jazz’s apartment. A black town-car drove carefully in front of them, and there was also one at their flank; their presence actually made her more nervous.

“My very own motorcade,” she smirked, burying her apprehension behind her smile.

“Don’t let it go to your head,” Jazz sniffed.

“Oh believe me, I’d prefer we could do our thing without the need for armed guards,” Miho declared. “And, well, thank you for letting me stay at your place. I know Hydra only didn’t put up a fuss because of what happened yesterday.”

It wasn’t like Miho was rude, but it seemed a bit out of character for her to thank Jazz just like that; Jazz looked at her sideways just brief, and found Miho peering back at her honestly.

“You’re welcome,” Jazz smiled. “We moved to a bigger apartment not so long ago so, he’ll be there later but you probably won’t notice him unless something happens.”

“If Zeus messes up your apartment, I’ll kick his ass,” Miho huffed, and Jazz laughed.

“You’ll have to get in li…”

The conclusion of her sentence was swallowed by a monstrous flash of lightning that hit the lead car, but it was hardly normal lightning. Before Jazz’s reflexes could kick in, the car in front leapt into the air and was engulfed by flame, flipping on its side.

No matter how quickly Jazz slammed on the brakes, there was no avoiding collision, as their car skidded in the treacherous conditions. Desperately, she lurched across the centre console against the vehicle’s momentum and grabbed hold of Miho as best she could, enveloping them both in Hera’s protective shield a mere split second before impact.

Grimacing against the strain of high velocity metal bending around them, the stress of absorbing the speed at which they hit the other car, Jazz could do little more than close her eyes and concentrate. To them both it seemed as if they moved forever, when in truth their crunching spin lasted but a few second then stopped, before the trailing car hit and slammed them up against a brick building.

When the screaming ceased, and the mangled cabin of their vehicle was filled with the two women panting.

They’re in a car wreck, get your mind out of the gutter!

“You okay?” Jazz hissed, immediately tugging away her seatbelt.

“Okay is not the right word,” Miho gasped. “How are we even still alive? We are alive right?”

“Not for long if we don’t get out,” Jazz growled, swivelling in her chair and beginning to kick at her door. “That was Zeus.”

“Figures,” Miho volleyed, searching for something to break her window that was miraculously still intact.

An old-fashioned steering lock caught her attention, and she stretched to reach it on the floor before swinging as best she could. The roar of further thunder-claps and the accompanying lightning muffled the shatter of glass, but Miho was more concerned about the heat growing from the crumpled bonnet and radiating through where the windshield used to be.

“This way,” she barked, beginning her awkward climb out the window.

And Jazz didn’t hesitate to follow, her mind a blur of what she was going to do after they were both free. Through snow and slush, they scrambled away from their vehicle like it might explode at any moment, but Jazz grabbed Miho and pulled her to a stop when Artemis stepped around one of the burning town-cars.

“I suppose it makes sense you’d be guarding Hades’ pet,” Artemis maligned, stepping slowly, deliberately around what looked to be a smouldering car door. “But what a waste.”

“I am no one’s pet,” Miho spat, her nose wrinkling and her lips drawing back into a sneer.

“Ha!” Artemis laughed. “Hera may as well be a golden cage. You can sing all you like, but they will keep you locked away until you forget how to sing.”

“Complex metaphor,” Miho nodded. “I didn’t expect that from someone so stupid looking.”

“Damnit, Miho,” Jazz hissed through her teeth, urging her backwards until the world flashed and was shook by thunder so close it rattled around inside Miho for some time.

“Get out of the way,” Zeus drawled at Jazz, a man seeming several hundred feet tall though he wasn’t dissimilar in height to Hades.

“You have got to stop whatever you’re doing here, Zeus,” Jazz declared, but her tone leaned toward pleading. “Can’t you see what is happening to the world?”

“You would blame me, when all I ever wanted was the one I love returned to my side!” Zeus growled, lifting his hands.

“Oh shit,” Miho murmured, doing her best to resist the urge to close her eyes, but she jumped against Jazz suddenly, when something abruptly splattered against the ground before them, and it wasn’t Zeus’ wrath.

Unless Zeus’ wrath now looked like a bloody, frog-pancake.

“Is that…” Jazz began, but paused when the sky rained down an amphibious hail of Kermit the Frog’s extended family.

Artemis looked to Zeus, but Zeus’ fierce gaze was fixed on Jazz.

And as the wind picked up and began to dance down the street in whirling dervishes, frog filled tornadoes swept in from both ends of the street.

“Hey! Down here ladies!” came a voice above the frognadoes.

Yeah, frognado.

Dripping with frog guts, a sewer grate to Miho’s left shifted away, and head popped up.

“Quickly!” the figure below urged.

Their pinkish-grey eyes peered up, dark grey, curly hair swishing around strong shoulders. A hand reached for Miho’s ankle, but Miho pulled back, just as Jazz dragged her from the path of an arrow fired by Artemis.

“Or you can stay there and be slaughtered if you’d prefer,” the individual below sniffed dismissively, but Miho had already crouched.

“I’m convinced!” she quipped, dropping her butt into the slush before lowering her legs into the manhole.

“Don’t you dare defy me!” Zeus roared, and more lightning cracked against Jazz’s shield, a violent spray of sparks and peacock feathers attesting to the sheer power Jazz had to resist.

“Hurry, hurry,” the unnamed person muttered, very nearly dragging Jazz into the darkness.

“Ack!” Miho squeaked, movement around her feet suddenly leaping toward the brightness of the manhole, revealing a great torrent of fuzzy rat bodies. “No, no, no, no, I hate rats, not rats, not rats, why did it have to be rats?”

“The rats are your friends,” their rescuer declared, taking Miho’s wrist with one hand, and generating a gentle light that illuminated the narrow sewer tunnel.

The frosty sludge.

The grimy bricks.

And a really, really big crocodile.

“Don’t mind Agnes, she’ll guard our retreat, so less talking and more running.”

Miho was then dragged into motion, and Jazz followed closely behind.

As they travelled at speed, other small critters – including mice and several cats – joined their little procession through the undercity, with Agnes lumbering behind. There was no evidence of pursuit, but such were the twists and turns they took, even if Zeus or Artemis had entered the sewers behind them, Miho thought they would have seriously difficulty locating them.

“Where are we going?” Jazz demanded to know.

“As far from angry Zeus as possible, Hera,” their leader replied.

Of course, this caused Jazz to blinked, for her soul’s identity wasn’t common street knowledge. She chose, however, to say nothing, as the tunnel widened suddenly before them, filled with light emanating from a multitude of tiny, delicate, glowing mushrooms.

Miho might have appreciated the sight, if she wasn’t so out of breath having fled the wrath of top tier gods on a rampage, and that there was now a mouse peeking out from her collar.

“Tea?” the nymph offered blithely as she climbed down a ladder into the surprisingly clean and homely space.

“Who are you?” Miho gasped, nearly losing her footing as she also descended.

“Jackie,” they answered, peeking a little cheekily over their shoulder and tossing Miho a wink.

“Well, that explains everything,” Miho snorted. “But thank you for the assist.”

“I can’t get reception down here,” Jazz scowled, her face dark, her eyes now a little watery; she had – after all – just lost several colleagues.

“So Jackie… you’re a…” Miho prompted, heading to where Jackie had a spotless kitchenette.

“Nymph,” they replied cheerfully. “Chamomile?”

“Yeah, I’m definitely in shock,” Miho grunted, finding herself a place to sit, slumping forward a little and dislodging her little mouse friend.

“You’re safe here,” Jackie assured, chorused by the soft prattle of a boiling kettle. “Zeus is fucking crazy.”

“I need to get in contact with HERA,” Jazz blustered, burying her upset behind a veneer of cold calm, “but there is no reception.”

“There’s a landline over there, go ahead and use it,” Jackie said, pointing over at a retro, circular dial phone. “But best you don’t have them ferreting around down here searching for us, there are all sorts of nasty things.”

Her brow twitching, Jazz lifted the phone receiver from its cradle and began to dial, while Miho stared at her shaking hands.

“How did you even know?” she whispered, and Jackie responded.

“It’s my business to know what’s going on in Astoria,” they answered lightly, carefully handing Miho a steaming mug of sweet-smelling tea. “So when Zeus and Artemis make landfall, I’m there to find out why; aaaand there you are, Hades’ squeeze.”

“How do you even know that?” Miho exhaled, lowering the mug without taking a sip.

Bringing up Hades made her realise, that in such a short time she had come to miss him, that in the aftermath of what she had just escaped, his arms around her was what she wanted most.

“Aw, don’t worry,” Jackie soothed, plopping down beside Miho and putting a slightly muscular arm around her shoulder, “I’m sure Hades, and probably some of the other super gods will high-tail it down here once they learn you and Hera were attacked in the open street like that.”

Turning her head, Miho peered at the nymph closely.

There was a strange, androgynous beauty about them, a near hypnotising depth to their eyes that made Miho forget they were in a sewer – until Jazz let out a loud breath and put the phone receiver down.

“Cyprin thinks it’s too dangerous to go back to the beta HQ right now,” she reported, flicking her braid over her shoulder. “There was nothing officially recorded about our plan, or the route we were taking, so it may be there is a mole in HERA feeding Zeus information.”

“Lovely,” Miho sniffed, cracking her neck. “I hope Hades gets the opportunity really kick Zeus’ ass for this.”

“So,” Jackie prompted, slithering her arm away from Miho, “what’s the plan?”

“Can you get us topside?” Jazz asked, but she assumed since the nymph appeared to live in, and move around through the sewers, they had the ability to get just about anywhere.

“Of course,” they smiled – not arrogantly, but simply proud of their own abilities. “Tell me where you need to be, I’ll get you there.”

“Great, I’ll have Hydra meet us, say, behind Queens Library at Broadway?”

“No problem,” Jackie nodded, and Jazz returned to the phone, presumably to call Hydra.

“So what’s gotten Zeus’ panties in such a twist over you?” Jackie then enquired, focusing back on Miho. “Love triangle?”

At this Miho nearly choked on her own breath.

“Hell no!” she coughed. “Zeus is a grade-A cunt, stomping around with an aura of hubris far bigger than lightning bolts he’s killed HERA agents with,” she spat out, the colour rising in her face.

The increase in volume of her voice also caused various rodents milling around to sit up on their hind legs and look over – black beady eyes curious for a second before…

Butterflies.

All of them with a quiet whooshing noise, ceased to be rats and mice, and began fluttering around the space on delicate, brightly coloured wings making no sounds at all.

“Umm, which one of you was that?” Jackie frowned, scrutinising a lacy opalescent butterfly that had landed on the back of her hand.

“It wasn’t you?” Jazz asked.

“Well don’t look at me,” Miho shrugged, but Jazz was looking at her.

“Okay, coincidence is one thing, but if I ignore all the circumstantial evidence much longer, Miho, readers are going to get pissed off.”

“About friggin’ time I got some super powers,” Miho nodded. “But, my transmutation skills are just as out of practice as my necromancy,” she replied.

“All that happened at HERA HQ, only happened when you were there,” Jazz insisted, narrowing her eyes and batting a couple of fluttering insects away. “And then the frogs on the street? You were there.”

“So were you,” Miho pointed out, peering at her hands like they were the source.

“Hey, frog and butterflies are cool,” Jackie grinned. “Do something else.”

“If it’s me, I’m not doing it on purpose,” Miho admitted. “So in advance, I’m sorry if you end up as a butterfly, or a frog, or a sentient piece of furniture.”

“You’d better no,” Jazz scowled. “As if this isn’t already complicated enough.”

“What was that thing Zeus dug up?” Miho exhaled heavily, shaking her head.

“You know about that?” Jackie piped up, leaning their face closer to Miho.

“You mean, you don’t know?” Miho countered, and Jackie’s brow twitched. “Isn’t it your business to know?”

“Well obviously I won’t know this until you tell me,” Jackie volleyed. “So spill it. What about Chaos?”

“Chaos is right,” Miho sniffed. “Zeus dug up a glowy thing, and now it’s in me.”

“Ooooh, well that’s a whole different level of pain,” Jackie declared, and their expression made Miho feel genuinely uncomfortable. “Zeus stopped flailing about in a tantrum a while ago and started making plans to retake his position at the head of the Pantheon, but he didn’t have enough power, even after recruiting other gods to his cause.”

Though Jazz wanted to get in contact with Hydra as quickly as possible, she couldn’t pass up this kind of information, and began listening intently.

“And where better than in New York to find congealed deposits of Chaos’ energy?” Jackie smiled, like it was all no big deal. “I’ll be honest though,” they continued. “It’s a bit weird you ended up with it – how’d that happen?”

“It just did,” Miho answered. “Hades and I encountered Zeus and friends uncovering this angry ball of light, that then just came at me and… poof…”

Lightly, she tapped her chest.

“It just, seeped in,” she sighed. “Aaand, now it’s apparently frogs and butterflies.”

“Chaos sought you out,” Jackie concluded. “Ouch.”

“Well, how do I get it out?” Miho exhaled, then swallowed.

Jackie shrugged.

“No clue,” they admitted. “But the saying shit happens? Oh, shit is going to happen because of you from now on.”

“Because I needed more of that in my life,” Miho grunted, looking to Jazz. “HERA can help with this right? I mean, Chaos, can’t stay in me, look at the city right now – the last thing it needs is more anarchy.”

“Amen to that,” Jackie agreed. “So, maybe you should get your boy on the horn?”

With a nod, Jazz returned to the phone to contact Hydra, while Miho stared intently at the butterfly sitting on the back of her hand.

“Cheeseburger,” she whispered, flaring at the inset, but it did nothing but slowly flap its wings in contempt. “Bah, I’m not hungry anyway.”

“Understandable,” Jackie smiled sadly. “I doubt any of those HERA guys survived the crash.”

“Way to make me feel better, Jackie,” Miho grumbled, lifting her eyes to focus on Jazz.

Miho could see the strain through Jazz’s professionalism, and it made her angry.

“Zeus is going to pay for thi…”

Poof.

The butterflies disappeared, and tiny sparks filled the air; agitated, white oscillations cutting jagged paths through the air.

“Ahh, if you’re going to explode, could you maybe wait until we get to street level?” Jackie pleaded, and Miho closed her eyes against their burn.

“Let’s go,” Jazz prompted, slipping her hand around Miho’s and pulling her to her feet.

Without Jackie, Jazz wondered if they’d ever have made it out of the sewers. The smell had faded to the very edge of their awareness, but the gloom seemed to stick to their skin.

When natural light finally returned, they blinked furiously against the bright, and Hydra had wrapped his arms around Jazz before her eyes had adjusted to the glare.

“Don’t tell me to let you go,” he growled against her neck, ignoring both Miho and Jackie who stood close by.

“Believe me,” Jazz murmured, just as happy to feel his warmth as he seemed to desire hers, “I’d like to stay just like this, but…”

“It’s too dangerous out in the open,” he filled in, separating from her enough to look into her face, “but you’re not hurt are you?”

“No,” she smiled, “but things are a whole lot more complicated now. We’d better get going.”

“Thanks for the help, Jackie,” Miho said, and the nymph gave her a bright smile that twinkled in their eyes.

“No problem,” they grinned, giving Miho a light hip bump. “I could leave a rat with you, you know, in case you need my help again.”

“Umm, no rats,” Miho rushed, shaking her head furiously, and Jackie laughed.

“Eh, I’ll be keeping tabs on you anyway,” they chuckled. “Stay out of Zeus’ way okay?”

“That’s the plan,” Miho nodded, and joined Jazz and Hydra at his car.

Astoria: In Chaos – Part Six

MAJOR SMUT ‘WARNING’ … no REALLY.

Day 29

Miho woke before Hades, despite the fact he didn’t really need to sleep at all. He was lying on his stomach, one arm draped over hers, his head facing her.

“Well, now you’ve gone and done it,” she said to herself. “An Olympian god has a toothbrush in your bathroom.”

Chewing her lower lip, she continued the study of his face, until the light trace of her finger down his cheek roused him from slumber.

“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty,” Miho smiled, unable to keep her lips from turning upward.

The slow blink of his amethyst eyes as sleep slowly receded, was really cute.

Suddenly, however, Miho found herself pressed into the mattress, Hades’ weight against her, and her lips captured.

“Gah!” she gasped, when he released her. “What was that for?”

“Do I really require a reason to kiss you first thing in the morning?” he queried, eye contact so close. “Especially when you’re thinking such cheeky thoughts.”

“I was doing no such thing,” she huffed, wriggling a little, but she fell still suddenly when she felt his hand trail slowly down her torso and over her hips. “Okay, maybe I was… pondering,” she corrected, inhaling as Hades lifted his chest away from hers, in order to slide his hand to the hem of her nightgown and beneath.

“Pondering what, exactly?” he prompted, brushing just his fingertips through the fine, manicured triangle of her bush.

“Uh,” she breathed, spreading her legs a little wider in open invitation. “You know? I don’t remember.”

“Hmm, okay,” he whispered, speaking the words against her earlobe before nipping at it lightly. “Why don’t you tell me what you are thinking now?”

“I… am thinking Mieke won’t be up yet,” she sighed, his fingers beginning slow, lazy circles around her clit, “so there’s no way she’ll interrupt us this time.”

“You’re thinking about Agent Genever?” he snorted, biting down a little harder, and Miho let out a little yelp, soothed by the probing pressure of several fingers wormed inside her.

“Not anymore,” she exclaimed breathily, her hips lifting to meet his hand each time he plunged into her with increasing speed. “Only you,” she muttered. “All I can see, and think, and feel… is you.”

“Good,” he murmured against her skin, his tongue wandering down her throat. “Means you aren’t thinking about your neighbours hearing us.”

“What neighbours?” she panted, gripping his shoulders and urging him to roll to the side.

Taking the hint, Hades moved, and Miho’s hand dove into his boxer briefs to stroke him in rhythm with each lusty penetration.

When Miho’s ministrations began to falter, her breathing irregular and her eyes rolled back a little, she squeezed out broken words that made no sense – just hitching, utterances meant to reflect the incoherence the force of her orgasm flushed through her body.

A euphoric heat.

A beautiful pain.

A shudder and complete loss of bodily control, but safe wrapped in Hades’ arms.

“Not a bad way to start the day hmm?” he smiled, stroking her hair as the quivering subsided, and focus returned to her lidded eyes.

“Lucky I’m still conscious,” she eventually managed, kissing him fiercely before throwing off the covers and straddling his legs. “Or you’d not get this,” she grinned, wrapping her lips around his cock and sliding it into her mouth slowly.

“Maybe, I am not… finished with you yet,” he grated out, torn between the urge to push his head back into the pillow, or watch the tenacious bob of Miho’s head.

“Uh huh,” she hummed against his head, trailing the tip of her tongue around the ridge of his foreskin, following each pulsating vein.

When she dared to graze her teeth against the supple skin, Hades lifted his head a little – not in alarm, but perhaps more in surprise.

“This,” she smirked, looking along his solid abs to his face, “is for the presumptuous toothbrush placement.”

But her nibbling was gentle, not cautious, but certainly careful, from the tip to the base, before she sucking one testicle into her mouth.

“Oh… gah…” Hades exclaimed as her hand resumed its grip on his length. “Miho… you…”

Releasing him from her mouth made a delicious, wet slapping noise, and again Miho lifted her head.

“That look on his face,” she thought. “I can make the God of the Underworld make that face.”

Somewhere in the back of her mind she acknowledged the enormity of this, that so powerful a creature would surrender so completely to her.

“Second drawer beside the tampons,” she instructed, clambering up onto her knees and shuffling her body over his. “Unless you want me to finish this our here.”

Hades was already fumbling for the drawer, fishing around… tossing a tampon back in, before he managed to grab a condom – which Miho immediately snatched from him.

Her hips pressed down, her enflamed lips so drenched with desire, folded around his hardness. Meeting his gaze, Miho rocked herself against him as she placed the corner of the condom foil between her teeth, teasing the edge with her tongue.

“You have a wicked streak,” he murmured, stroking up and down her thighs before taking hold of her hips.

Slowly she tore across the small packet and withdrew its contents.

“Maybe, just a little bit,” she grinned, scooting back enough to place the condom over the head of his cock, and roll it gradually down.

“I will let you get away with it, for now,” he smiled back, but his jaw was tensed until she leaned forward all the way over him and kissed him again.

Wriggling her pelvis, she positioned him at her entrance, aching in her depths for the sensation of complete and utter fullness, for an internal friction met with external stimulation that last time saw her black out.

“A man can wait only so long, Miho,” Hades growled, digging his fingers into her ass cheeks and lightly pulling down, but she resisted him – enough for her to know he was being very mindful not to over-power her.

“As a god, you have all eternity,” she hissed against his lips.

“I only want eternity if I can spend it buried in you,” he rumbled, and this time was successful in breaking her mild resistance.

She enveloped him, and both closed their eyes to savour the sweetness, their pulses racing, their bodies united.

When that moment broke, Miho took Hade’s hands from her butt and interlaced their fingers. Her steamy gaze burned into him as she undulated her body deliberately, moderately, sliding him almost completely out before rolling forward until she could submerge him no more.

Sweat began to shimmer across their skin, the salty sheen evidence of their increasingly energetic entanglement.

Squeezing her hands once, Hades unravelled their fingers, and she continued to ride him, he took a firm hold on one breast, and pinched the nipple of the other between his thumb and forefinger. She winced then bit down on her lip, the backward tilt of her head signal enough she enjoyed the sharp sting of each pluck against her pert nub.

“Yesss,” she breathed, desperately digging down, leaning forward to bite against his neck, whimpering as her body approached that place were its movements were driven only by the instinct to feel that explosion of ecstasy again.

But, she wanted to hold off, wanted him to cum first, and so she kissed him hard and filled his mouth with her tongue, focusing on her mission, clinging to hold back the swiftly approaching storm of raw bliss.

Hades flinched, his own hips rising up to meet the downward motion of Miho’s, until his ass didn’t even touch the bed. He thrust with the kind of passion that still frightened him, but was helpless against. Miho’s taste surrounded him completely, the radiant heat they shared an intoxication potent enough to push him to the very limits of his self-control.

And when he came, he pounded into her roughly, bouncing her onto him so hard he feared she might break, but Miho just gripped one of his wrists and pressed his fingers to her clit, grinding against him as he rode out his high.

“Hades… yes, ye…eh…eh…” she panted, and Hades felt it when she came, squeezing him tightly, milking the very last of his offering into the condom, until she flopped forward against him.

Heaving to catch her breath, swallowing to endure the eruption that at first cause her muscles to contracted, then spasm before relaxing, Miho clung to wakefulness with her lips pressed to Hades’ neck. Lightly his fingertips ghosted up and down her spine and she shivered again, nearly peaking again from just that feeling alone.

“For god’s sake… don’t move,” she exhaled unevenly, twitching against and around him still.

“For my, sake?” he chuckled, rolling her onto her back.

“You know ex-actly… what I mean,” she huffed, bleary eyed as she looked up at him. “Wha…?”

The top of Hades head was suddenly all she could see, and a bolt of lightning struck her sharply as he closed his lips around her screaming clit and suckled softly.

“No, no,” she growled. “I really will pass out if you, if you do that to me again.”

He lifted his head, his chin smeared with her juices.

“You are safe here with me,” he told her seriously, flicking out his tongue against her.

“You’re going to kill me,” she whined. “Hades… if I die…”

“You won’t die,” he chuckled, smoothing his fingers from her pucker, back to the welcoming smile of her pussy. “I won’t let you die.”

“Son-of-a…” she gasped as he drove into her, long digits curling upward and dragging out in broad strokes that had her back arching beyond her control.

With his free hand, Hades forced her flat against the mattress, and plunged vigorously to her core, while his tongue assaulted the angry red of her swollen clit. Miho writhed as much as she could, held down as she was, until her head jerked back, her mouth dropped open, and all parts of her became stiff.

Lapping in long motions, drinking up her sweet tang mixed with sweat, Hades continued until Miho fell slack, then moved in beside her.

Her head had drooped to the side, her eyes closed, and though her breathing remained heavy as it fought to feed the wild race of her heart, it soon began to even out. Hades moved away only briefly to discard the condom, before settling Miho back in his arms, gliding his fingers through her hair until – several minutes later – Miho began to stir and opened her eyes.

“Mmm,” she murmured weakly, her body delightfully heavy, the ache of her muscles reminder enough of how strenuous their ‘morning exercise’ had been. “You can’t keep doing that.”

“No?” he queried, kissing her tenderly.

“Seriously,” she sighed opulently. “I’m not sure the human body was built to withstand orgasms that powerful. Blacking out cannot be healthy.”

“I will ask Dr. Phelps, shall I?” Hades smirked.

“Only if I can be there when you do,” Miho volleyed, nipping at his chest.

“Which somehow leads me to the one thing we didn’t discuss last night,” Hades segued. “Have you reached a decision about working for HERA?”

“Hmm,” she hummed, swirling a fingertip around his left nipple. “It was difficult to tell Detective Yashitori selective truths,” she admitted. “But at the same time… I get it.”

Miho closed her eyes and smushed her cheek against Hades’ firm chest.

“With you and I, and the toothbrush… you don’t think me cruising into a job without even an interview, smacks of nepotism?”

“Your interview has been all I’ve seen you do so far as a journalist,” he answered. “And I’m not offering because of how I feel about you romantically.”

“Tongues will wag,” she warned, flicking her tongue against his skin.

“Will that bother you?”

“Me? No, I’ll just tell them they’re jealous I get to black out on a regular basis,” she grinned. “I’m more concerned about your reputation, picking up strays. You have to lead, and if your subordinates think you…”

At this Hades chuckled.

“Anyone intimating, alluding or outright declaring you owe your job to special treatment will be reprimanded,” he told her clearly. “And if they have time to wag their tongues, they’re clearly not focusing their all on work.”

“Well, I do need a job,” she noted airily, “and your insurance plan is top rate.”

“So, you agree?” he prompted, tipping her chin up a little, and his hopeful expression made Miho’s heart melt.

“You’d better not go looking at me like that at the office,” she chuckled, pecking him on the lips lightly.

“That’s the advantage of being the Underworld Princess,” he smirked, “I can look at whoever I like, however I like, wherever I like.”

“Uh huh,” she sniffed, throwing off the blankets but rising gingerly against the twinge of her recently tensed muscles. “Brrr,” she shuddered, unaware just how cold the apartment was snuggled up to her beau. “It’s freezing.”

“It did snow yesterday,” he pointed out, and Miho grabbed her robe, wrapping it around her naked body as she went to the window, outside of which was still dim.

“Less snow, and more blizzard I think,” she reported with a frown.

Looking over her shoulder, she caught the tail end of Hades sighing.

“Hm?”

“The power of Olympus and its gods, especially the top tier, keeps balance on Earth and everything in its proper place,” he explained, also exiting to join her by the window, sans robe. “With Zeus away from his throne and others joining him, it looks as if Earth is finally beginning to reflect the discord of the Pantheon.”

“That isn’t good,” Miho frowned, shuddering a little, as much from the thought as the cold.

Hades wrapped his arms around her and gave her a light squeeze.

“I’ll need to return to Olympus,” he declared soberly. “If Persephone has been unable to keep the seasons from changing, the top tier gods need to meet.”

“Persephone? If seasons are her um, jurisdiction? Portfolio? With the weather like this, could she be hurt, or… can gods even get sick?” Miho queried, turning around to look into Hades’ face.

“Not from illnesses the affect mortals, no,” Hades answered, “and I doubt very much, this is about Persephone alone. After breakfast, I’ll check, just to be sure.”

“Well I’m sorry to say what I threw together last night is all that was left that was edible, unless you want cup noodles for breakfast,” Miho confessed. “Left my groceries at the mall with my phone.”

“We can go out for breakfast,” he determined, sliding his hand down one of her arms to take her hand and give it a tug toward the door. “I know this excellent little vegan café not far fro…”

But Miho had planted her feet.

“You’re not going to tell me you’re into cross-fit too are you?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at him suspiciously. “Because you know, I love meat…”

“I have gotten that impression, yes,” Hades interrupted, an uncharacteristically cheeky smile reflecting in his eyes. “I was joking. You pick the venue, I will cope.”

“I’m just saying,” she clarified, allowing him to lead her toward the bathroom, talking as they go, “by all means eat all the wheat grass and spinach you like…”

“What’s wrong with spinach?” he piped up.

“Mushy, flimsy, limp,” she listed.

“Hmm, could the limp part be the one that bothers you most?” he questioned, reaching in to turn on the shower with the kind of familiarity of someone who’s done so a million times.

“I’m not the one finding sexual innuendo in everything I say,” she pointed out, voice suddenly syrup as she pushed her robe from her shoulders and let it slip to the floor.

Goosepimples assaulted her skin and made her nipples almost painfully hard, but the bathroom was quickly filling with the gently waft of steam, and the promise of further exercise.

It took Miho some time to locate her winter clothing. When she and Hades exited her apartment building into the morning frost, however, she still felt underdressed. Hades on the other hand, dressed in his suit from yesterday, didn’t seem all that bothered, but quickly made his way to where he’d parked his car.

Which was completely frozen over.

“Roads haven’t been ploughed,” Miho noted, continuously moving her feet.

“I doubt the city was expecting such severe weather at this time of year,” Hades noted, looking over the frozen shell that enveloped his car.

There were very few vehicles on the road – it seemed even locals of Astoria, of New York thought better of venturing outside.

“I can go back up and get some cold water?” Miho suggested, but Hades was glancing about.

When he was done, and Miho noted there was no one in sight, Hades places his bare hand against the ice. It popped and screamed, then cracked like glass, before falling away in jagged pieces.

“Or you could do that,” Miho sniffed, eagerly folding herself into the front passenger seat when Hades opened the door for her.

Once closed inside, Hades had to fight to get the engine to start, but it finally turned over and Miho cranked the heater.

“You know, after yesterday, I’m surprised you weren’t called away last night,” she thought aloud. “With all that’s going on…”

“Had something else transpired, I would have been notified immediately,” he assured her, carefully navigating the icy road.

“Are they connected? The zombies and the weather?” she asked, but continued to hypothesise. “But what is even the point of these zombie attacks? The mall I mean; what’s the endgame?”

“There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of a correlation,” Hades responded, slowing for a red light, “except…”

And he glanced at her.

“What’s that look for?” she ruffled. “Just because I was there for three of the attacks doesn’t make this about me – I mean, that would make for a pretty arrogant story, right? Not to mention there have been other incidents involving the zombies where I wasn’t there.”

“I know,” he nodded. “And I was not suggesting you had anything to do with them.”

“My necromancy is a little rusty,” she revealed.

It was a tense journey, with Hades even finding it difficult to safely drive – when abruptly he pulled the car to the curb, hitting the brakes in a way that had them sliding for some distance before finally coming to a stop.

“What the hell?” Miho blurted, not looking into her lap for fear she might find her wildly beating heart there.

The expression on Hades’ face, however, caused Miho to swallow further exclamations.

“What is it?” she queried quietly.

“Zeus,” he replied flatly. “He is close by, others too.”

“Here, here?” Miho scowled. “In Astoria, even after you caught Minotaur?”

“I am certain my brother is here,” Hades confirmed, then looked to her. “Stay here.”

“Stay here, are you kidding me?” she snorted, unclicking her seatbelt as Hades exited the car.

“Miho,” he admonished, but she didn’t let him continue.

“Don’t even,” she said curtly. “Until I sign off on that employment contract, you’re not my boss.”

“This isn’t about taking orders, Miho,” he told her, his eyes darkening. “Zeus can be dangerous and spiteful, and if he thinks he can gain an advantage over me by using you, I believe he will.”

“And you said there were others with him,” she countered, assuming a stubborn posture. “So, if you go after him alone, it’ll be one against many; that isn’t something I’m willing to just sit in the car for.”

“This is a situation where you just cannot help,” he insisted, taking her shoulders, but still she glared at him with dauntless obstinacy.

“I can watch your back, that’s something,” she argued, lowering her brows when he looked set to offer another rebuke. “It’s not in my nature to sit on the side-lines, mortal or not, I accept the risks that come with chasing the truth.”

Sighing, Hades cuddled her to his chest.

“Snuggles can’t win arguments, Hades,” she told him, voice slightly muffled.

“I know,” he sighed, resigned, “So stay behind me, and if I tell you to run, do not hesitate or sass, just go.”

“The not sassing part is going to be tough,” she murmured as he released her, but straightened her posture as he turned down the sidewalk.

She followed closely behind, trying to match the indents he made in the snow, until he stopped outside a building site, the fence surrounding it boarded to hide whatever lay beyond.

“Here,” Hades said in a low voice, easily pulling away part of the barrier to let them through.

“Usually you’re telling me to keep out of fenced off areas,” Miho whispered wryly, trying to sound nonchalant, “not breaking into them with me.”

If Hades found this to be amusing, he didn’t show it – all shadows and foreboding as they began their way through scaffolding to a metal stairway leading down.

Swallowing hard, Miho tried desperately to ensure her footfalls made no sound, that she kept her balance on the icy surfaced – Hades did not look back to see if she was fine, either trusting she could manage or focused on the fact his rebellious brother was so close by.

After several meters voices began to drift to them, and Hades slowed his pace. There was something so very unnerving seeing a man of his stature tip-toe, and it increased the rate of Miho’s rapidly beating heart.

“… will turn the tide,” a deep voice declared smugly.

“Perhaps,” followed a female. “If…”

“If, Artemis?” the first voice growled, as Hades finally turned to Miho and motioned for her to crouch in order to stay concealed on the landing they had reached.

Inching to the edge, slightly at Hades’ back, Miho spied six individuals, two of whom seemed to reach out with just their existence in invisible waves that shook her.

Like Hades.

The other four were covered in dirt, shovels and picks lying around them.

Much like Hades, the man who could only have been Zeus, was not what Miho had expected, except perhaps for the mean glint in his eyes and the sneer on his lips – he was the epitome is sour, or arrogant, of belligerent.

But, her gaze was drawn to the pulsating white orb nestled in the palm of Zeus’ hand, a light no larger than a tennis ball, but sparking erratically with an energy Miho felt immediately fearful of.

“With this, Poseidon will have no choice but to side with me, and Hades’ betrayal will be undone,” Zeus smirked, closing his fingers around his treasure.

But the moment that light began to ooze through his grip, slithering through the air in sinuous streaks that seemed to cut through reality, Zeus looked less certain.

Miho recoiled from the edge as those crackling serpents coiled upward to their vantage point, threatening to give them away.

“Go,” Hades hissed, only just loud enough for Miho to hear, and she moved to comply as she had agreed, but found herself suddenly yanked back by the ankle.

If she had not been dragged into view – mid-air – above where Zeus and Artemis stood staring with necks craned, Miho’s yelp certainly would have drawn their attention.

Desperately she reached for Hades’ hand, his arm outstretched toward her with equal urgency.

Their fingers brushed, but parted, leaving Miho dangling upside down beyond his reach.

“What, is this?” Zeus snapped, his eyes flashing with lightning.

“Uhhmm,” Miho uttered, trying to wriggle free as the ribbons curled up her legs and began to wind around her waist.

She wanted to call for Hades, but if she did…

Hades’ actions gave himself away.

The purple gloom of his aura stretched forth bony fingers to grasp her, pin-pointing his position for Zeus and Artemis to see, but the former’s lightning slashed at its attempts to retrieve Miho leaving her stranding amid a frightening storm of godly power.

“Hades!” Zeus shouted, a sound booming with anger, a rage that tore through the cold and caused Miho to fall still, even as the flashing streams sputtered up her torso.

Gasping, she echoed Zeus, but her was a breathy plea.

“Should have stayed in the car,” some distant part of her thought, tensing against the throbbing slivers as they reached her throat.

“Help…” she mouthed, all air from her lungs crushed by sudden contraction, a violent boa constrictor squeezing so tightly she thought she might pop.

With his aura still struggling against Zeus, evading Artemis’ where he could, Hades pushed himself up, took two swift strides and then jumped. His arms closed around her, interrupting her silent scream, and together they fell like stones at the other gods’ feet.

The other figures, demis Hades might have recognised had he not been so preoccupied, quickly surrounded them, and Hades rolled over Miho protectively and glowered the full force of his opposition.

“Zeus, I did not come here to fight,” he announced, his tone a thin wire stretched almost to its limits. “Stay your hand.”

“Stay my hand?” Zeus snarled, struggling to control his outrage. “When here you are, sneaking like the plague rat you are, poisoning the Pantheon against me.”

“This is not how we should discuss our differences,” Hades pressed, ever so quickly glancing down at Miho, who looked up at him with wide eyes – seemingly in shock. “Don’t you see what is happening out there?”

“And you would hold me responsible for that,” Zeus snorted, stepping toward them, and in response Hades rocked back to his feet, drawing Miho up with him. “You were the one who defied the King of Olympus.”

“Because you were wrong,” Hades volleyed, trying to stay calm as he and Miho were surrounded.

Zeus he could go toe to toe with – Zeus, Artemis and a pack of demis? Perhaps not.

“You chased Hera away, chased her to misery yet still demanded she belonged to you,” Hades continued, eying all about him. “You were so desperate to control her again you leapt at Deandra’s ruse and put Olympus and Earth in peril: selfish, personal desire from a god – my brother – who I know to be better than that.”

“Selfishness is taking the Pantheon for your own the moment you spied the slightest chance!” Zeus roared, then pointed at Miho. “And I’m going to take it back.”

Hades’ arms tensed around Miho who still seemed dazed, only half hearing what was going on around her.

Drums were sounding, thumping, thumping, somewhere inside her, a rhythm broken by the heavy pounding of her heart. It felt as if the earth was shaking, that she was about to lose her balance and topple into nothingness, despite the strength of Hades’ embrace – and the voices around her seemed muffled, garbled, rearranged in a confusing muddle.

“You may occupy my throne for now, brother,” Zeus grated, “but I will be taking it back, along with that mortal.”

“Definitely, not,” Hades dropped flatly, his expression darkening, his lips peeling back a little more. “If you want to return to Olympus, you will have to win back the trust of your family, not act like a terrorist or create chaos on Earth.”

“Earth is insignificant!” Zeus roared, and with the others close – getting closer – Zeus reached out as if he could simply pluck Miho from Hades’ grasp.

“Hades,” Miho whispered, burying her face in his chest, but it was the structure that answered. Shuddering violently, steel girders cried out, rivets popped and flew dangerously across the frigid space. Perhaps the weight of ice and snow had compromised the structural integrity of the building, but the way pieces of metal and wood fell around them, then continued to fire about, suggested something else was at work.

The chaos provided Hades a moment to dodge past Zeus for the stairs.

“Hades!” Artemis barked, leaping into his path.

The glowing aura of her bow and arrow aimed at his chest, her expression a little unsure – hunting was one thing, firing about the God of the Underworld was another.

“You are wrong to follow him like this, Artemis,” Hades told her, his own aura looming to provide support. “You know his actions further destabilise both worlds.”

“He is the rightful king,” she argued, drawing the bowstring back further.

Rather than respond again with words, Hades opened his mouth, but swiped at Artemis with the reaper, forcing her into defence.

As Hades burst out onto the street, blasted by a fiercely swirling storm of icy shards, the construction site began to topple. Debris tumbled from the very top first, and Hades and Miho’s retreat down the road was echoed by the clatter of destruction, muffled only by the howl of biting wind.

“I’m all right,” Miho told Dr. Phelps, though the serious gaze from Hades kept her lying down.

“heartrate and blood pressure are normal.” Dr. Phelps said aloud, pretty much ignoring her.

“Blood work?” Hades prompted, his arms crossed.

“Pathology is working on it.”

“Yoohoo, right here,” Miho sniffed.

“We can’t ignore what happened, Miho,” Hades explained. “Whatever Zeus was digging for, sought you out, was absorbed into your body.”

“And it felt like being inside a pinball machine,” she described, “hitting everything at full tilt and ricocheting every which way, but now I feel okay. Hades you – you have to go to Olympus.”

“I know,” he sighed, “but I also need to make sure you’re safe.”

The conversation seemed to go around in circles, until Cyprin arrived with Hydra and Jazz, and they stepped outside to talk.

“Maybe you should take her with you,” Cyprin suggested. “Zeus surely wouldn’t risk trying to infiltrate Olympus with everyone on high alert.”

“I thought about that,” Hades exhaled, “but the top tier gods could be occupied for some time working on a solution to our current situation – I will not be able to ensure her safety personally any more there, than here.”

“This building has a dungeon too right? If I remember correctly, the other one was pretty secure,” Hydra smirked. “Mostly.”

“That’s a bit harsh,” Jazz chided, but then looked thoughtful. “Leave her with me until you come back. We’ll stay in the barracks, do paperwork, until you return.”

Hydra blinked.

“Baby-sitting?”

“I’m not a baby,” Miho grouched from her infirmary room door, “and I don’t need sitting..”

Hades looked set to rebuke, but Miho continued.

“… but I don’t fancy a run-in with Zeus. So, if it’s the dungeon or hanging out with Agent Mann here, I choose the latter. She’ll be a good role model.”

Was she being serious? Hard to tell.

“Promise you won’t leave her side,” Hades frowned.

“I’m an adult, Hades,” Miho snorted, patting his cheek firmly. “Not an idiot looking to get swatted like a bug. I’m not going to go looking for trouble.”

“Oh?” he uttered, taking her hand. “Precedent would suggest otherwise.”

“What could I possibly get up to in a HERA building under Agent Mann’s supervision?”

“Hm,” Hades mused. “No doubt a lot.”

“Go save our worlds,” Miho grinned, pulling him to her lips, speaking against them. “I’ll be a good girl.”

Reluctantly, Hades stepped away from her with a curt nod, offering Miho no more than that before he departed, leaving her with only Jazz and Hydra.

“I’ll be out in a moment,” Miho breathed, chewing her lower lip a minute before turning back into her room.

Warning Miho against any strenuous activities, Dr. Phelps let her leave the infirmary with Jazz and Hydra, the latter seeming quite disgruntled.

“Is it me you’re pissed off at or Hades?” Miho asked him bluntly.

“This isn’t pissed off,” Hydra sniffed, tipping his chin in an arrogant way that reminded Miho of Zeus.

“Right, right,” Miho nodded, not taking his attitude lying down. “I suppose pissed off is a giant nine-headed serpent thing running amok through the streets?”

“Three, actually,” Hydra corrected tersely.

“Three streets?”

“Three heads,” Hydra growled, aware he was being baited, but unable to keep from biting.

“Hmm, so the sucky attitude is about an inferiority complex then; I guess that makes sense,” Miho mused, looking purposefully thoughtful, even as Hydra tried to cross behind Jazz toward Miho.

“Okay, that’s enough, both of you,” Jazz snapped, catching Hydra’s arm to hold him back, even though she knew he wouldn’t actually hurt Miho.

Okay, maybe she didn’t quite know – for his hatred of Hades and the gods in general still ran deep, and it was clear Miho had endeared herself to the God of the Underworld. Jazz had read it all over Hades’ face, his body language, when she had arrived at the infirmary once again on account of the wayward journalist.

The way he looked at Miho went far and beyond how he’d ever looked at her – things she now found in Hydra’s consideration of her.

“We’re all going to get along, or I’m going to be the one getting pissed off,” she added, then looked to Miho. “Miss Fujiwara…”

“Miho,” Miho piped up.

Miho,” Jazz amended, “if you really have somehow stolen something Zeus wants, you’re going to need both myself and Hydra on your side…”

“Okay, I know, I’m sorry,” Miho sighed. “Biting off more than I can chew is sort of my trademark, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually regretted it… sort of.”

“Sort of?” Hydra frowned, and Jazz glanced at him in warning.

“Well, I don’t regret going with Hades into that construction site,” Miho elaborated. “Zeus and Artemis and all those others against Hades…”

“What did you think you could do to help?” Hydra pressed, and Jazz rolled her eyes, pressing the elevator call button.

“More than sit in the car where it was safe and let Hades get hurt where I couldn’t put myself between him and his enemy,” Miho glared, stopping to inflict the full force of her fierceness at Hydra, and though he was certainly not afraid of her, he had to admit she definitely had a way about her that some would find intimidating.

Her courage and conviction he also had to pay – if it was he and Jazz, he’d have said the same thing.

“Powerless sucks,” Hydra conceded, even managing a slight, understanding smile. “You’ve got balls, I’ll give you that.”

“Yeah well, right now my balls are on lockdown,” Miho grunted. “So, Agent Mann…”

“Jazz,” Jazz revised, just as Miho had.

Jazz,” Miho repeated. “What’s the plan?”

“The barracks is on sub level one,” Jazz answered, ignoring a quiet groan from Hydra. “For now, you and I stay put inside this building.”

Miho wasn’t used to following – a free spirit in every sense – but she was afraid of Zeus, and what it might also mean for Hades if she got herself captured like some stupid damsel in distress.

“Yes Ma’am,” Miho saluted, and Jazz shook her head.

This was going to be a loooong assignment.

That evening, Miho finally laid her head down and stared up at the ceiling of the barrack’s sleeping quarters. Several others, including Jazz, were already asleep, but Miho’s mind buzzed.

The day had not been anything she’d expected, but lately that actually seemed the norm. What else seemed to have slipped so quickly into familiarity, was having Hades close at hand, and it was his face she saw last before she drifted off to sleep, and thoughts of his lonely toothbrush back in her apartment.

In sleep, she ran. Her footfalls crunched heavily in the snow, while Zeus, Artemis and a pack of rabid creatures from Greek mythology snapped at her heels. She knew she had to keep going, not to slow, just get around the next corner and Hades would be there to hold her safe – but when she turned that corner she found just another street of ice and cold and the closing shadows of her foes behind her.

From somewhere above, the wind seemed to pulse in a heavy rhythm – not a helicopter – but the terrible beat of giant wings that caused cars to roll over, street signs to pull free of the asphalt, and glass to shatter.

“Hades!” she panted, the purple glow of his aura somewhere ahead, just out of reach, and Zeus wrapped his fingers around her arm and jolted her to a jarring stop. “Get off!” she roared, wheeling around with her free fist clenched, but that wasn’t how Zeus ended up cartwheeling away from her, collecting the rest of Miho’s pursuers in the process.

In the white of the snow, Miho stood in a deep darkness, but she didn’t know where it came from.

Day 30

“You look like shit,” Jazz told Miho, holding out a cup of coffee when the other woman emerged into the mess hall. “Feeling okay?”

“Nightmares,” Miho admitted. “Other than that, just peachy.”

Jazz studied her carefully, searching for any visible changes the unknown energy might have caused.

“You’re going to make me blush if you stare any longer,” Miho announced, ignoring the curious gaze of several agents partaking of their breakfast. “Would you like me to twirl?”

“Sure, twirl away,” Jazz shrugged.

Despite wearing a pair of borrowed sweat pants and a hoodie, Miho’s pirouette was quite graceful – she even managed to complete it without spilling the coffee from her mug.

“That was pretty good,” Jazz acknowledged. “Do you dance?”

“Used to,” Miho stretched, grunting a little as she took a seat. “But, I ended up not having the time for it, running around after you and Hades and the likes trying to cover up the truth.”

“Speaking of running after Hades,” Jazz prompted, lifting an eyebrow, urging Miho to elaborate on that idea.

“Oh? You want all the juicy details huh?” Miho chuckled over the rim of her mug. “Right here?”

She glanced about, noting the few agents who remained look quickly away.

“Hmm, is that a personal inquiry, or is it professional?” Miho continued, tilting her head a little.

For a moment Jazz thought about this, unsure exactly which it was.

“Both,” she said finally. “Hades is someone I admire; holding the Pantheon together in Zeus’ absence, especially now in the face of recent events, must be no small feat…”

“You think I might get in the way? Be a liability?” Miho filled in, but Jazz shook her head.

“Irrespective of who you are or what you do, Hades makes no decision lightly,” she expounded.  ”If he wants you around then he’s weighed up the pros and cons….”

“So wounded you think there’d be cons,” Miho pouted in an exaggerated fashion.

“It’s not about that,” Jazz went on. “It’s about whether you’re actually more to him than a vessel for whatever Zeus is after.”

“So if I was to get swatted by Zeus, it would actually make a difference to you whether I was with Hades?” Miho chuckle.

It was all quite serious, but Miho’s laughter wasn’t about mirth, but rather covering up her apprehension.

“Not directly, but if his girlfriend was to get harmed, it would certainly hurt him.”

“Girlfriend huh?” Miho said to herself, turning the word over in her mouth.

“Do you plan on answering?”

“Oh, sure,” Miho laughed again. “We haven’t talked labels, but ahh, he has a toothbrush at my place – interpret that how you will.”

The look on Jazz’s face said it all, as did the way she nearly choked on her coffee.

“I’m not big on applying labels to things,” Miho shrugged. “No need to overcomplicate. We are what we are, so you stop fretting about it…”

“I’m not fretting about it,” Jazz sniffed. “I just like to do my job well.”

“I said I’d be a good girl and I’m certainly going to try,” Miho grinned. “Having Hera’s soul and her artifact should make guarding me a breeze.”

“Mm, so he told you about that,” Jazz murmured.

“Maybe that tells you more about how much he trusts me, than the toothbrush,” Miho smiled, but it waned as she shook her head, trying dispel the warm-fuzzies invading her body.

Jazz observed this. It may have been true that Hades trusted Miho enough to share secrets as big as who was Hera’s reincarnation, but there was something about how Miho refused to definitively answer the question about the status of their relationship, that bothered Jazz – it was like Miho was holding back, not fully invested, and if that was the case, perhaps she couldn’t be entirely trusted regardless of the way Hades felt about her.

After breakfast, Jazz escorted Miho to the Public Relations section in the building, and introduced her to various people she might end up working with. Why Jazz was giving the tours when she should have been out in the field doing her job, wasn’t asked; she watched Miho work the room, making a good impression with her infectious smile and confident body language. Before long, she had convinced one agent to let her help with his assignment, and was sitting beside him at his desk brainstorming ideas.

Relaxing a little, Jazz dug out her phone and sent Hydra a message. Much to his disdain, she’d suggested he could investigate the latest zombie sighting without her. Outside was still a whiteout, and while the cold wouldn’t kill him, it made moving around the city difficult. She had to smirk a little at his curt response stating he wasn’t far away, knowing that was just how he was, but she looked up suddenly to the sound of a moan.

“Whoa, hey there!” Miho barked, rolling her chair away from her new friend when he abruptly placed his hand against her leg and slid it all the way up her thigh.

As she stood, she and Jazz alike blinked at the sudden state of the office.

Agents – men and women, women and women, men and men – had abandoned their work and were entangled in various states of intimacy.

“Um, Jazz?” Miho prompted, stepping in beside the only other person in the room who seemed to find the situation bizarre.

“Miss Fujiwara,” the male agent smiled, approaching her with a lusty expression. “I cannot get over just how… much I want you… I have to…”

“You have to stop right there,” Miho warned, her eyes flashing with the danger of him pushing any further, and Jazz also glared.

“But how am I supposed to kiss you if you keep running away?” he asked, stars in his eyes, lips puckering.

“That’s close enough Agent Warwick,” Jazz warned, nudging Miho behind her, just as a bra came flying across the office and landed over Agent Warwick’s shoulder.

“What the hell is going on?” Miho exhaled, peering wide-eyed at the unfolding orgy.

“Good question,” Jazz grunted. “Let’s go.”

The pair backed into the corridor where two people walking in their direction stopped suddenly to embrace and press against the wall, hands diving beneath clothing.

“Is this a balance of power thing, like the weather?” Miho asked, but Jazz didn’t have the answer. “And why aren’t we making out right now?”

“My guess is because I have Hera’s artifact, and you got hit by some buried super power,” Jazz reasoned, motioning for Miho to move hastily to a nearby stairwell.

“So most of HERA’s agents are humans?” Miho exhaled, following Jazz’s quick pace up the stairwell. “You think gods, demis and monsters might be immune to…”

“How am I supposed to know?” Jazz huffed, slamming her palm against a door – that didn’t budge. “Oh come on,” she growled, giving it another shove, but she stopped when she heard a few loud grunts from the other side, followed by a few oh-baby, oh babys. “For fuck’s sake.”

“Literally,” Miho grinned, watching, actually amused, as Jazz hit the door with her shoulder, shoving the bonking pair away from their love-making surface, and sending them tumbling to the floor.

Which didn’t really stop them – they simply assumed a new position and continued to screw like no one was watching.

“Please let Alex be normal,” Jazz whispered, skirting around a threesome in the corridor in order to reach Cyprin’s door.

And so it was, that Cyprin was normal… Hydra, however, not so much.

The two women stood in the door way of Aphrodite’s child, staring as Hydra chased Cyprin in laps around their desk.

“Don’t just stand there!” Cyprin yelped.

“Go ahead and join in Jazz,” Miho chuckled. “I’ll wait outside.”

Astoria: In Chaos – Part Five

MINOR SMUT ‘WARNING’

Day 27

The two women talked, snuggled, wrestled, tickled, ate more chocolate and eventually fell asleep, but Mieke had to get up for work at 6am and was out the door looking weary – but happy – leaving Miho to clean up.

In a sleep deprived daze, Miho replayed the conversations of last night.

“Have to shelve that for now,” she muttered, dropping a couple of bowls into the sink.

Still in her pajamas, she plopped back down in front of her laptop. Unlike the previous day, however, the sentences began to form, and once she had begun writing, her fingertips flew across the keyboard with ridiculous speed. On the screen appeared the contrast between what the city citizens knew, and what the suited authority known as HERA kept from them, alongside the ins and outs of theology that could change the entire world.

“Imagine,” she thought, “A world without ‘faith’ because the facts of the higher powers of the Earth were revealed. Might make things better, but could very well make things worse.”

That was of course assuming people believed it. There would always be deniers, the self-deluded, who would believe what they wanted to believe despite the facts. One only had to look as far as those refusing to vaccinate their children from preventable diseases to see just how stupid humanity could be.

As she continued, she considered all Hades had told her, things Jazz had said, and then pictured Detective Yashitori’s face as she asked the same questions Miho herself had asked not so long ago. Oh, how she had fought against the heavy curtain of secrecy: fought Hades, fought Jazz, fought HERA.

Now she knew.

It was heading into twilight when she finally finished her article and printed it out several times over, tucking one away in a safe hiding place. Then she considered how she was going to contact Hades. It struck her that she didn’t have his phone number – he hadn’t given it to her – and she recalled the HERA building being closed for structural integrity inspection. Still, with no other way, scribbled a quick note to him, showered like the wind, then threw on some new clothes, smoothed down her head, and headed out.

HERA agents stood as silent sentinels outside the fenced-off, blacked-out area around the HERA building, the foyer of which also seemed to be shrouded in large sheets of plastic. Though she didn’t recognise either of the two men, or the single female agent, she approached one with the same confidence she tackled everything, and smiled brightly.

“Evening,” she greeted. “I have something of importance to give Hades.”

True to form, the agent simply eyed her.

“Come on, tell me you guys don’t know who I am by now?” Miho grumbled. “I’m the reporter Hades took up to Olympus, and only yesterday was here when zombies rushed this very building.”

This did cause the agent to consider her a little less stoically.

“So, Hades? Can you call him down here for me?” Miho prompted expectantly.

“Hades is not available at present,” the agent told her plainly, and a little huffily, Miho took an envelope from her bag.

“Okay fine,” she sniffed. “How about you give him this? And in case you’re wondering, it’s the article I’ve written about this whole operation and everything I’ve seen recently, so, you might want to ferry it post haste to the hands of your friendly neighbourhood god as soon as possible. Print runs happen pretty early in the morning you know.”

Pressing the envelope against the agent’s chest, Miho released it.

“Oh, and if he stands me up for dinner, I won’t be held responsible for the consequences,” she smiled sweetly, then turned on her heel.

All that remained now, was for her to wait.

At her favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Miho took a sip from her fourth cup of coffee. For surely the five hundredth time she glanced at her phone to see she’d been waiting three hours.

Three hours and nothing.

Not even a text message.

Despite being wired thanks to the caffeine, she was well and truly weary.

The caffeine was the only thing keeping her awake.

“So that’s how it is,” she muttered, scowling as she emptied her cup, and it clattered back into the saucer.

Rolling her shoulders, she shuffled out of her booth loudly and shouldered her bag, muttering under her breath. But when she lifted her eyes to fix them balefully on the exit, Hades blocked her path.

“You’re still here,” he noted and looked first relieved, then frowned as he took in her expression.

“Only just,” she announced, her tone in no small part sour.

“I tried calling the number you put in the envelope Agent Hall passed on,” he explained, “but it connected me with an Italian man somewhere in New Jersey.”

“Excuse me?” Miho blinked, frowning as Hades took the slip of paper she’d written on from his pocket and read the number from it. “No, 1, not 7,” she corrected, exasperated.

“I see, that would account for Mr. Morticella then,” he agreed.

“Come on Hades,” Miho sighed. “You’re telling me that with your resources, the ones Agent Mann used to track me down with Detective Yashitori in fact, you couldn’t have looked up my number?”

Shifting a little uncomfortably in the face of her irritation, Hades conceded her point.

“Yes, you’re right,” he acknowledged humbly, nodding apologetically. “And I am sorry, but I have been… busy.”

Exhaling a heavy, lung-emptying sigh, Miho allowed her shoulders to slump. She was being unfair, and was just pissed off because she was over-tired and not at all used to being kept waiting.

“No, you’re right,” she admitted. “You’re right. Zombies trump my sorry ass.”

“It’s not that sorry,” he hazarded, leaning just a little to indicate he had glanced at the posterior in question.

She had to laugh.

Her smile waned a little though, when Hades dropped the folded article she’d written on the table where she’d been sitting, and lowered himself into the booth – after all, she didn’t know how he was going to react.

“This is quite a comprehensive story,” he noted: benign.

Studying him – his expression, his posture, his eyes – Miho returned to her seat opposite him.

He, glanced at the empty coffee cups.

“Fuelled by coffee?” he queried lightly.

“Yep,” she nodded. “Though I still don’t think much of what I’ve experienced has sunk in.”

“It may need to,” he told her gravely. “I still haven’t discerned the origin of the zombies, nor those behind them, and there was another incident involving them today.”

This he told her freely, despite the fact she’d compiled all his secrets in plain writing.

“Anyone hurt?” she ventured, and Hades winced a little.

“A member of the public was killed,” he admitted, and Miho bit her lip.

“That’s likely to draw more scrutiny from city law enforcement,” Miho pointed out, like he didn’t already know that. “If you haven’t heard from her already, you’d better brace for Detective Yashitori.”

“She has made some inquiries,” he affirmed. “Her Lieutenant also,” he added. “But they’re not the first, and will unlikely be the last.”

“She’s tenacious,” Miho warned.

“So are you,” he replied, the slightest of smirks touching his lips, but Miho frowned again.

“And look where that got you, Fairy-floss.”

“Where exactly is that?” he queried, unruffled and peering at her steadily.

For a good half a minute Miho just looked back in silence, until finally she responded.

“You’re not going to ask me what I’m going to do?” she scowled. “You’re not going to ask me to keep my mouth shut?”

“Do I need to ask?”

This caused Miho to scoff.

“Do you assume you don’t, just because we slept together?” she volleyed, but Hades didn’t falter, didn’t flinch.

“No,” he said, “but I do assume based upon what I have come to know and understand about you, that you have no intention of attempting to publish this.”

Hackles rising, Miho had to bite down on her tongue to prevent a snapping retort from escaping.

Hades, meanwhile, smiled at her mildly.

“Are you angry because I am making such an assumption, or, because in making it I’ve robbed you of the opportunity to make the grand reveal?”

Miho couldn’t help but react to this, but before she could stand out of indignation, Hades had placed his hand over hers in a light grip.

“But I will ask anyway,” he told her, much more seriously. “If – now knowing what you know, and feeling about it how you feel – you will please uphold HERA’s policy of secrecy, for reasons not borne of anything other than to protect?”

His please hit her exactly where it was meant to.

“Oh, see that’s not playing fair,” Miho grumbled, and Hades’ reply – that could have been amused – remained serious.

“All’s fair in love and war, I’m told,” he declared, his thumb moving slowly over the back of her hand, and Miho straightened a little.

“We’re not at war, Hades,” she responded carefully. “Our opposition came about because you and HERA were acting all shady. Anyone with an ounce of concern for civil liberties and proper authority would be concerned.”

“If that were true, I’d have had a whole lot more than you to contend with,” he said easily, eyes unwavering.

“Lucky for you then,” Miho nodded, finding it increasingly difficult to ignore the soft sensation of his skin against hers.

It traced warm little arches back and forth, a sweetly idle but entirely purposeful motion that rippled to other parts of her body.

“I should go,” she announced, exhaling the last word as she began to shuffle sideways, but Hades’ grip tightened and she stalled. “Come on, I need to go begging to my editor to lift my suspension, or my diet for the foreseeable future will be cup noodles.”

“Work for HERA,” he said, a statement delivered with certainty.

“Excuse me?” Miho blinked.

“You have a way with words,” he explained as she settled back, “I’ve seen plenty of evidence of that. You’re driven, fearless, even if sometimes far too irresponsible, but I’ve also had the privilege of witnessing you throw down a fully grown, and well trained agent, so you’re hardly helpless.”

“You don’t… owe me anything,” she told him slowly, trying to figure out his motivation, despite the glowing resume he’d just recited. “You don’t need to buy my silence; you already know I’m not going to publish anything that could compromise HERA.”

“That’s not why I’m offering,” he responded, but Miho remained suspicious.

“And I don’t need recompense for the other night, either,” she added, and this caused Hades to frown.

“You think so little of me? That I’m the type of man to offer someone a job because I slept with her?” he articulated, a thin fissure of hurt wearing into his expression.

Miho swallowed. She had reached across the table and slapped him in the face with her comment, her handprint brightly outlined on his cheek.

“Or maybe,” he continued, his hand withdrawing, “that’s the type of man you’re used to.”

“Hades, you’re not a man,” she exhaled, slumping a little. “And I’m sorry for questioning your integrity, you know, everyone speaks of you so highly, so reverently, it just doesn’t make sense.”

“What, doesn’t make sense?” he pressed.

She sighed again.

“Me, after no sleep,” she groaned, and rubbed her eyes. “I need some downtime, uninterrupted sleep.”

“Right,” he conceded, voice tight. “You should go home and rest properly.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, and finally managed to get to her feet.

Maybe she’d have kissed him, at least on the cheek, but it didn’t seem appropriate now.

“If you’re staying on Earth for a while, make sure you’re eating properly, what with Persephone not here to keep an eye on you,” she offered instead.

“If you’re so worried,” he replied, looking up at her as she stepped beside him, “consider my offer; you can keep an eye on me yourself.”

“I’ll think about it,” she agreed, and with one last awkward nod, Miho headed out of the cafe.

It wasn’t until she stepped onto the street and was hit in the face by the cool air, she realised her cheeks were on fire. Her body was tense, uncomfortably so, and her hands had made fists all by themselves.

“That could have gone better,” she muttered to herself, then, with a careful look around the street, she began in the direction of home.

Day 28

After sleeping like a rock, Miho woke to find a text message from Hades.

Now you can call and abuse me if I don’t show up on time…

At this Miho snorted. The message went on to detail the employment he’d offered, and with growing interest she explored the terms.

“Wow,” she exhaled, shaking her head. “This is… wow.”

A position in HERA’s media department writing cover stories. It was the absolute opposite of what she’d been pursuing her whole life, the opposite of her stance on lies.

She would become ‘The Man’, and that idea made her feel very awkward. Still, she could not deny, she wished she hadn’t seen the rotting faces of the zombies that had attacked Olympus – even now, safe in her apartment, she felt a creeping fear that just outside there would be more, or worse, someone she knew or cared for had become one.

Mieke came to mind, and Miho scowled fiercely at her phone.

Aside from the outline of the position Hades offered – hrr hrr – the salary and insurance package was far and beyond anything she could have hoped to achieve in journalism.

Then she had to weigh up the merits and pitfalls of having Hades as her boss.

Was that another nail in the coffin of their ‘not really’ relationship? Sleeping with the boss was never a good idea.

Sighing, Miho rolled over and texted Mieke. She was, after all, an employee of the organisation, and likely knew Hades far better.

That’s a tough one. You know it’d be cool to work together… but I also know how you feel about the whole cover up thing. Follow your heart?

“Follow my heart? Really Mieke?” Miho growled. “So not helpful.”

Still sprawled out in bed, Miho glared at the also unhelpful ceiling until Hades’ face appeared there.

“No, no, no. Bad,” she huffed, finally dragging herself up.

Skipping breakfast thanks to a fridge containing only out-of-date items and a carton of pretty rancid milk, Miho headed for the mall. The shopping list on her phone allowed her to focus on something totally benign.

She wound her way up and down the shopping centre aisles, dropping this and that into her cart – many of which weren’t on the list – but it wasn’t until she’d nearly run over a toddler that she realised she’d spaced out.

“Sorry,” she murmured to the mother who glowered, but what she really wanted to say was she should keep her offspring on a leash.

Pure maternal instinct.

As she passed through the checkout, wincing at the total and realising her next credit card statement was really going to hurt, a rise in noise beyond the supermarket drew her attention toward the food court.

Rolling her cart in that direction, she was met very suddenly with a rush of people – frightened people, screaming, crying people – and not a single one of them paid her any mind.

“Gunman?” Miho thought, perhaps the most likely scenario, but rather than run, she rolled her trolley against the nearest shopfront, and dug her phone from her pocket.

Reporter mode, activated.

It wasn’t the first time she had put herself in harm’s way for a story; there was of course Minotaur, but she’d hadn’t seen this coming. No, there had been other times she’d resisted the instinct to flee, and forged on in search of an exclusive.

What she discovered, however, was no gunman.

Having slunk her way to the food court, what she found caused her body to seize up.

Tables and chairs were upturned, a thankfully empty pram nearby lying on its side. Food and drinks littered the floor, a multi-coloured mess of convenience splattered everywhere by people caught completely off guard.

“No,” Miho exhaled – a weak, shuddering breath.

“Help me,” came a rasping, desperate plea, and Miho spied a teenager on the ground nearby.

His expression told Miho he was not only petrified, but in considerable pain, as did the impossible bend of his leg mid-calf.

“Please,” he cried, his voice a little louder, and Miho motioned for him to be quiet.

Clumsy fingers fumbled for the text message Hades had sent her, and frantically Miho hit call.

“No, no!” the teenager cried suddenly, raising his voice loud enough to draw the attention of more than just the creature crawling close enough to grab his ankle.

“Fuck,” Miho dropped, abandoning her phone in favour of grabbing the metal leg of the nearest fallen chair.

With all her strength, she swung the chair at the zombie’s head, and with a sickening crack the blow made good purchase.

“Why here?” she hissed, throwing her weapon at the four shambling shapes that approached, before grabbing hold of the teen’s wrist. “This is going to hurt like hell,” she warned him, then began to drag him out of the food court along the polished floor. “Hades!” she shouted as they passed her phone still sitting on the ground. “Get to Astoria Mall, right now!”

They passed her trolley, but Miho – for obvious reasons – ignored it. Several times she tripped over something left behind by a fleeing shopper, but she and her semi-conscious cargo made it to one of many exits largely uninterrupted.

“Where is mall security?” she gasped, peeling off her jacket to place under the teen’s head, before checking for bleeding wounds.

She hadn’t seen any mall cops, and that was odd.

Sirens wailed in the distance, but Miho hoped HERA arrived first – if others entered the mall there was a real risk of further contamination, forget about the spread of undead rumours.

“No!” she barked suddenly, when a couple of men approached the doors outside of which Miho was camped. “No one else goes inside.”

For a few seconds they stared at her.

“Ma’am,” one began, but Miho chewed the end off the rest of what he’d been about to say.

“No really,” Miho insisted. “If you want to be helpful, go on and seal up any way those mad men can get out.”

“We need to move you back, Ma’am,” the other man declared, completely ignoring Miho’s imperative.

“Aren’t you listening to me?” she snarled. “The last time I saw these guys, they had explosives strapped to their chests and they did a whole lot of damage to nearby buildings!”

That caused the men to pause, but it had the desired effect. One of the men called for bomb squad backup, while the other barked orders at uniform police officers finally arriving on the scene. The downside to that was, her apparent knowledge of people performing terrorist activities, immediately placed her under suspicion, so as she and her injured teenaged friend were evacuated from the area, he was taken to a waiting ambulance, and Miho was place in custody.

“Well,” she mumbled to herself, “at least that bought some time?”

Watching from her place in the back of a police car, Miho actually managed a mirthless laugh at the relief she felt when she recognised several new additions to the crowd – suits and plain clothed HERA agents taking charge. And the uniforms simply relinquished control, while others, including the men who had ordered her to remain for questioning, argued a little before being overwhelmed.

“Yep, that’s how they roll,” Miho snorted.

“They?” asked a familiar voice, and Miho’s view was blocked by the appearance of Detective Yashitori. “Don’t you mean you?”

“Not yet,” Miho responded, looking up at the woman as she opened the back of the patrol car and motioned for Miho to get out. “I don’t know, maybe.”

“Officer Bryce says you’ve seen the perpetrators of this attack,” Narumi went on, studying Miho carefully, critically, “and is holding you for questioning because you also suggested they may have explosives?”

Licking her lips – a nervous tell to be sure – Miho searched the crowd of police and suits.

“So what did you see exactly?”

Another sigh emptied Miho’s lungs and she met Narumi’s gaze.

“What I saw was five, hmm maybe six men, old, worn looking with sunken cheeks,” she detailed. “Bloodshot eyes, the kind you get from being hyped up on meth or ice: aggressive clawing and biting and tearing anyone who got in their way.”

It was an accurate description, and similes weren’t lies.

At least Miho told herself that.

“You have experience with drugs?” Narumi enquired, raising a brow, and Miho chortled.

“Come on, Detective, this is New York and I’m a reporter.”

“Well, right now you’re suspected of involvement, or at the very least knowledge of, a terrorist act,” a tall, well build man announced as he sidled up to Narumi’s side.

“Meet Detective Tennoji,” Narumi smiled, but it dimmed as a shadow fell over her.

“A pleasure to meet you Detectives,” Hades greeted pleasantly, and Miho fought to keep from smiling herself.

Before they could speak, before they could ask, he handed Narumi a document.

“Miss Fujiwara has been released to my custody,” he told them.

“Like hell!” Tennoji growled, drawing himself up.

“On whose authority?” Narumi demanded to know, slightly more composed.

“It’s all in that document,” Hades explained, then took Miho’s arm.

Stubbornly, Narumi shoved the document at Tennoji, and grabbed Miho’s other arm.

“This is not a game of tug-of-war,” Miho frowned. “Detectives, please trust they know what they’re doing.”

“I’m far more interested in what you have been doing,” Narumi stated flatly.

“From what I have heard, Miss Fujiwara made a case for first responders not entering for fear of there being an explosion,” Hades reasoned. “Hardly the actions of a terrorist.”

“You’re going to help them cover this up now?” Narumi hissed at Miho.

“I think I was pretty forthcoming with what I saw, Detective,” Miho shrugged, only now pulling her arm away. “I’m no terrorist. I just happened to be here when this all went down and in all honesty, I’m still shaken.”

“Let’s go,” Hades prompted, giving Miho’s arm a slight tug.

Tennoji moved to intervene, but Narumi stopped him.

“I don’t know if they have explosives,” Miho said when they were out of earshot, “but it was the best I could do to buy ti…”

Prophetic maybe?

The blast sent a massive cloud of smoke and dust into the air at the centre of the mall complex, though Miho was unable to see it. As if by reflex Hades moved, and Miho found herself enveloped once more in Hades’ arms, his back to the beleaguered building inside which subsequent detonations sounded.

Screams rose up from the morbidly curious crowd well outside of danger’s range, and though they too were well out of harm’s reach, Hades continued to shield Miho until relative silence settled once more.

“Sometimes it sucks to be right,” Miho whispered, her eyes closed, her body rigid until Hades straightened.

“More people could have been injured, perhaps killed if you’d said nothing,” Hades responded, his breath shifting the hairs behind her right ear.

“And I… didn’t tell her what I really knew,” she breathed, consciously relaxing her body back against him.

“I didn’t think you would,” Hades smiled. “And I am glad you’re safe.”

Then he flinched as something cold touched his cheek. Looking up, his brows twitched at the sight of snow at the end of spring.

“Is that…?” Miho trailed off, also peering upward, and her question was answered as the snow began to fall like a blanket. “What the hell?”

Hades’ expression looked grim as he released her.

“Hades?”

“You said you were shaken,” he focused back in, but she could tell his mind had no gone elsewhere. “Will you be all right?”

“I’m okay,” she nodded, chewing the inside of her cheek for a few seconds. “What do you need me to do?”

“I’ll have an agent take you home,” he replied, narrowing his eyes like he thought she might put up a fight – but she didn’t.

“If you can spare one,” she nodded.

“I can.”

Despite the chaos, the magnitude of what needed to be sorted, Miho was soon inside a company car being driven home.

Hades had touched her hand before she’d entered the cabin, a fleeting sign of affection though his expression remained serious. It was clear to her he was reluctant to let her out of his sight, and if she was honest, as the car moved away she felt less safe.

Exploding zombies should not be a norm.

At Miho’s apartment the agent lingered, making triple sure she was okay before he left.

After using her spare key to get in, all locks were double checked before Miho finally released some of the tension from her shoulders.

On her way to the bathroom, she glanced out the window at the snow that was falling like a billowing white.

“Ugh,” she grunted, turning on the bath taps.

Though the weather had been mild for weeks, the abrupt cold snap added to the fraying edges of her nerves. Then there were the two detectives to think about, eyeing her off like she was involved in terrorist activities and worse, covering it all up. She hadn’t lied to Narumi, but she hadn’t told the whole truth, and Miho realised just what a fine like she was walking.

With another grumble, Miho submerged herself deep in the tub, and let out a long, luxurious sigh. As the warmth sank through her skin to muscles tired from being tensed for action, more of her new reality sank in also.

“I’m a fuckin’ hero,” she whispered to the reverberating walls.

She had, after all, rushed headlong into dangers and dragged that boy – whose name she did not know – from the infections jaws of a slathering zombie.

“Oh shit,” she muttered, for two reasons.

One, because she was supposed to text Hades and hadn’t.

Two, because she had abandoned her phone in the mall.

She’d had to remember where her spare apartment key was, but it hadn’t twigged until that moment that her bag and belongings were not with her.

There wasn’t much she could do about it since she didn’t have a landline phone, and so she closed her eyes and inhaled a deep, steamy breath.

There she allowed herself to be suspected half way between awake and asleep, and time slipped away until she was jerked to attention by three solid knocking sounds from somewhere else in the apartment.

Sitting up, she strained to listen until the knocking came again.

“Damned broken doorbell,” she hissed, pulling herself up.

She gave her body a cursory dry before wrapping herself in a towel – whoever had come to visit would just have to deal with her moisty, dishevelled state.

“Okay, okay! I’m on my way!” she called, when the knocking sounded for a third time, this time more emphatically.

Hades blinked when Miho swung the door open, a grumpy frown affixed to the heat-flush of her face.

Drips fell from rebellious strands of hair that had escaped her messy bun, and the tucked-over knot keeping the towel around her looked set to unwind.

Likewise, Miho stared right back at Hades, suddenly wishing she hadn’t opened the door looking much like a drowned rat.

“You didn’t text,” were his first words, breaking the moment.

“Left my phone at…” she began, but he finished.

“At the mall,” he smiled, holding her handbag out to her.

Swallowing, Miho extended her hand, but the second she closed her fingers around the strap she froze.

His gaze, though fixed upon her face, seemed to smooth along her shoulders, along the ridge of her collarbones, and down to her barely concealed breasts.

With sudden desperation, Miho’s body demanded she drag Hades inside and devour him, but some small angel or demon in her mind told her not to; there was still the whole job offer thing to consider.

“Are you alright?” he asked, closer than he had been – somehow he’d stepped forward and she’d not noticed, sandwiching her hand and the bag between his body and hers.

“Ahh… I’m…” she said, but finishing that sentence proved difficult as his face drew closer. “Hades,” she whispered.

“No, I’m Hades,” he told her quietly, lips hovering before hers. “You, are Miho.”

“Right,” she swallowed, her free hand taking hold of his upper arm. “We shou…”

Tired of her hesitation perhaps, but more likely reaching the limit of his self-restraint, Hades silenced Miho with the ardent smother of his lips; and Miho crumbled, leaning into him with encouraging reciprocation.

In the doorway of her apartment, they bundled up all the day’s, week’s emotion, and let it melt away through the dance of their tongues and a transference of body-heat and passionate need.

All thought and rationality fled from Miho’s mind – her body simply responded as Hades backed her into the apartment and kicked the door closed behind them.

“No more polite,” he growled.

The confident roam of his hands beneath the towel, its path up her left side and to her breast, demolished the lingering remains of Miho’s self-control. Within seconds she found herself toppling back onto the couch, and Hades straddled her, tugging away his tie and pulling at the buttons of his shirt.

Awkwardly, vision a hazy blur of desire and urgency, Miho struggled with his belt buckle while her mind tried to figure the location of the nearest condom.

“Handbag, handbag,” she muttered, searching the lounge though her lust kept drawing her back to the final reveal of Hades’ perfectly chiselled chest, the definition of his pecs and abs.

“There,” Hades pointed at the floor behind Miho’s head, right where she’d finally abandoned it.

The bag, not her head.

The way he reached forward, laying his body against her, caused Miho to shudder with anticipation. She took the opportunity to kiss up his neck as he took hold of her handbag and dragged it within her reach. Miho dug a hand into it blindly as Hades sat back, wriggling to get out of his pants; once he’d achieved that, he took his shaft in one hand, and wormed his hand between Miho’s legs, rubbing fingers against her clit in firm strokes.

“How am I supposed to…” Miho whined, having difficulties pulling open the small zipper compartment where she kept a small supply of ‘just in case’ contraceptives. “Fuck… Hades, stop, stop, I can’t get the damned…”

Hades chuckled as she fumbled in frustration, but he was of little help, and Miho whimpered as he slowly burrowed two fingers into her moistness.

“Okay don’t stop,” she huffed, biting down on her lower lip, watching him stroke his cock, base to tip. “Uhh, that is sooo sexy,” she purred.

“Let me help you with that,” he smirked, releasing his erection and leaning over her again.

“Oh,” she breathed when he withdrew his fingers, and his head nudged against her entrance.

It was a really stupid thought, but suddenly Miho understood how easy it could be to say ‘fuck it’ and have unprotected sex. She wanted Hades to just throw all caution to the wind and pile drive her, the two of them as close as two people could be – but he did no more than tease, and a few seconds later rocked back triumphantly with the small foil packet in his hand.

“Quit smirking and get on with it,” she snarled, glaring, squirming beneath him.

“Still impatient,” he grinned, tossing the packet aside and rolling the condom over his length, before slowly licking his fingers.

“Hades,” Miho hissed, reaching her arms up and clawing at the air, and he was more than happy to indulge her need.

Running his thumbs along her inner thighs, he parted her legs and then leaned down to meet her hungrily lips. He groaned into her mouth, remaining poised at her entrance but holding back – and though he wanted her badly, the frenzy in her eyes was something to savour considering it had felt like she’d kept him at arm’s length since their first ‘encounter’.

When her nails dug more firmly into his shoulders and she bit down and held onto his lower lip, he finally relented, driving himself inside her to the delicious tension she squeezed around him.

Breathing came intermittently, gasps interrupted by their chests pressed together, by the strenuousness of Hades’ thrusts, and the frantic need to taste one another’s thirst.

“Miho!” came a call from outside the door, an urgent one at that, and the voice was followed by a second sentence and the unceremonious entrance of Mieke into the apartment. “I heard you were in a…”

Compromising position?

“Oh… god…” Mieke gawked, absolutely frozen but for her mouth that somehow kept moving. “Hades! Sir… wow… I mean, oh god, Sir!”

At Mieke’s abrupt arrival, Hades had laid down against Miho, curling his arms under her shoulders and sheltering her like he thought the interloper might be a threat – then he met Mieke’s wide-eyed shock.

Of course it was obviously what he and Miho had been doing, their lightly sweating bodies crushing together, Miho’s legs wrapped around the back of his thighs leaving his ass fully exposed.

“Worse timing ever,” Miho hissed out against Hades’ neck, nipping at the skin despite their situation.

“Agent Genever, if you could turn around?” Hades suggested, still a little breathless.

“Yes, buns… I mean Sir! Sir!” Mieke corrected quickly, spinning around, and the moment she had, Hades reluctantly eased himself out of Miho and stood up.

With a heavy sigh, Miho rolled over and looked up at him while he collected his clothing, pouting furiously.

“I’ll just…” he began, and Miho finished for him.

“Yep, go ahead, bathroom’s the first door on the left.”

With an apologetic look – like the interruption was his fault – he pecked her quickly on the lips then disappeared.

It wasn’t until she heard the door click that Mieke whirled around, just as Miho – still naked – sat up looking pissed off.

“Oh. My. God,” Mieke whispered conspiratorially, crossing the room but stopping short of sitting down on the couch that now seemed… um… contaminated? “Does this make you two official?”

“No,” Miho grumped. “It means you’re an exceptionally effective contraceptive.”

“Wait, wait, hold on,” Mieke blurted. “You two were trying for a baby?”

“Are you on crack?” Miho exclaimed. “I can barely look after myself let alone an infant, and even if I wanted babies… no. Cock-block.”

“I’m sorry,” Mieke grinned, her pale cheeks filled with colour. “But you know, what has been seen cannot be unseen so…”

“I suggest you unsee it,” Hades declared, appearing fully dressed.

Miho still sat there stark naked and not at all bothered by that fact.

“Right,” Mieke nodded, taking a step back from the couch and unable to meet Hades’ eyes. “I just wanted to check on Miho, but now I see she is… okay I’ll just…leave and let you two do… stuff.”

“Be careful in the snow, Agent Genever,” Hades warned, walking her to the door like it was his apartment.

“Sure thing, Sir, and sorry again for interrupting your… nothing… bye.”

Hades let out a heavy breath and remained staring at the door after it had closed behind Mieke, but he heard Miho laughing.

“There is no way she is ever going to forget your divine ass,” she grinned, and though he looked at her reproachfully when he turned, she only smiled the wider. “And once she gets over her shock, expect to get teased.”

“I would hope she’d know better,” he grumbled, flopping down onto the couch and dragging her into his lap.

Relaxing against him, Miho closed her eyes and let him kiss her briefly.

“Hmm are you hungry?” she asked him as her stomach gurgled. “I never managed breakfast and skipped lunch so…”

“I could eat,” he replied, planting his lips against her shoulder, and Miho lolled her head back.

“Food,” she clarified, patting his cheek before dragging herself up.

“You’re not going to cook like that are you?” he chuckled, giving her bum a light smack.

“Don’t be stupid,” she tsked. “I’m going to put an apron on.”

While Miho whipped something up, Hades watched her with a smile – a hungry smile. When he offered to help, she batted him away until food was laid out. As they ate, conversation danced around their interrupted exercise and what it might mean, and stayed away from the topic of explosions and zombies, and ended up instead talking about Mieke, right up until Miho yawned for the fifth time.

“Okay, I think it’s time I put you to bed,” Hades chuckled, taking up the dishes from the table and putting them in the sink.

“And after you’ve done that, what then?” Miho queried, standing behind him with their glasses in her hands.

Slowly, he turned to consider her, reading over her expression but ultimately responding with a question.

“What would you like me to do?” he asked.

“I knew you were going to ask that,” she grumped, reaching around him to put the glasses with the plates.

When she straightened, he brushed the back of his hand against her cheek, and without even thinking about it, Miho leaned toward the touch.

“Ugh, I want you to stay and keep the nightmares away,” she murmured, and Hades smiled.

“Gladly,” he told her gently, leaning forward and kissing her forehead.

Though a little begrudgingly perhaps, that he had made her say it, Miho led Hades to her bedroom.

She had put on more than an apron before cooking dinner, but little more than an unimpressive pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. That he still wanted to follow her to the bedroom when she was attired like that, encouraged her more than she thought it should.

“Arms up,” he instructed, but she batted his hand away when he reached for her.

“You may be considerably older than me, but I’m not harbouring any daddy fantasies,” she chided.

“How much do you like that outfit?” he enquired, peering at her so seriously, a serious response formed on her tongue.

“Er, it’s just some cheap running gear,” she shrugged, then flinched as purple light flashed around her in the shape of Hades’ reaper aura, slashing the fabric away from her body without casing her a single scratch.

“That, is cheating,” she told him sternly, and this time it was he who shrugged.

“Or is it merely using all resources to my advantage?” he asked, smoothing his large hands lightly over her shoulders.

“I mean it though, if you treat me like a child, I will definitely throw a tantrum,” she persisted, and Hades held up his hands.

“And I’m well aware of how intense those can be,” he chuckled, and Miho gave him a playful shove against his chest.

“I’ll get you a towel and, I probably have a spare toothbrush around here somewhere,” she told him, snagging a baggy t-shirt from under her pillow and slipping it over her head before heading back into the hall.

When she returned, Hades’ shirt was already hanging on her wardrobe door, and his belt was sliding free.

Swallowing another yawn, she nudged the folded towel against his back.

“Bathroom is the…”

“Found it earlier,” he pointed out.

“Oh, right,” she sighed, following up some mutterings about best friends.

And by the time Hades re-entered the bedroom, Miho was already tucked into bed on the left side.

Without hesitation, Hades moved to the right, slid in beside her, and snuggled her against him.

“I put my toothbrush next to yours,” he said against the top of her head, and Miho looked up at him with a slightly concerned expression, clearing her throat before responding.

“Um, I’m not sure that’s… that’s such a good idea.”

“And why wouldn’t it be?”

His question sounded innocent enough, but Miho knew he wasn’t that dumb.

“Next you’ll be wanting a drawer, then some room in the wardrobe,” she pointed out, speaking dramatically with her hands to cover the awkwardness.

Hades did not seem the slightest bit fazed.

“Would that really be so bad?” he queried calmly, and Miho rolled over and sat up to look down at him.

“Okay, fine,” she huffed, scowling as if the next things she spoke had been drawn from her using torture. “You know I… sex with you was amazing, but home visits and toothbrushes and drawers aren’t casual sex, they’re more than that, and you… I may act like I’m fifty feet tall, but I’m 5’11” and mortal but you… you’re not. You’re an actual god, immortal and powerful, and I don’t know many stories from history where that ever worked out happily ever after.”

“So far an accurate assessment,” he nodded.

“Then you see the problem I’m having here,” Miho exclaimed, but Hades shook his head, and pulled her against his chest by the wrist.

“You think I haven’t also had these thoughts?” he asked her, smoothing back the hair either side of her face. “The very moment I felt myself stir beyond mere physical attraction, I had to wonder if there was any point.”

Despite being the one to bring it up, Miho swallowed the lump suddenly in her throat.

“Perhaps we were simply drawn together by circumstance,” he continued evenly, but his fingers continued to sift through her hair, “caught up in this chaos not even a god like me has all the answers to, but there has never been anything false in how I’ve acted toward you. I’ve never done, or said anything I didn’t mean.”

“I… don’t know what this means,” Miho sighed, biting her lower lip in frustration, but Hades laughed.

“Are you truly so unaccustomed to the concept of love?”

“Whoa whoa, you’re just going to come right out and say it?” she rushed, attempting to sit up again, but Hades preventing her from rising.

“Would you have me call it something it’s not?” he offered. “You are not one for lies, I’ve learned.”

“Well, no I wouldn’t want you to lie,” she frowned, getting all tangled up in terminology and dogma. “But…”

“But what?” he prompted a little more flatly. “Have I misread the signs? Because if I have, I’ll…”

“No,” she admitted, but looked away like she was for some reason embarrassed.

Miho.

Embarrassed.

“No,” she repeated. “It’s just that, I’m too old now to look for anything other than a future.”

“And there is no future with me?” he continued.

“I don’t know!” she admitted. “Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe a mortal should take odds she has a fighting chance of winning.”

“You did take a chance, picked a fight, with me in fact,” he pointed out. “And I’m telling you right now – you already won.”

Slack jawed, Miho just peered at him, lost for words.

“I will show you,” he whispered, brushing her cheek softly, “give me your trust, and I’ll show you.”

Gnawing at the inside of her cheek for a moment, searching his eyes, his expression for any trace of falsehood, of a game gods were purported to enjoy playing with mortals, Miho – finding none – dropped her chin a little, and leaned her head into his touch.

“You have my trust,” she declared breathily, finally lying down again, draping herself over his body and snuggling down.

“Jeez,” she muttered as he wrapped his arm around her, and she planted a kiss against his pec. “Our clashes, Minotaur, Olympus, the zombies, explosions… this… I feel like a stone being tossed about by a raging river, tumbling rapidly in one direction to some unknown destination.”

“The unknown isn’t all bad,” he reassured her with a kiss to the top of her head. “But even if it is, I’ll be with you to face it.”

Astoria: In Chaos – Part Four

SMUT ‘WARNING’

Jazz could feel the eyes of the detective following she and Miho out of the cafe, and they were present when she led Miho to a car.

“What’s with the black saloon?” Miho frowned lightly – the cafe, after all, was well within comfortable walking distance from the Grand Olympian.

“Structural engineers need to inspect the integrity of the building before anyone except specific personnel are allowed back inside,” Jazz explained, motioning with her hand that Miho get into the front passenger seat. “Unless you’re against the idea, Hades would like to see you at his personal residence here in Astoria.”

So formal – it kind of gave Jazz away.

“Something on your mind, Agent Mann?” Miho questioned, moving around the car, but pausing at the door. “Go ahead and speak freely.”

In response, Jazz got into the driver’s seat.

She waited for Miho to join her in the cabin before starting the engine and drawing the vehicle from the curb.

There was silence for a whole minute, while Miho watched Jazz from the corner of her eye – then Jazz spoke up.

“Are you sleeping with Hades?” she asked.

Nice and plain, to the point.

“Well that was direct,” Miho nodded appreciatively, and Jazz’s brows furrowed.

“Is there any way to just get a straight answer out of you?” she breathed in exasperation.

“Did I sleep with him? Once. Did I have sex with him, which is more precisely what you’re asking. No,” Miho told her plainly. “Relieved? You seem a bit relieved, though Hades said you were with Hydra. Ooooh…”

Her eyes widened, sparkling.

“… Is this a three-way situation?” she continued, then tilted her head considering where Jazz said they were headed. “Plus me – a foursome?”

Had she not been driving, Jazz might have face-palmed, Miho could see as much, and chuckled.

“Fine, I’ll stop,” she grinned. “But why the question?”

Jazz held her tongue for a little longer, searching for the right way to articulate what she wanted to say, but in the end, decided to hold back.

“Agent Palmer reported he overheard you announcing your relationship,” Jazz said.

“Palmer is it?” Miho mused. “And for the record, I said commander – I didn’t name names.”

“Except mine, to Detective Yashitori,” Jazz pointed out, and Miho had to concede that.

“I understand her frustration,” Miho shrugged. “She wants to do what’s right, and doesn’t understand why HERA is getting in the way.”

“Her superior will explain it to her,” Jazz nodded, heading toward the more expensive end of Astoria.

“Like mine did?” Miho offered, and Jazz had to agreed that hadn’t worked out so well.

“I don’t suppose you did a whole lot to discourage her,” Jazz assumed. “Why did you take her from the scene?”

“Because she was going to make one,” Miho replied, peering out the window at the row of modern apartments. “Agent Palmer’s attitude was not going defuse her zeal, and if things got much more heated, the rest of the gathering mass of inquisitive onlookers might stop focusing on explosions, and start focusing on why an officer of the law was being denied access to the location of a potential terrorist attack.”

Yep. Miho had totally been doing HERA a solid.

“I see,” Jazz responded noncommittally, flicking on the indicator one last time and turning into the driveway of a private, underground carpark.

She did not, however, have a card to open the gate, and pulled the handbrake.

“This is it,” Jazz declared, looking up at the building. “Just hit the intercom for number 5.”

Miho unclicked her seatbelt, but remained a moment.

“You’re not coming up?”

“I have work to do elsewhere,” Jazz told her. “And Hades didn’t ask to see me.”

There were questions Miho had based on what Hades had told her of how Jazz was the reincarnation of the goddess Hera, but now didn’t seem quite like the right time to delve into it.

“Not a threesome then,” she hummed, glancing up at the building, then back at Jazz once more. “How many women have you delivered to his apartment exactly?”

“Including you? One,” Jazz replied. “Don’t embarrass yourself,” she added. “And don’t forget, Hades may look like a man, but he’s a top tier god.”

At this, Miho snorted, but muttered under her breath as she exited the car.

“He’s anything but just a man.”

The moment Miho was clear, Jazz backed out onto the road and soon disappeared.

“So,” she said to herself as she approached the glass entrance, “what are you going to do now Miss Fujiwara?”

Staring at the intercom button for number five, her hand hovering in mid-air.

Everything had been go go go since the morning – she hadn’t had time to process it was now well after noon and she’d been in the midst of a suicide-zombie attack.

Can a zombie even suicide if it’s already dead?

Whatever. Suddenly, Miho found her mind in a spin, much like the night before.

“Come in, Miho,” Hades’ voice sounded, and Miho blinked to find her fingers pressed against the intercom, through which Hades had spoken.

“Right,” she muttered, and when the heavy door clicked open, she pushed it in.

It was a short trip across the foyer, the out into a lovely garden with a covered walkway. Following signage, she found number five, and touched the doorbell button lightly.

Hades must have been waiting just behind it, for the door opened inward before Miho could retract her hand, causing her to flinch a little.

“Sorry,” he smiled apologetically, but he was studying her – posture, body language, expression. “Come in.”

“You don’t have a, beta site or something for if the Grand Olympian gets compromised?” she asked, following him up a flight of stairs to an airy open plan living-dining-kitchen area.

“Yes,” he replied, leading her over to the kitchen counter.

“Shouldn’t you be there? Zombies and explosions and all?” she queried, settling herself on a barstool.

“I’m co-ordinating from here,” he told her, opening the fridge and collecting an armful of various foodstuffs. “I have full confidence in my agents’ abilities to cope with the situation.”

“So we even know what the situation is yet?”

After he carefully placed the contents in his arms down on the bench, he looked at Miho with a raised brow.

We?” he repeated.

“Yeah, we,” Miho affirmed with a confident nod. “I was there when this happened, here and on Olympus, and since you haven’t gone all MIB and erased my memory, and sent Agent Mann to chauffeur me over here, we are definitely a we.”

That may just have been the stupidest sentence Miho had ever articulated. And then it occurred to Miho that Jazz or Agent Palmer, may have told him what she’d said to Detective Yashitori.

“Did you eat on your date with Detective Yashitori?” he then asked, and Miho narrowed her eyes.

“Are you in my head?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted, staring back at her, both of his hands flat on the counter and a slight forward lean to his body. “Am I?”

“Jealous?” she challenged. “Narumi is cute.”

“On a first name basis already?”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Miho grinned, refusing to break eye contact.

“I asked mine first,” he pointed out, his smile tugging a little wider.

“No, I did not eat on my date with Detective Yashitori,” she announced, maintaining her expectant gaze, but Hades straightened, and started to throw baby spinach leaves into a colander.

“Rude,” she murmured with a small pout, not pursuing her answer, thinking, perhaps, about what Agent Mann had asked on the way over.

“So other than detoxing my system with a fine non-GM, high antioxidant meal, why am I here?” she then questioned.

Suddenly the atmosphere was a lot more casual.

“You disappeared,” he said as he prepared various ingredients. “Was it wrong of me to feel concerned?”

“If you were concerned about where i was an whether I was okay, Agent Mann could have told you that over the phone,” Miho pointed out. “Would you like to try that answer again?”

“I was concerned,” he repeated a little more emphatically. “You’re not a trained HERA agent, yet you threw yourself toward serious harm without thought…”

“Thanks, Dad,” she huffed. “But unless you were inside my head the moment I heroically pitched a rubbish bin at an explosive zombie, you have no idea what I did or didn’t think.”

Emitting a slightly peeved snort, she crossed her arms.

“And if you’re going to ground me and send me to my room, you’d better point me in the right direction,” she added, lip curled back a little.

But Hades sighed in defeat, and instantly Miho felt guilty – after all, not last night he’d lost countless of his people.

“I don’t want to fight again,” he told her, and the honesty in his face drained all the swirling, heated anger from her.

“Uh, how am I supposed to stay mad when you make that face?” she grumbled, slouching, and Hades continued to make their late lunch.

He said no more, and after a while, Miho felt words simply pouring out of her.

“The cop, Narumi Yashitori,” she said. “I didn’t reveal anything to her, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you those explosions got her attention, and HERA got on her nerves… like they got on mine.”

“I see,” he nodded, beginning to pile two plates with the meal he’d prepared. “We’ve a department who will answer any questions she has.”

“I’d be interested to know exactly what they tell her,” she thought aloud. “It was like looking in a mirror.”

“I certainly hope not,” Hades smirked, moving with the two plates over to the dining table. “I hardly know what to do with the Miho I already have.”

At this Miho couldn’t help but laugh, laugh and feel a little triumph – she really did like to challenge people, and there was also something about the way he suggested he ‘already had her’ that made her wonder if if… if um…

“Miho?” Hades prompted, and startled she focused back on him.

“Sorry, totally just spaced out then,” she laughed sheepishly. “I wasn’t thinking anything inappropriate, I swear.”

“Inappropriate?” he queried, putting both plates down and looking back as she slipped from the stool she’d been perched on. “What exactly would you consider inappropriate right now?”

Finding it impossible to articulate in words, Miho shimmied expertly out of her panties and flung them at Hades.

“How’s that?” she offered, but Hades just blinked back at her.

“How’s what?”

Again, Miho blinked. Her panties were where they should be, and Hades was well within his rights to look at her in confusion.

“Is it too early for an adult beverage?” she asked, giving her head a shake as she headed over to the table.

“What would you like?”

“Something with bite,” she replied, rolling her neck. “Obviously I’m too tense.”

“And you wonder why I worry about you,” he sniffed, heading to a sleek liquor cabinet filled with unlabelled bottles.

He returned a moment later, pouring a pale amber liquid into a lovely crystal tumbler.

“This was distilled by Dionysus’ daughter Methe,” he explained, holding it out to Miho.

“The Goddess of Drunkenness?” Miho laughed, his fingers brushing Miho’s ever so briefly as the glass was exchanged.

Nothing much came of it, because while this may have started in Voltage, this isn’t a Voltage story anymore.

“The very same,” he smiled, and sat down opposite her.

Lunch was a rather quiet affair. There was cutting and chewing and swallowing (not usually Miho’s style, that last part), and by the time Miho’s plate was completely cleared, her belly was pleasantly full and her glass was suitably empty.

“That was delicious, the meal and the liquor,” she said, rising to collect both their plates and convey them to the kitchen sink.

Not spying a dishwasher, she simply went about filling at the sink, rolling her neck and stretching her arms while she waited for it to sufficiently filled.

“Stiff?” Hades questioned from behind her, closer than Miho expected him to be.

“Sorry what?” she exhaled, and actually found herself tensing.

Both of them froze, Miho with her head turned enough to see Hades in her peripheral vision.

“Your neck? Shoulders?” he clarified, slowly raising his hands, giving her every chance to move away, watching for even the slightest sign of discomfort or displeasure in her face, her posture, any evidence of repulsion or warning – not that he really thought she’d be subtle about expressing any of that.

But there was nothing, and finally his large hands fell lightly against her shoulders.

As first the pressure of his fingers kneaded gently into the taut muscles Miho hadn’t really even realised were holding so much tension, but when she let out a long sigh, they dug a little harder.

“Mmhmm, if you ever want to give up your job as a god, you could definitely make a living as a masseuse,” she exhaled breathily, unconsciously leaning back against him.

Then froze again, before lifting her chin so quickly she nearly head-butted him.

“Oh, shit I’m sorry!” she blustered when he actually stumbled back a little, and she whirled around to at least look apologetic.

“Seems to me like being a masseuse could be hazardous to my health,” he noted, and actually looking a little embarrassed, rubbed the back of his neck.

“I am really sorry,” she cringed. “Wow, so embarrassing.”

“Not as embarrassing as if you’d given me a nosebleed,” he pointed out wryly, clearly trying to ease her mortification with humour.

“Could I even do that?” she wondered. “I mean…”

Then she stopped. She had been going to say, ‘… I mean do gods even bleed,’ but then realised she had seen first-hand that not only could they bleed, they could die.

“Yeah, obviously I do need to relax,” she chuckled, biting her lip a little. “Maybe some more of Methe’s booze?”

“How about I make you some tea?” he offered instead.

“Tea huh?” Miho thought. “Not very sexy… friggin’, you totally just blew your chance to blow a god.”

“Afraid I could drink my way through all your good stuff?” she smirked, still trying to cover how much like an idiot she felt.

“If you drank a fraction of my good stuff, you’d be dead,” he answered.

It was an innocent enough response, but given Miho mind had gone to a dirty place, she was now caught up in drinking HADES’ good stuff.

Cough.

“Ah, okay, tea then would be good,” she nodded, looking away as she gnawed on the inside of her cheek a little.

“Why don’t you…” he began, but was interrupted by the ringing of his mobile phone. “Why don’t you get comfortable on the balcony?” he suggested, before digging the phone from his pocket and answering. “Alex…”

Gratefully, Miho made good her escape from the kitchen, and let herself through the glass doors that led out to the balcony.

“Maybe I should write my memoirs,” she thought aloud. “Not that I could publish it if I wanted to be faithful to the last few days and… not if I want to keep their secrets.”

The taste of Hades was then pushed far away by heftier rumination. Her discussion with Narumi replayed, and she found herself scowling, uncomfortable in her padded outdoor chair.

“What are you thinking?” Hades asked, and when Miho focused back in, it was on the teacup Hades held.

“Mm, you can’t read my mind?” she responded, lifting the cup from his light grip.

And their fingers brushed ever so slightly, but because they’re both adults and not a pair of quivering shyness receptors, the fleeting contact slipped pretty much under the radar.

“No,” he admitted, taking his own steaming drink and sitting in the chair beside her. “And though you do seem prone to spacing out, you’re relatively difficult to read.”

“To be fair, I’ve had a bit on my mind lately,” she argued lightly. “There hasn’t been an awful lot of down time to think things through.”

“From what I know about you, you are the impulsive type,” he chuckled, taking a sip of his tea before continuing. “Act now, think later.”

Her first impulse was to be contrary, but she bit down on her tongue and took a few seconds to better consider her response.

Which technically made her contrary. Whatever.

The point is, after a short pause, she put her tea to the side, rose from her seat and turned to him.

Mildly surprised, Hades looked over the top of his cup and up at her, and continued to do so in silence as she stepped in front of him. He did not protest when she reached out and carefully relieved him of his tea, and put it down next to hers.

“You were finished with that, weren’t you?” she asked him rhetorically, her tone an imperative despite the question.

“It seems that way,” Hades smiled slowly, shifting a little in his seat.

Laced with significant challenge – the challenge to reject her – Miho forced herself to maintain eye contact as she placed her fingertips against his crossed leg, and nudged it away from the other.

“I’ll be careful,” she smiled, as she leaned forward and placed her hand on his shoulder, nestling her knee in beside his thigh before rocking her whole body forward, “not to head-butt you.”

“Likewise,” he replied, resting his hands lightly against her hips, securing her, forward-facing, in his lap.

“Being head-butted by a god might have some pretty serious repercussions,” she chuckled, slithering her fingers around his neck and dragging her nails through the short hairs at the nape.

“Then I suppose we’ll have to start with something a little, gentler,” he reasoned, inching his face closer as she dropped hers, but she held back just short of their lips touching.

“Still, I’m pretty robust,” she breathed, lowering lashes briefly as she pressed herself down against him. “Survived a round with Minotaur, after all.”

“I won’t kiss you into a coma,” he vowed, his grip at her sides tightening as his lips closed around just her lower one.

Now, Miho had been kissed plenty of times, but there was a serious thrill in the soft restraint of the way he barely suckled her flesh. She couldn’t tell if the shiver that rushed through her was because it had ‘been a while’, or if it came from knowing the incongruity of his tender approach and the potency of the power she knew he was capable of.

He could tear her apart, but it felt like he was handling something fragile and delicate.

“No?” she exhaled when he allowed her to speak freely.

“Mmm,” he murmured as she rolled her hips forward. “But I can’t promise what comes after won’t cause you to pass out.”

“Come on, Underworld Princess,” she goaded, looping her fingers under his tie, slipping her fingers along the silk to loosen it at the front. “Make my mind go blank.”

Challenge set, permission given, Hades smoothed one hand up Miho’s spine to the back of her head, and drew her face firmly to meet his.

He allowed the taste of her tongue to overwhelm the fleeting flavour of his forgotten tea, and all memory of their awkward kitchen encounter faded.

There was now no hesitation in the roam of his hands; the heat of her body and the pressure she was increasingly exerting against his crotch, dragged him away from thoughts of the crisis currently plaguing the pantheon and Earth. Though he had avoided affections of any kind since Jazz had chosen Hydra, claiming – even to himself – there was just no place for it anyway with the pantheon in a shambles, he could not deny the comfort of another’s intimate touch.

Slowly, Miho gathered up his polo shirt until they needed to break away from each other long enough to slip it over his head. Though the night air blew against his exposed torso on gentle wafts, Hades did not feel the cold in the slightest – the heat from Miho gaze as she slid from his lap and knelt between his legs cause fire to spread both without, and within.

“What if I make you pass out first?” she grinned up at him, walking her fingers up the bulge in his pants, following the zipper up until she could slowly drag it down.

“That would be some feat,” Hades inhaled, clearly trying to play it cool as she teased him through his briefs.

“But if I win?” she asked cheekily, peering up the firm undulation of toned abdominal muscles and licking her lips.

“I wouldn’t call that a win for either of us,” he replied, his hands reaching for her hair, weaving his fingers from behind her ears to the very ends. “I would be unconscious, you would be awake, and I would not get the pleasure of…”

His sentence broke off as she freed his shaft and lowered her head – but she looked up through her lashes expectantly.

“The pleasure of?” she prompted, flicking her tongue out but purposefully missing his head by a tiny margin – and it was clear Hades was exerting considerable willpower not to raise his hips toward her mouth.

“Of hearing the sounds you’re going to make,” he explained, combing her hair to one side and gathering it there. “Of seeing your face reflect how good I want you to feel.”

“Mmm, good answer,” she smiled – a genuine smile, because the tone of his voice assured her his words weren’t meaningless lines.

Kissing against his head ever so lightly, caused Hades to hiss out a slow breath of anticipation; he wanted to close his eyes, but could not lift his gaze from her. The way she lowered her head, sliding her lips around his girth, her tongue warm and wet and firm against him all the way to the back of her throat – he was enraptured. The dig of her fingernails into his thighs reminded him of current tumult, but the twisting, turning, building storm of fire setting all his senses ablaze, was all about her.

Blinking away tears of effort, keeping her gag reflex at bay, Miho took great pleasure in the squirm of this god at her mercy, feeling her own skin burn with want.

“Miho,” he rumbled, straining to reach forward and draw her up from her knees.

“I’m not finished,” she protested breathlessly, but Hades was already well on his way to removing her blouse, strong fingers burrowing under the torturous underwire of her bra and unhooking unkind clasps that held her breasts captive.

At the close of his mouth over her right nipple, Miho gasped sharply, rolling against him, pressing with a crashing wave of need to be filled with more than the uncertainty of late.

“Uh, don’t just tease me then,” she whined, his face gripped tightly between her hands, fingertips digging into his scalp.

And so easily he picked her up, her legs wrapped around his waist, grinding. With a last kick he left his trousers and underwear on the balcony and carried her inside.

She might have wondered how often he had lovers at his earth condo that he had condoms handy, especially in the kitchen, but she was more glad they were there. Stopping now was not an option.

Her pants were shed before he placed her against the cold marble benchtop, the cool contrast shooting splinters of pleasure up her spine.

“No, don’t leave me,” she breathed, when Hades began to crouch, encouraging him back up to her mouth. “I want to stare at you, right up until that moment you break me.”

“I don’t want to break you,” he swallowed, nipping at her lips while he secured the condom into place.

“Oh I want you to give it your best shot,” she grinned, exclaiming a soft moan as his fingers pressed into her wetness, thumb rolling hard over her swollen clit. “It’s not every… day you get to fuck a god, after all.”

The clamp of her teeth on his shoulder caused him to grimace as he explored within her, the scrap of her nails patterning his shoulder blades with uneven white lines unable to break the surface. Each time he pushed inward, Miho’s hips met the limit of his fingers and tried to wriggle further still, and Hades relished the glow in her cheeks and the slight lack of focus in her gaze.

“I want you,” he murmured around her tongue, and Miho leaned back a little.

“Then stop being so polite and take me,” she asserted, even as he placed his fingers into her mouth, tangy with her own taste.

His eyes flared with a fire she’d not yet seen, her imperative releasing the man behind the gentleman god with his own wants, needs, and the will to pursue them.

With a firm grip on her once more, he lifted her from the counter, holding her against his chest easily with one arm, and aligning the head of his aching length against the breach of her snatch – and Miho held her breath though her lungs burned.

“You, are beautiful,” he told her quietly, carrying her further into the kitchen until her back pressed flat against the smooth stainless steel of the refrigerator.

“Are you stalling to infuriate me?” she responded, squirming though his hold was firm enough to prevent much movement.

“I’m stalling,” he breathed, his forehead to her lightly so they were eye to eye, nearly lip to lip, “because I want you,” he continued, and ever so slowly gravity pull her down onto him, “to enjoy this moment especially.”

Wincing a little as he stretched her open – certainly more so than any previous lover – Miho’s entire body quivered until she could swallow him no more.

Satisfied by her shuddering groan and the low-lidded way she enticed him with her eyes, Hades finally succumbed to the tightness of her clenching pussy, withdrawing only to return to that blissful warmth again and again. Neither paid any mind to the rhythmic crack of the fridge as they shoved it against the wall with the force of their passion – both were far too caught up in the rising pressure building relentlessly against their desire to make the conflagration last.

And Miho let go of words, all the words she used to describe things and feelings and sensations, and as each moment of sweet, deep, penetration and the dizzying pleasure drew her closer to peak, she clung to Hades’ shoulders and sucked on his lips, rocked her hips toward the crash of hers until her mouth fell silently open.

 

Miho murmured into wakefulness, her body heavy with a satisfying ache and her mind clouded with the echo of acute sensation.

“Welcome back,” Hades smiled down into her face, his body propped up on one elbow.

Blinking slowly to try and focus her eyes, Miho took a moment to take in her surroundings. Hades laid beside her in a large bed, his lower half covered by a graphite coloured sheet, while she was completely concealed. Lightly he touched her hair, and Miho’s eyes flickered closed with a sigh.

“You kept your word,” she exhaled, nuzzling against his hand. “I… have no idea how I got here.”

“I’d hate to disappoint,” he chuckled, curling a lock of her hair around his finger.

“Oh, you most certainly did not,” she assured him. “Quite…” she went on, clearing her throat. “… epic.”

Looking modestly pleased with her description, Hades gently began to draw scrolling patterns down Miho’s neck then across her exposed collarbone, causing her to pleasantly shiver.

“Ahh, you want to go again, hmm?” she breathed, peering up at him with heated desire no less than before, but clearly lidded. “But, if I’m honest, I don’t think I have the energy to move much right now.”

“That’s fine,” he said, leaning down to kiss her lips, allowing her to feel his still present desire despite what he said. “It’s still night,” he told her, shimmying down under the sheet and offering her his arm.

Somewhat laboriously, Miho rolled over and rest her head against his shoulder, his strong arm holding her to him.

“Get some sleep,” he suggested, planting a kiss against the top of her head. “I’ll keep the nightmares away.”

“I don’t think I even have the energy for nightmares,” she admitted wryly. “You sure know how to wear a girl out.”

Snuggled against him, curling one leg over his and her arm across his chest, Miho took in a deep breath of Hades’ scent, and closed her eyes.

In that darkness, Miho rediscovered delicious drowsiness, and focusing on the sensation of Hades breathing, his heartbeat beneath her palm, she drifted into sleep once more.

Day 25

Some time after 1am, Hades felt the urgent vibration of his cell phone. Reluctantly, he carefully pried himself away from Miho, ever so carefully so as not to wake her. With a quiet murmur she shifted a little, then snuggled against the pillow – but remained asleep.

Out of earshot he took the call from Jazz, and quickly apprised of yet another instance of the undead, his plans for ‘breakfast in bed’ with Miho were completely dashed.

He left her a note, to which she woke some hours later, groggy until her hand crunched into paper where Hades should have been.

“Dear Miho,” she read. “I had to go but didn’t want to wake you. Go ahead and make yourself at home, just stay out of the liquor cabinet. Hades.”

Miho scowled and even pouted since no one was around to see it.

“What does he think I am? Some kind of lush?” she snorted, stretching her still somewhat sore body.

The ache, however, reignited memories of the night before, and Miho found herself grinning. She grinned all the way to the bathroom and scoped it out – neat and clean with a shower…

“… big enough for fucking,” she verbalised, turning the water on and stepping under it.

It felt weird.

Not the water – being in Hades’ condo when he wasn’t there.

He had such a presence, and with the recollection of it still pressing against her skin, into her, its absence was significant.

But it was the morning after, and now she didn’t quite know what to do about it. The sex was good.

No, that word doesn’t do it justice.

How the hell do you describe an orgasm so intense you pass clean out?

Divine – duh.

Miho sighed, and resisted the urge to indulge too much in the memory.

When she was dried and dressed in yesterday’s clothing, she wandered out into the open living area to find another note on the kitchen bench.

“Me again,” she read, then snickered at the dorkiness. “Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge. Wow Hades, if your subordinates knew how fluffy you really were.”

She was starving, but she didn’t want to linger.

She sighed again, but this time because she didn’t want to extrapolate on their relationship all… how many face to face days of it? Okay, so giving in to their mutual attraction was a bit of a fast forward, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything.

So she left, locking the door behind her.

That isn’t a metaphor for her heart, reader, calm down.

With just her handbag, she walked for a while. The longer she spent on the street, the more she found herself scouring every nook and cranny for signs of the undead, until she couldn’t stand it anymore and hailed a taxi.

Making only one stop before her apartment – to acquire herself a new police scanner from a ‘source’ of hers – Miho then shut herself away in front of her computer.

The cursor flashed on the empty document as she struggled to find a place to begin, to order her thinking into some cogent form.

But her brain was clouded.

“Ugh, this isn’t working,” she growled at herself, and instinctively looked to her phone.

In times like those, she would have called Mieke. Rain, hail or shine, night or day, her best friend was always there when she needed her.

The last time they’d spoken, however, had been in the café when Miho had discovered the truth of her employment, and upon reflection, Miho knew she had been pretty harsh about it.

Now she knew the secrets of HERA – well, some of them – she understood it must have been pretty difficult for Mieke to keep everything concealed, and for her to balance their friendship and her work.

Oh but how Miho hated admitting she was wrong, and there were a bunch of messages from Mieke on her phone she’d be ignoring… and she would really have to answer them properly.

“Fiiiiiine,” she hissed to herself, then dialled Mieke.

It was answered within one ring.

“Miho?” the other woman’s voice rang out in surprise.

“Glad you haven’t forgotten my name,” Miho said wryly. “You busy?”

“Ahhh, nope, not busy at all,” Mieke rushed, and Miho smiled.

“Fancy a sleep over? In addition to apologising for what I said to you the other day, and you know, ignoring your messages, I have stuff to tell you.”

“Definitely,” Mieke responded. “Um, give me about an hour?”

Glancing at the clock, Miho shrugged.

“No problem, I’ll get started on the snacks.”

Day 26

Mieke arrived in her Batman pyjamas. The first thing Miho did, was draw her over the threshold into her arms and squish her tightly.

“I’m sorry,” she smooched against the other woman’s neck. “I was a dick. I didn’t try to look at things from your perspective- I am a dick.”

“Me too,” Mieke grinned, hugging Miho right back. “I didn’t want to lie to you. It was horrible and I am horrible.”

This mutual confession was step one.

Step two.

“Chocolate will cleanse us of our sins,” Miho announced, finally releasing Mieke and kicking her apartment door closed.

And so it happened, that on a pile of cushions, tangled in several feather doonas, Miho and Mieke laid in the middle of the lounge room, comfortably snuggled up and stuffed full of melty chocolate muffins Miho had baked.

“I think I ate too much,” Miho groaned.

“As is tradition,” Mieke giggled, but she too felt on the uncomfortable side of full.

“Okay, so,” Miho exhaled, “I need to tell you something, but you have to keep it to yourself.”

“Well it goes without saying I’m good at that, right?” Mieke pointed out, giving Miho’s belly a poke.

“Okay,” Miho repeated, taking a deep breath. “I had sex with Hades.”

Poised for another attack on Miho’s stomach, Mieke froze and stare, not even blinking.

“With Hades?” she repeated, but it truly came out like a question.

“Yeah,” Miho affirmed breathily. “You know, he was getting in my way, and then the whole Minotaur thing and suddenly I’m on Olympus walking around hand in hand then fending off zombies and…”

“But you… with Hades?” Mieke stammered, and Miho prattled on, waving her hands around in an animated fashion.

“And the moment we get back I’m nearly blown up by more zombies, and then Agent Mann is dragging me to Hades’ condo by the river, and he cooks and we drink and then…”

“Then?” Mieke prompted, even though Miho had already divulged the conclusion.

“And then he fucked me so gloriously I passed out,” Miho sighed, her body quivering and her nethers tingling at the recollection. “Holy shit it was soooo good,” she gasped, lolling her head back, and Mieke rose up on her elbows to look down into Miho’s face.

“Do you have any real idea what you’ve done?” Mieke asked her flatly.

“Sucked on the godrocket of Princess Underworld?” Miho offered cheekily. “Not that I could fit all of it in my mouth,” she giggled.

“Oh my god!” Mieke exclaimed, caught somewhere between excited and flabbergasted.

“Well I’d have said that, but my mouth was full at the time” Miho laughed.

“Well… I mean… describe it – in absolute visceral detail!” Mieke demanded.

What followed was a graphic account, with partial re-enactment, of Miho’s sexual encounter with Hades, and Mieke hung off every syllable.

“So he just… left you in his condo on your own?” Mieke blinked.

Hades was pretty private, always professional, and rumour around HERA was, in lieu of Zeus, he was the real leader of the pantheon – and now her best friend had…

“Left me a couple of little notes,” Miho added, “but yeah, pretty much.”

“Well, what were they like?”

“What was what like? His kisses? His choice of position? His testicles?”

“Yes,” Mieke nodded, and that set them laughing again. “I mean the notes. Were they lovey dovey – hearts and love Hades?”

“Nope,” Miho shrugged. “Boring really, business like.”

“Oh, well that sucks,” Mieke pouted. “What now though? I mean, is this a thing? Are you and he a thing?”

“I…” Miho began, then paused to think on it a little more deeply. “… nah, I don’t think so.”

“Really?” Mieke frowned. “I mean, it’s not like I know him personally, but he always struck me as the type to commit, not be just casual.”

“Look, it was probably all the excitement, the adrenaline, the alcohol – holy shit that god-brewed stuff is sooo good.”

“Did you just change the subject?” Mieke gawped. “You slept with a top tier god, the top tier god arguably running Olympus, you don’t get to change the subject.”

“I don’t really know him as a top tier god though,” Miho defended with an awkward shrug. “Just a hot guy with weird cosmetic choices getting in the way of my investigation. You know, even in Olympus it was like… amazing but they have the same kind of sadness and fear as we do.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Mieke agreed. “I heard some gods actually died.”

“And then came back as zombies,” Miho affirmed. “I just can’t figure out why though. Just for destruction? For mayhem? Revenge? And who? Hades said he didn’t think Zeus was behind it.”

“Ugh, Zeus. That guy scares the shit out of me, and to be honest, I wouldn’t put anything past a megalomaniac like that. When the whole… hey wait a minute, you misdirected again!”

This revelation dissolved into a tickle war that left both women gasping for breath.

“So,” Mieke panted. “Are you going to see him again?”

“That’s… a really good question,” Miho shrugged, stretching out her limbs and wriggling her fingers. “I need to go begging to be unsuspended, or get looking for a new job, or I’m going to end up living at your place.”

“Or with Hades?” Mieke offered, but it was met with incredulity.

“If I moved in with every man I slept with, Mieke, I’d have a pretty decent real estate portfolio,” she expounded, then looked thoughtful. “Damn, I should have thought of it sooner.”

“I still think you’d have a shot with Hades,” Mieke pressed.

“Maybe, but what’s the point? He’s immortal, and I am mortal, which means I’ll be a wrinkly old prune before too long and he’ll still be an Adonis.”

“Not seeing a problem there,” Mieke laughed.

“I think it’d be painful for him to see someone he cared for wither away, and maybe he’d just ditch me for a younger model anyway, which wouldn’t be much fun either,” Miho reasoned.

“Hmm, I see your point,” Mieke frowned. “But you could at least have fun with him while you’re not reliant upon a pacemaker to keep you ticking, right?”

“I guess,” Miho nodded, not quite sure why that idea made her feel uneasy.

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.”

Astoria: In Chaos – Part Two

DAY 8

Another day, another bloody great hole in the ground – this time slap-bang in the middle of an elementary school playground. Miho knew this, because she’d managed to snap a few photographs of the scene, and then of the suit- wearing sweepers who blew in like the wind and cordoned everything off.

Triumphant, she returned to her office, set on stirring the pot with enough vigour to force the ‘cover-up squad’ to reveal something.

But, it wasn’t an especially clever tactic.

“Fujiwara,” came a shape bark across the top of the cubicles in the news room, and Miho paused the furious tapping of her fingers against the keyboard.

A ripple of whispers rushed to meet her when she stood to find several uniformed police officers, followed by the woman she knew only as Agent Mann and a somewhat nervous looking man in similar attire, stalking in her direction.

“This is an order for the seizure of all your work materials,” Agent Mann told Miho in a business-like manner, “along with your cell phone, laptop and any storage devices.”

“What?” Miho blinked in utter shock. “You can’t do that!”

Agent Mann’s eyebrow raised, but rather than argue, she simply handed the piece of paper to Miho who frantically began to study it.

“This,” Agent Mann continued, producing another piece of paper, “is an intervention order preventing you from approaching any clearly signposted crime scenes. Failure to adhere fully to both will be considered contempt of court, and will attract the full weight of penalties that apply.”

“You’re banning me from doing my job?” Miho snarled, snatching the second piece of paper but not even looking at it – the first was legitimate. “Where’s Hades?” she snapped, even as the police began to empty Miho’s cubicle into boxes. “Did he not have the courage to carry out this gag order himself? What is he so afraid of hm?”

Her teeth gnashed at Agent Mann before her eyes flashed at the man standing beside her.

“Not you,” Agent Mann responded dryly. “You’re also required to delete any data you have stored in the cloud, and surrender any notes and materials in storage at your place of residence.”

No matter what Miho said, Agent Mann would not relent, and in the end she was told to wait in the editor’s office while the police did their thing.

Working her jaw painfully, her knuckles popping in tight fists, she glowered out the window. Outrage grated against her skin, itching and burning.

“Think this will stop me getting to the truth?” she hissed, and it just so happened her editor walked in as she said it.

“Yes it will,” her editor declared curtly. “What use do you think I have for a reporter who will land herself in jail if she so much as looks at a crime scene?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Miho exclaimed. “Editor, I’m the best you’ve got.”

“Not anymore. Go home, Fujiwara.”

“What?” Miho blurted.

The editor sighed.

“I’ll get legal onto this intervention thing, but when the feds are involved…”

“Did you see a badge? FBI? NSA? Homeland Security?” Miho balked, face getting more and more red. “Of course not, because they’re none of those things!”

“Whatever they are, those orders against you are legitimate, so until this is resolved, you’re suspended.”

Slack jawed with disbelief, Miho stared at him until he shooed her from his office. On her desk she found her mobile phone, and when she checked she discovered not just those pertaining to her investigation of the mysterious damage had been deleted, but all images and videos. It wasn’t until he cleared his throat, that Miho realised the suited man was still standing by her cubicle.

“I’m here to oversee the removal of data from your cloud accounts,” he explained, and Miho narrowed wrathful eyes at him.

This caused him to squirm a little uncomfortably.

“Um, really, you have to, so, don’t say you don’t have any or…”

Miho interjected.

“Or what?”

Her teeth chewed through both words, and she looked like she was about to chew through him.

“Or, or Agent Mann said Hades will handle it,” he replied, seeming like he wanted to take a very big step away from her.

“That arrogant toss,” she snorted bitterly.

The man’s eyes widened – a little bit shocked, a little more fearful.

“I wouldn’t speak about him like that,” he warned, the word tumbling from his mouth.

Or… what?” Miho repeated, leaning toward him. “He’ll drag him into the Underworld and torment me for all eternity?”

It was difficult for Miho to imagine the man’s eyes getting any wider without his eyeballs dropping from their sockets, and she couldn’t tell if it was just because he felt affronted on his boss’ behalf, or was thrown off by her gall.

Either way, Miho didn’t back down.

“In fact, why don’t you scurry on back to whatever rock you lot crawled out from under, and tell him exactly that,” she hissed, snatching her phone and her handbag before stalking from the office.

The agent didn’t stop her.

It was as Miho stomped across the foyer that it occurred to her.

That rock they crawled out from under… if she wanted to know who they were, she should just follow Agent Uncertain back to it.

Twenty minutes later she stood before the building Agent Unsure had disappeared into: the Grand Olympian. Miho debated the merits of making a frontal assault, of walking right in like she belonged there on the chance she could bluff her way to the information she sought, but that was fraught with pitfalls.

“Seriously,” she muttered to herself. “Who do these people think they are? Hades and the Grand Olympian? Hmph.”

Several people walked in and out, allowing her a glimpse of the foyer, and the several black-clad, stoic suits standing guard.

“After what they pulled,” Miho growled to herself, losing the battle with her anger and storming across the street.

Into the foyer she stalked, eyes filled with determined balefire, posture set with get the fuck out of my way, and in the middle she stopped to glare from blank face to blank face.

“I want to speak to Hades,” she declared flatly, locking eyes with the nearest man.

The only movement he made was the slight twitch of his eyebrow and his lips as he spoke in the expected monotone.

“Ma’am,” he began, and that only enraged Miho more. “This…”

“This is about to be a really unpleasant scene,” she snapped, her hands flailing about in an animated fashion. “Because I don’t care what excuse you give me, this front doesn’t fool me. So get yourself on the phone, intercom, radio, whatever, and get that underworld princess down here to face me.”

That got more of a reaction. She may not have known what she said, her comments based purely upon his name, but just as Agent Stutterpants, the suits in the foyer looked startled.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but you’re going to have to leave,” a second suit told her when he emerged from his bewilderment, and he reached for her arm.

“I will drop you,” she warned ferociously. “Keep your hands to yourself.”

“If you won’t leave willingly, Ma’am, we have no choice.”

A moment later Miho was manhandled from the building and propelled toward the pavement, but what might have actually caused her to fall most inelegantly actually resulted in a most serendipitous collision.

“Sir!” Suit #1 exclaimed, when Miho was practically thrown into his arms.

Equally as surprised, Hades looked down at the woman he’d reflexively caught in his arms as she was flung in his direction.

A little panicked perhaps, Suit #2 and Suit #3 moved up to them, #2 grasping Miho’s shoulder. Though Hades’ grip was light enough that she was drawn away from his chest, a moment later the offending suit hit the pavement with a heavy thud, his arm pulled behind him by the wrist, before Miho leaned her knee in between his shoulder blades.

“I warned you what would happened if you laid a hand on me again,” she hissed. “I was an assassin in a past life!”

“Miss Fujiwara,” Hades’ stern voice rumbled, and her blazing eyes snapped to him. “Please unhand Agent Trevaughn.”

“When I have his word he won’t touch me,” she grated.

“Agent?” Hades prompted, deciding it was best to quickly resolve the situation there on the footpath – even if it meant giving Miho some of what she wanted.

“You have my word,” Agent Trevaughn croaked, cheek pressed against the rough concrete.

Instantly Miho rocked back and released her hold, putting a few paces between she and the man before looking to Hades again.

“Fancy running into you here,” she exhaled, her smile the vicious injury he’d perpetrated against her. “Just the god I’m after.”

Like the suits before him, Hades raised an eyebrow.

“You want me to roast you out here, or inside?” she asked.

“Hm, I have a better idea,” Hades responded. “Why don’t you calm down and join me for a cup of coffee?”

“Are you really sure you want me in possession of hot liquids?” Miho challenged stubbornly.

“I seldom get what I want,” Hades told her calmly. “But, if you are in any part the reporter you are reputed to be, you would not turn down the opportunity to converse with the subject of your…”

Ire,” Miho filled in frostily, and Hades merely accepted it and inclined his head.

The suits looked at each other.

“So, is it coffee?” Hades prompted.

“Tea,” Miho sniffed defiantly, but she turned her body to indicate she was ready to move out.

“As you were,” Hades nodded to the suits, and with curt recognition they headed back into the building.

A short time later, Hades placed a cup of Lady Grey tea before Miho, before sitting down opposite with his freshly squeezed juice.

She considered his choice of beverage, still clinging to her scowl, determined not to be pacified and yet the grass-shot juice Hades lifted to his lips seemed somehow incongruous with his presence.

“Something wrong?” he enquired, putting the glass down.

“I’d write you a list, but you’d only have your lackies swoop in here and confiscate it,” she charged, but Hades remained unaffected.

“You were warned,” he pointed out, aware the remark would win no favour with her.

“Oh well then, a warning makes it all just peachy,” she snapped, leaning forward. “What are you hiding you’d ruin my career like it was nothing?”

“Actually, Miss Fujiwara, only you are responsible for your actions and their consequences,” he told her, an Miho’s grip tightened around her tea cup.

He watched as she struggled to hold in another unseemly public outburst, that could flip the table and spatter the green rage of vitamised fruit all over the café. But trembling she slowly rose from her seat.

“Thanks for the tea,” she dropped icily and turned to move, but the command – or perhaps something else in Hades’ voice – caused her to freeze.

“Sit down, Miss Fujiwara.”

Before she could comply or tell him to fuck off, Miho made eye contact with a familiar person.

“Oh, hey Miho,” Mieke grinned at her best friend, then slid her gaze to the man behind her. “And… Hades… uh, I mean, Sir.”

“Hades… Sir?” Miho repeated, processing Mieke’s greeting carefully. “You work in an office?”

“Uh… yeah, I do,” Mieke cringed.

His, office?” Miho pressed on, and she didn’t miss Mieke’s pleading glance at Hades.

“Miss Fujiwara,” he prompted, but this time her resistance was decisive.

“Rabbit holes,” she chuckled mirthlessly as she stepped in beside Mieke. “You really never know what you’ll find.”

She then stalked on out of the café.

“You and Miss Fujiwara are acquainted,” Hades stated, and with shoulders slumped, Mieke sighed out her answer.

“Best friends, Sir,” she breathed, “though probably not anymore.”

“Perhaps you could soften the blow of her recent employment crisis,” he suggested, but Mieke was already shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but if there is one thing Miho really can’t tolerate, it’s lies, and I’ve been playing dumb as she poured out her frustration over not being able to get anything on HERA – ugh – if she ever speaks to me again it’ll be a miracle.”

Avoiding the confines of her apartment, Miho strapped on her sneakers and began a steady lap around Astoria park. If she couldn’t work, she’d lose her apartment, but that was the furthest thing from her mind – there was no one she could trust now: not her boss, not city law enforcement, not even her best friend.

She was on her own.

And where there were lies, there was something to hide.

“I – will – find – out,” she vowed, words panted out to the rhythm of her footfalls, but her cheeks were wet with distress.

Mieke’s betrayal hurt so deeply, Miho lost sight of what she’d been pursuing and just ran, so much so it was dark by the time she finally stopped.

“Now what?” she exhaled, looking down at her hands where she sat on a park bench.

Feeble fists clenched.

“Ugh!” she shouted, jumping to her feet. “This is bullshit.”

Scratching at her aggravation rather than allowing herself to sink into misery, she picked up her feet again and headed to her local gym to take a shower and change her clothing. But she didn’t go home after that she didn’t go home.

Swathed in brash indignation, she caught a cab a little way before getting out a block from the first crime scene she’d investigated where Hades and his band of merry suits had shown up – she would check them all again, slip through the black fencing and look for clues, anything that could give her a story worth her boss putting his ass on the line.

Sticking to the shadows she slunk with practiced silence and dexterity, but suddenly she stopped her advance.

It must have been her day for familiar people showing up at inopportune times.

“What the fuck is Agent Moron up to?” she murmured to herself, watching him acting very suspicious as he approached his own barrier.

With tailing skills even Kaga would be proud of, Miho drew closer, slipping with almost ridiculous ease past the couple of guards posted, and into the obstructed area. Hiding, she crept closer to see what Agent Hopeless was up to.

She found him examining the deep hole in the sidewalk, much like the others she’d seen, waving over it with a little device with flashing lights.

“What are you doing, Agent Dipshit?” she whispered under her breath.

The answer that came wasn’t really an answer at all… two bodies suddenly flew overhead, limbs flailing and faces pinched in painful grimaces. Their impact with a nearby building was so solid some of the render cracked and flaked away, and when the pair of suits hit the ground – they didn’t move.

“What the?” Agent Stupid blinked, turning sharply from his fallen compatriots to look in the direction from which they’d come.

Scrambling to stay hidden, Miho narrowed missed being hit by… a car… that soared several metres into the air before barreling in Agent Idiot’s direction. He dove to one side, drawing a handgun as he did and taking aim at…

“You HERA guys,” a low, slow voice rumbled, as a real lump of a man came into view on one side of the crater, “so squishy.”

“Minotaur?” Agent Dumbass grunted. “You’re back in the States?”

It was a stupid question, because clearly the guy was right there.

“You gonna shoot me?” Minotaur sneered, and Miho inhaled a sharp breath while fumbling to get out her phone and start recording.

“That depends if you’re willing to cooperate or not,” Agent Sideways replied, but his gun hand was trembling and he seemed to be in considerable pain.

“Unlikely,” Minotaur chuckled, slamming his balled fist into his palm, and for a second there was an orange flash.

Miho swore there was an orange flash in the shape of an angry bull.

“If… if you’re responsible for this,” Agent Retreat stammered, scuttling back, digging for his phone with his free hand.

“And imagine what I’m about ta do ta ya head,” Minotaur leered.

Raging to life, the orange bull, surrounded by irritated sparks, rushed from behind Minotaur and snatched Agent Hapless off the ground. Much to Miho’s amazement and in no small part horror, Agent Ragdoll was shaken violently in the luminescent bull’s grasp, so hard his keys and loose change were flung from his pockets and his phone was thrown across the crater and landed close to where Miho was hiding.

“Agent Schmit?” a voice called from the asphalt, more urgently the second time when Agent Schmit, let out a cry coinciding with his own solid path to the ground.

“Fuck,” Miho gasped, twitching in indecision before finally darting out and snatching up the phone. “Agent Schmit is down!” she hissed. “27th Avenue near St. Margaret Mary – there’s a… mino…”

Despite the questions flung at her Miho stalled as the rampant, glowing bull stomped up to Agent Schmit and look set to crush him underfoot, all while the man himself grinned sadistically.

“Fuck,” Miho exclaimed once more, dropping the agent’s phone and turning her own around. “Hey asshole!” she shouted, setting her phone’s flash on strobe.

In the darkness she might have been little more than a silhouette, a faint shape flashing brightly that divided the creature’s attention long enough for Agent Schmit to crawl to where his colleagues were beginning to rouse.

“Who the hell are you?” Minotaur huffed, and as he turned his body to fully face her, the towering bulls did the same, pulsing with furious energy.

“I… am…” she stammered, eyes stretching even wider as the apparitious bull’s approaching footfalls somehow made the ground shake. “I’m not with them,” she exhaled. “I’ve been tracking your trail of… of awesome destruction looking for an interview! This lot keep cock blocking.”

The bull stopped, and Minotaur narrowed his eyes on Miho as she lowered her phone to her side. He appeared to be processing what she’d said… slowly.

“You ain’t HERA?”

“These suits? Are you kidding me? They ruined my career!” she told him, and well it was the truth.

So she kept talking, talking while Agent Schmit and the other two struggled out of injurious grogginess.

“These… three-piece twits stormed my office and confiscated everything I’ve worked so hard on,” she rushed on, hoping to keep his attention for as long as possible. “But here you are, the very one I’ve been… I’ve been searching for, ha ha, right in front of me.”

“Miss Fujiwara get back!” Agent Schmit shouted, and as if he’d waved a red rag, Minotaur’s attention snapped back to him as bullets were fired.

The next few seconds seemed to move in slow motion.

Thunder seemed to explode from the ground that heaved so hard with the impact of the luminous bull’s hoof, that Miho pitched backward at speed. She soared, glimpsing the night sky above just briefly before even the brightest stars were consumed by an all-encompassing black.

Astoria: In Chaos – Part One

This story is set somewhere after the events of Hydra’s Season 2, but before he gets hitched to ‘MC’ (who is actually Jazz in this instance). Der, Miho is the NEW MC.


DAY X

Miho rounded the corner with a spring in her step, but came to a sudden, jarring halt.

Before her stood a man she thought she’d never see again – a source of deep, agonising love, deep pain and terrible trepidation.

As if he too was surprised, Hades simply stood staring at her, though with far less confusion than she – after all, he had been doing the searching, and she the hiding.

Careful to not yet move, he studied her eyes, locked with his. Those hazel meres had once held such strength, a powerful, noble and idealistic passion he’d thought immutable, but now the light seemed all but gone. She was exhausted, her skin far paler than he had ever seen, her hair dull, her lips a slowly parting line of anguish he had carved there himself.

When finally he moved his hand, just the slightest of forward motions, she flinched back a step, poised to flee.

“Miho wait,” he said quickly – not quite a gasp or a hiss, not quite a barking command, but clearly conveying the urgency of his entreaty.

Her lips began to tremble, and the sea rushed to fill her eyes with waves barely held in check.

“You have no idea,” she began, her voice a mere and shaking whisper, “how much I have wanted, to hear you say my name…”

There she paused, as the knife drawing new blood from her already tattered heart, also cut deep ravines across her brow.

“… and how much I have feared it,” she finished on little more than a desperate breath.

But as she inhaled she drew herself up.

“I am so tired, so empty – just a frayed, threadbare effigy of my former self you set on fire,” she asserted through her teeth, “but I am not going back. I will not surrender – so stop hunting me.”


DAYS 1 to 5

Once upon a time, idealistic me thought exposing and telling the truth was all that mattered. Lies, white or any other colour of the spectrum, were the root of all evil, chaos and discontent, and as a crusader, what I wanted most was to play my part in revealing them.

For justice.

For transparency.

For equity.

So good could prevail.

Well, I was an idiot, like most young zealots – blinded by self-righteousness and the lofty stature of my moral high horse.

I had cast aside the nay-sayers who told me journalism was a highly competitive fist-fight over the scraps of humanity, and set my sparkling, innocent eyes on uncovering corruption, slashing my way through subterfuge, and sticking it to the powerful who thought the ‘little guy’ was inconsequential.

Au contraire!

As one of those negligible blips in an ever shifting city, I was determined to prove it only took effort and perseverance to make a positive impact in the world. So I slogged my way through cat-up-tree stories, to burst water-mains and traffic chaos, from teacher strikes to criminal vandalism. From there it wasn’t long before I had my claws into theft and assault, and I was wolfishly eyeing off which local politician looked like he or she harboured a deep, dark secret. And I’d lived in Astoria my whole life, so I knew it like the back of my hand.

Except neighbourhoods are a whole lot more complicated than hands.

Hell, you can’t always see what’s really happening in the light, so you can forget about what’s lurking in the darkness… unless you’re a stupidly passionate investigative reporter looking for wrongs to right. Because if you’re anything like me, that leads you down dark alleys and into underground clubs, through seedy bars choked with smoke and into dens filled with monsters far worse than anything humanity really has to offer.

I stumbled into a labyrinth, resolute I’d find the bare facts at the centre – even if that meant I’d never find my way out.

But was I lost? Hell no!

Nope… wasn’t lost.

Not even once.

Knew my way back at any time.

Yep.

Back at my desk in three… two…

DAY 6

Miho had run three blocks flat-chat, and when she finally skidded to a halt felt like she might vomit. Seeing her objective in front of her, however, swept away the nausea and refocused her mind on the goal of her mid-morning sprint.

There was a bloody great hole in the north end of Vernon Boulevard, rimming with jagged asphalt, concrete and dirt, but a cordon had already begun to take shape stopping traffic in both directions and access to Hallets Cove Playground.

“Regular cops,” she noted, still listening through one earbud to the police scanner she had tucked into her handbag.

As she looked for a way to get closer, she stretched out with her ‘reporter senses’, a preternatural ability to spot even the most seemingly insignificant detail.

No broken water mains here, not stranded cats, but also no bodies, no crashed cars, no smoke – just this ridiculous crater like something had exploded in the middle of the street.

“No bomb squad,” she murmured, slowly weaving through a group of curious bystanders toward the playground.

East River lapped gentle at the nearby dilapidated jetty, and for a moment Miho considered a brief swim might be her best way beyond the crime scene tape.

“Get back,” a policewoman growl somewhere to Miho’s right, and when her eyes turned she found a familiar figure.

“Come on,” the man grumbled, “just a few pictures; no one’s hurt right?”

“Thank you Rodger Mallard,” Miho grinned, as the other officer manning the boundary moved to assist his colleague in fending off Miho’s competitor.

She did not waste the opportunity.

Quickly she slid to the wire fence, and with her bag looped over one shoulder, she scaled the obstacle.

“They’re not here yet,” she grinned after a quick scan, and dug her phone out to begin taking photos.

What she found were several other craters like the one on the road, but she was more intrigued by the gaping great hole in the closest building. It looked like a car, or perhaps something a little taller, had crash through one wall, and continued right through and out the other side; but when Miho followed what looked to be the trajectory toward the water, she found no tyre tracks, and the undamaged play equipment between the building and the river indicated whatever had caused the destruction had stopped, or at the very least changed direction at a very sharp angle.

“You again,” came an irritated voice behind Miho.

She dodged away from the sound before looking back, a habit she’d developed after being nabbed for trespassing far too many times. As a result, the hand that had indeed reached for her swiped through the empty space where she’d been standing; it was only after she’d skipped forward and to the right a little, that she turned to look at the man who’d spoke.

Ice blue and fierce in his displeasure.

“I could say the same thing,” she smirked, backing up a little more as she tucked her phone into her pocket. “I’d say it’s nice to see you again, but you and yours have a habit of getting in the way of my stories.”

“Maybe if the tabloids had a little more respect for the victims of criminal damage, we wouldn’t have to,” he pointed out, matching her retreat with steady steps forward.

Miho became aware there was also a female figure approaching from the left, one she also recognised.

“Throw me a crumb and I’ll back off,” Miho volleyed. “What caused this damage maybe? Or how about, the name of the authority you belong to?”

Again she sidestepped when this time the woman reached for her, practiced footwork.

“How about your names so I at least know who keeps covering up these weird crimes,” she added.

Working his jaw, the man looked to his female compatriot almost as if for permission, and Miho saw the slight shake of her head.

“Fine,” he huffed, but it wasn’t in response to Miho’s request.

Suddenly he burst toward her, and it was only by a narrow margin that Miho was able to evade. If he caught her, her phone and the pictures she took would almost certainly be confiscated, and that just wouldn’t do.

As if being chased by a monster, Miho bolted for the gates of the park, even though they were closed and she could see the tall black screening this anonymous group of cover-up agents used to shroud their sites. Even if there were others on the other side, she was confident she could avoid them since she had the element of surprise.

But a tall, broad figure stepped from concealment and through the gates just as Miho reached them, and there was simply no time to stopped. Heavily she collided with the man’s solid chest, and rebounded with such force she was throw inelegantly to the ground.

Gasping and reeling from the shock of the impact, Miho sat dazed long enough for her two pursuers to catch up and block her in, but it was the shadow that had fallen over her that drew her attention.

He was also not unknown to her; she had seen him arrive at many of the other mysteriously cordoned off crime scenes over the last few months, though she had no name for him either.

“Miss Fujiwara,” he stated – a smooth baritone filled with disapproval. “This is becoming something of an inconvenient habit.”

This was the closest she’d ever been to him, and now just a couple of feet away, the magnitude of his presence momentarily strangled the witticism that begged to leave her lips.

And when she found her tongue, her first words to him were.

“Lilac hair. Bold choice.”

“Get up,” the man behind her hissed, taking her under the arm and lifting her up.

“Hey, watch where you’re putting those hands,” she protested, but did not struggle, for it seemed her muscles were paralysed by the luminescent amethysts bearing down upon her.

Eyes, two pools of liquid stardust reaching to some powerful place beyond her understanding.

Her bag, everything within it including her phone, was taken by the black suit-clad woman, while Miho continued to stare up.

“It seems you have me at a bit of a disadvantage,” she managed finally, but her voice emerged much smaller than she meant it to. “More than one, actually. If you’re going to take my stuff, maybe you could exchange it for your name? A badge maybe?”

“Hades,” he answered plainly.

“Sir?” the woman queried, her chin lifting quickly.

“Please show Miss Fujiwara to the correct side of the barrier, Agent Mann,” Hades prompted.

“Is that Mr. Hades? Dr. Hades? Officer Hades?” Miho pressed, seeming to snap out of the spell Hades’ had her under, thanks perhaps to the shove given to her my Agent Mann.

“Come on,” Agent Mann urged with an exasperated sigh.

“Come oooon!” Miho called back over her shoulder. “Professor Hades? How about Reverend Hades?”

“Reverend Hades,” Hydra smirked, when Agent Mann and Miho had disappeared from sight. “If only she knew.”

“It’s our job to ensure she doesn’t,” Hades pointed out coolly.

Though there was no longer any question about who it was Agent Mann had chosen as her lover, there was still no love lost between the god and the monster.

“Then why did you give her your name?” Hydra pursued, bristling a little.

“I hope giving her something might sate her long enough for at least this matter to be resolved,” Hades answered, but Hydra was shaking his head even half way through Hades’ sentence.

“That one’s a bloodhound, and in case her showing up at every crime scene we’ve been called to doesn’t clue you in, she’s persistent too,” Hydra told him, a little heat creeping into his tone. “She’s going to continue being a pest until we do something about it.”

“And what, precisely, would you suggest?” Hades enquired, his arms slowly moving until they were crossed over his chest.

“Silence her,” Hydra answered flatly, “or at the very least her voice.”

“You focus on who’s carving up the neighbourhood,” Hades instructed. “Leave Miss Fujiwara to me.”

Though she tried every persuasive trick she knew in the book, Miho was unable to get the ‘suits’ to return her bag and phone until Hades himself strode to the edge of the barricade.

She pouted sourly when he held out her handbag and she saw the police scanner was gone.

“I don’t suppose you left me any pictures?” she grumbled rhetorically.

“No,” Hades answered curtly, then lifted a brow when Miho looked up at him with a suddenly sweet smile and fluttered her eyelashes.

“Phone number? The hair is totally growing on me.”

“It is in your best interests to not interfere with any further investigations,” he told her firmly, watching as her hands crept to her hips.

“I’d consider it, if I knew who exactly was doing the investigating, Hades,” she suggested.

“This isn’t a negotiation,” he countered calmly, but Miho wasn’t yet done.

“You only say that because you think I’ve nothing to offer,” she grinned.

Hades shifted his feet.

“Is that your modus operandi, Miss Fujiwara? Sexual favours for inside stories?”

Miho’s grin widened, her eyes laughing.

“I don’t know how you figured I was offering sexual favours,” she chuckled. “The conclusion you jumped to out of hope, perhaps?”

At this Hades blinked – in surprise at her gall? Astonishment he’d walked right into it?

Seriousness suddenly reshaped Miho’s expression as she shifted gears.

“Damage like that has been appearing around Astoria for a week now,” she declared – like he didn’t know. “Huge holes in solid concrete, brick and asphalt with no evidence of heavy digging equipment, vehicular impact or explosives, and no evident pattern or motive, so I, and local residents would like more of an explanation than nothing to see here and don’t interfere.”

“I understand your frustration, but for your safety…” Hades began, but Miho cut him off sharply.

“I don’t feel safe in a city where pseudo-authorities, suits, relieve actual law-enforcers of their jurisdiction, and refuse answers to the tax-paying citizens who live in fear,” she growled.

“Hydra was right about her,” Hades thought a little bitterly, then spoke, drawing himself up and pressing out with his presence. “You don’t look very afraid,”

“I’m…” Miho began, her teeth bared, when it suddenly felt as if the man before her had grown ten feet, and could somehow squash her like a bug. “…not.”

“Take this as your final warning,” Hades told her, his voice shuddering its way through her skin. “Do not interfere in any further investigations of any kind. The consequences of failing to heed this will be unpleasant.”

“Threats now?” she responded through her teeth, glaring fiercely though Hades could see her trembling slightly.

“Yes,” he affirmed plainly, then stepped back and headed once more behind the barriers.

For several minutes Miho remained standing, stuck to the spot in an attempt to slow the thundering of her heart.

“What the hell,” she exhaled finally, a whispery, raspy sound.

Slowly she broke free of the spell that had rendered her immobile, and the anger began to bubble again.

“Who does he think he is with his ridiculous I just want to be trendy earring, and that unicorn, fairy-floss dye job?” she fumed.

So much for threats.