There it was, the moment I’d been waiting for, that break between challengers when she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, and for just that moment however long it lasts, I am free look at her. If I were the lord of time I would hold this moment still and live in it forever. Spending the rest of eternity sitting across the room from her would be such a sweet torture all things considered. As I indulged in my tragic romantic fantasy I watched her third eye straining against the block we’d put up around her. As much as I knew it had been a necessary evil. I couldn’t help but squirm slightly in my seat, with my whole being I wanted nothing more than to stride across the room and remove ever layer of obstruction between us, consequences be damned. Except that my Pandora would not thank me for that, not when she learned exactly what the consequences would be and in my heart I knew she’d be right.
I kept that insight in the forefront of my mind as I watched the barkeeps’ uncouth attempt to seduce her. As usual knowing I was on the high road didn’t make the journey any easier, I found myself rubbing both thumbs across my fingertips to disperse the pent up anger energy before it vibrated this body into a puddle of mush.
Oh and now he was going to have the impertinence to try and throw me out. The hubris of the whole thing would have been comical in different circumstances. As it was it was all I could do to keep myself from smiting him and his establishment. Instead I offered him a banal smile and my full attention while he enumerated the reasons why I was going to leave immediately and never dare to let him see my butt ugly face anywhere ever again.
“Ok Martin.” I said when he’d finished “you’ve laid your cards on the table now it’s my turn. I know.” I told him simply.
His reaction was stereotypical of the kind of man he thought he was. “I don’t know what you think you know jack ass and I don’t care this is my bar and,”
“Yes this is your bar but I know where you got the money for the bar Martin. I know you like to tell people you were a marine, but you were really a weekend warrior. I know as far as the government is concerned you were K.I..A in an ambush that took out your whole squad. I know that it was really a trap and that you were paid off to lead your buddies into it. And I know that when you were trying to decide on your new name you chose Dean because you wanted to sound cool like that guy from the Supernatural show.”
He considered me for a moment before saying. “That is an awful lot to know sir. Usually when a man knows so much and tells you freely it’s because he wants something in return for keeping his mouth shut.” I smiled in a way that confirmed his supposition. “What do you want from me?”
Here was the tricky part I couldn’t technically make him to do anything all I could do was offer him a choose of two evils and hope he would stay true to form and pick the one that kept his own ass out of the fire, at least for the moment.. Leaning across the bar I told him, “I don’t want you to do anything Martin not really.” he took a couple steps back eyeing me warily. “But I will offer you a proposition. In exchange for keeping what I know about you to myself all you have to do is not walk Pan out to her car tonight and lock the door behind her.”
“Doesn’t matter. But I promise I’m not going to hurt her if that’ll help you make your decision.”
It was agonizing watching him mull it over, mostly because I knew he wasn’t torn about whether or not to betray another friend but that he hated the thought of losing all that potential revenue she could bring in. When he go to the point in his musings where he started calculating his odds against me in a fight I had to stop him. For his own sake. “Martin you have a cluster of berry aneurisms nestled between the frontal and parietal lobes of your brain just above the left temporal lobe. One well placed thump from me and, well it wouldn’t kill you, but you’d wish that it had. But again it’s up to you.” I didn’t necessarily need him to believe me I just needed him to be afraid it could be true. Of course the fear and testosterone driven pissing contest were bound to draw unwanted attention. I really needed to get out of here and see if I could pull it somewhere else.
“Fine” he grumbled. Not good enough I needed him to specify what he had decided.
“It’s a deal then?” I asked. “You’ll do what I asked in exchange for me keeping my mouth shut.
“Yes” he barked refusing to meet my eyes.
“Smart move on your part I think Martin.” I told him pushing away from the bar. “Kudos to you. Oh just one more thing before if you could just keep our little conversation just between us. Please.” He nodded once head still cocked at a hangdog angle.
Now all I needed to do was fend off the God of war. I wish I didn’t have to do this without back up but mom and Selina weren’t convinced that this was the moment grandfather had been talking about and although Artemis had voted with me I hadn’t wanted to ask her to openly defy her mother by coming with me. Maybe I could find a way to use that.
Though I could feel him coming like a storm, it still took him till the place was cleared out to arrive. I needed to get rid of him before Pandora left the building. He pulled up in front of me on a black and silver motorcycle spewing gravel like it proved something about his manhood. “I knew it was you from seven league off.” he said when he’d cut the engine. “Know how? Smelled like someone was burning a roast.”
“Fraid I’m getting a little hard of hearing in my old age Ares, why don’t you get off that motorcycle come over here and say that to me.”
“No thanks cousin, I’m fine where I am.”
“Come on Ares you’re the God of war. You’re not afraid of little old me are you?”
“Afraid of you. Hah no cousin. I’m not afraid of you. My orders were to observe not engage. Father was very clear about that.”
“Oh so it’s your father your afraid of then.”
“I’m not,,,,,,,,, father will be very happy to hear we’ve finally found her. The Pandora.”
“Have you? Where?”
“I’m not stupid Prometheus. Why else would you be here?”
Instead of answering I just nodded as if he’d asked a good question and shifted just a bit to block his view of the window more effectively.
“I mean she looks just like her.” I could tell by the pitch of his voice that it wasn’t me he was trying to convince. “And she’s cut off her own hand before she’d steal a penny from a purse snatcher and her luck. This girl, holy crap, even I feel bad for her. And this place this is exactly like the place she described to Phobia.” He stopped abruptly as though he’d just thought of something, eyes flicking over the nearest shadows suspiciously. “And why else would you be here?”
“Why indeed.” Normally I would have left it at that just to watch him squirm, but I needed to get him as far away as possible before Pandora came out of the bar. “You’re right Ares what would I be doing here, confronting you, if she isn’t Pandora? And where are my mother, sister and niece? I mean with all Zeus’ most staunch and militant supporters here on earth, circling this woman’s family like vultures, where could they be. What’s that term you coined? Ahh yes. Divide and concur. How long do you think you and your obnoxious offspring will last once Zeus is in Tartaros? I hear there’s a vacancy on a mountain we both know. ”
“You lot can’t do that.”
“Can’t we?” Just like with Dean I just needed him to think that it might be true. “You know maybe your right. Why don’t you check in with your dear old Dad? I’ll wait.” It was less than effortless to throw up a block around Ares like the one we had Pandora ensconced in. “What’s the matter? Having trouble getting through. What was that first rule of conquest you came up with?” He took off like a bat outa hell. “Oh yes cut off the lines of communication.”
Here she comes. Thank goodness Hephaestus is the brother with the brains. The night was so black that for a moment she stood in a tunnel of light created by the open door. I watched as she casually strolled in the direction of her car shoving the nights take into her bag as she dug for her keys. She was singing, she’d always sung her feelings, most of the time completely unaware that she was. It used to be a game I played against myself when we were together all those long years ago, to figure out what kind of lover she needed what she’d been singing that day. My record had stood at 13,023 for, 692 against when I lost her.
I listened now, imagining. She was singing low and sultry taking innocent phrases and turning them into something salacious. I recognized that mood, if she were mine the ride back to the house would be spent playing with her hair one handed. Once there I’d put on some suggestive jazz and slowly undress her while we danced, gently lay her on our bed once she was nude and massage her entire body before,,,,,
Oh crap the singing’d stopped. She was staring wild eyed at me looking like she was getting ready to make a run for it. Crap. My hands came up automatically to in a gesture designed to reassure. “Excuse me.” I blurted out desperate to keep her from running. “I’m sorry, I must have startled you.” She chanced a glance back at the bar no doubt assuming Dean/Martin wouldn’t be far behind her. She did a good job hiding it but I knew her too well to miss the way her posture drooped when she realized he wasn’t. I needed to keep her attention, keep her from coming up with a plan b. “I got to see most of your victories tonight. That’s an impressive talent you’ve got. Pan, isn’t it?” I moved a few careful steps toward her, not to close for comfort, but close enough for her to be able to get a good look at me. Maybe just maybe she’d recognize me. “That’s quite a lyrical name; a name for a strong individual.” She was staring at my hands. Maybe it could be as simple as that.
“No offense.” She called in a strong voice. “But I can’t help but be reminded of the fox and the crow.” I couldn’t contain a small burst of sardonic laughter at that. Of course she would remember Aesop and his stupid fables but not me. And of course she took advantage of my distraction. She was halfway to her hillock of a car before I looked back up.
No, no I couldn’t let her go. This had to be the life grandfather had been talking about, I just knew it. Even if it wasn’t I couldn’t do this anymore. I needed her back in my life, in any capacity. What could I tell her, what could I offer her that would get her to choose to spend time with me. “Of course. You’re right. I admit this is huuh, stupid on many levels. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Biting my tongue on my ramblings I looked into her eyes determined to get as much out of this our first conversation in millennia as possible. “But the bartender told me that this was your last night.” Was that a hint of recognition in her eye? “I’ve tried to get your attention before, but it’s so noisy and crowded in there. Anyway I was afraid if I missed you tonight, I might not get another chance.” To intense, lighten the vibe. “Which of course sounds traditionally serial-killer, doesn’t it.” Great job idiot. Damage control. Now! “This must be very scary for you. I am truly sorry.” About so many things. “Please Pan, please forgive me.” Because I don’t think I ever can.
She paused for a moment, studying me, I held my breath not quite dareing to hope but wishing I could. When she said, “So I assume you’ll understand then when I ask you to take about a hundred steps back.” I couldn’t even be upset about it, there was no reason she should not view me as a threat.
All I could think to do was to try to express my grasp of her perspective. “I do, I understand completely, and I will, I will, but,” without thinking I took a few steps forward, reaching out to run my fingers through her hair the way I used to, causing Pandora to retreat even further. I knew it was done in ignorance, but still the slight stung. “If you could listen for just one moment; I realize how bad this looks but I promise, I SWEAR, I don’t want to hurt you in ANY way.”
“Oh yeah, and I’ll just take your word for that, ‘cause that wouldn’t be gullible at all.” She countered. “Everybody knows that villains are required by law to announce ‘I’m planning on killing you in the most gruesome and painful way I can come up with’, right?” the worst part was in any other situation I would be proud of her stubborn refusal to be taken in. Having finally managed to make it to her car she began to fumble behind her back for the handle I had only a matter of moments to convince her to trust me and absolutely no argument to make my case with.
Except perhaps this one, “Okay, yeah, you’re right again. Trust is something that’s earned, not given. And I have given you no reason to trust me, unless you count the fact that if robbing you, or killing you, or hurting you at all was what I wanted, I could have at least five dozen times by now.”
“Is that supposed to be,” she searched for the word she wanted, “reassuring?”
Seriously woman I wanted to scream at her. Instead I forced myself to say. “I see your point,” biting my lip I dispersed some of the energy that all this nervous tension had built. I glanced over my shoulder wondering how long till either Ares came back or we were discovered by some other deity. It couldn’t be long, time to through caution to the wind. Walking right up to her I said “Now here is mine,” wondering what exactly I was going to come up with.
Maybe if I started by stating the facts something would come to me. “You’re in need of cash, lots of it and fast. Why else would a mother of,” I peeked over her shoulder to make it look like I needed a clue “I’m guessing at least three young children, given the two booster seats and their position in your car, choose to leave them to work these hours, in a place like this? No offence intended to its proprietor.” The bar and Dean suited each other actually. “Now, as lucrative as your particular gift is, you must admit that the situation is not only less than ideal, but also dangerous, as proved by this conversation.” Good appeal to her sense of responsibility to her children. “Besides, you deserve better than this.” That was merely a statement of fact. “So here is what I’m proposing;” If I could design the perfect job for her what would it be? “I own a book shop that is in need of a manager.” Yes that would be it, but don’t make it sound like her dream job or she’ll dismiss it as too good to be true. “The money, I’m sure, is nowhere near what you can pull in here. But it’s consistent; ten hours a day, five days a week and we pay overtime.” I tried not to smirk at what I said next. “I can’t offer you the excitement or glamour you enjoy here, but the hours are more mainstream, and a person is far less likely to get robbed or arrested while working for me. You can start Monday. The address is on the card.” Manifesting one I indulged in a long meaning full look into her eyes to fortify me in case she refused.
She stared back at me, it almost seemed like she was entranced and I didn’t even bother to try and mask the love, longing and desire I felt for her. “Mother Goddess!” she whispered. Oh fuck that did it. I had no idea which one would answer but I had no doubt one of them would. And when they found out what I’d done there would be hell to pay. “Do I know you from somewhere?” she asked in a soft half aware tone.
Not now Pandora why would you ask me that now. We are out of time. “TAKE. THE. CARD.” I growled through clenched teeth. She accepted it like someone acting without volition; her tiny, silken fingertips brushed one of my hot tender scars on that hand.
I barely had time to revel in the wave of pleasure the small touch had caused when Artemis’ voice came out of the darkness. “Uncle, Unnncle…”
“Here, I’m here!” I yelled back, stepping hastily away from Pandora. I knew it would be better if I kept Artemis and Pandora apart till I had a chance to fill my niece in on our cover story.
“Came as soon as I heard.” Artemis informed me pointedly, and just as pointedly demanded to know. “What have YOU been up to?”
“Nothing much, had a few drinks, hired a new manager.” I told her as lightly as I could “We’ve needed one for ages. She starts on Monday, and then I was waiting for you.”
Though I knew I was in for a fight with the others it was nice to see the happy surprise on Artemis’ face. She began trying to force thoughts into my mind at a supersonic rate. I caught “Really? How much does she know? How much can we tell her? Am I allowed to take her out and play with her?” before I got a stabilizing hand on her elbow, a gentle reminder that she was in human form and her current enthusiasm was dangerous to it.
I took a last look at Pandora taking the time to read the card I’d given her now that she was safely inside her vehicle. As I watched she ran her fingers lightly over the embossed lettering and a soft smile stole across her face.
Come on Artemis I said leading her away. Not only do we have to turn the sanctorum into a bookstore/ coffeehouse by Monday, but we also have to convince your mother and mine that it’s a good idea.