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That's my peach ๐Ÿ‘
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3 mos ago
It might just be the beginning of the end


Group RPs: Descension | Rosefell High (co-GM)
1x1's with @metanoia: We Meet Again | Romeo & Juliet
Other 1x1's: Laws of Attraction | Let Me Teach You How To Love

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Forty-five minutes before the warning bell of Rosefell High was scheduled to go off, the sounds of the Disney Channel Camp Rock movie soundtrack could be heard from behind the closed door of the bedroom that once belonged to the now newly-engaged Charlotte Diedrikson. Inside the room was a lavender-haired young woman, singing and dancing along to the music coming from her phoneโ€™s speakers while browsing through her potential outfit selection. Finally, she set her sights on a spaghetti-strapped, flower-printed red mini dress, and a matching pair of white and beige wedges. One glance in the mirror made her question whether the length of the dress was appropriate or not, but the girl merely shrugged and pushed the worries away. If the school had anything to say about her wardrobe choices, they could take it up with the big bad wolf lawyer downstairs.

Giselle Searaโ€™s morning routine was much like every other teenage girlโ€™s was: a nice warm shower, a skincare routine, a brushing of the hair, a few generous spritzes of her fruity Escada perfume, and a little makeup to highlight her natural beauty. Once the motions were over and done with, she raced downstairs to the dining room, eager to put an end to the fierce growling of her stomach.

โ€œHi Auntie Kole! Hi Uncle Warren!โ€ Gigi said cheerfully, wrapping her arms around her uncle for a quick hug before doing the same to her aunt.

โ€œMorning, sunshine!โ€ Nikole greeted her niece, planting a kiss on the girlโ€™s head before letting her go and pointing to an empty seat at the dining table. โ€œYour breakfast is already served and ready: an organic smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese and spinach and a glass of freshly-squeezed lemonade, as requested. I hope you like it!โ€

Smiling, the young woman skipped to the table, took a seat and immediately dove right in. โ€œShoot, this is amazing! Iโ€™ll make sure to thank Lorna when I see her at dinner later,โ€ Giselle gratefully noted through a mouthful of bagel, speaking about the lady who cooked the meals of the Diedrikson household.

The girl was halfway done with her breakfast before she realized there was someone missing from this scenario. โ€œWhereโ€™s Richie? I thought he was giving me a ride to school this morning,โ€ Gigi asked with a small frown of confusion settled on her freckled face, looking around the room for a second as if her blond cousin would magically materialize out of thin air.

Kole looked up from her phone. โ€œOh, he didnโ€™t tell you?โ€ she asked her niece, who vehemently shook her head. โ€œHe left a few minutes ago to pick up his friends before driving to the new school. But donโ€™t worry, sugar cube! I told him Iโ€™d drive you to Rosefell myself! Wonโ€™t that be fun?!โ€

From across the table, Gigi and Warren exchanged silent looks. It wasnโ€™t exactly a secret that Nikole Diedrikson was something of a ticking time bomb behind the wheel. She had a record of vehicular accidents dating back to her teenage years-- so many of them, that it was a miracle she hadnโ€™t had her license suspended yet. Since getting the new position as Vogue editor in chief, Kole had taken full advantage of the company perk of getting her own personal driver-- which had not only saved the lives of numerous squirrels, trees, cars and inanimate objects alike, but had also provided her family with the relief of not having to live in constant fear of getting the news sheโ€™d crashed into yet another row of shopping carts while backing out of the Whole Foods parking lot. And as entertaining as Giselle had always found the endless supply of embarrassing stories, it certainly didnโ€™t mean that she wanted to actually be a participant in the latest one.

But with how excited her aunt looked to be about driving her to school and spending some quality time together, there was no way Gigi would break her heart by asking to take an Uber. Sheโ€™d just have to take her chances and hope for the best.

โ€œOh yeah! Definitely! Sounds like a blast!โ€ she said sweetly instead, giving her aunt a smile before taking advantage of her distraction to mouth the words save me! to her uncle. Warren merely chuckled under his breath and shook his head as he took another sip of his coffee.

* * * * *

Five minutes later, Nikole and Giselle were racing down the streets of Columbus on the older womanโ€™s Mercedes GLB, bringing all sorts of amused attention to themselves by the speed with which they drove and the EDM music blasting through the speakers. The two women laughed, danced, and sang their way to Rosefell, with Gigi using the opportunity to make content for her Snapchat and Instagram stories. It was while they messed around with the face-swapping filter that they failed to notice a dark-haired young man crossing the street, and Gigi barely had time to yell out the words:

โ€œAuntie, watch out!โ€

With a loud โ€œEek!โ€ and an even louder screeching sound, Nikole abruptly slammed on the brakes of the Mercedes, violently jerking both women forward but stopping just in time to avoid a collision with a young man standing right in front of the SUV. Hearts racing and eyes wide with shock, both women exchanged horrified looks, letting out a variety of high-pitched shrieks while wildly flapping their hands. This right here was exactly why Nikole Diedrikson was not allowed to drive anymore.

After the initial shock had worn off and her death via cardiac arrest wasnโ€™t imminent, Giselle unbuckled her seat belt and hopped out of the luxury vehicle. โ€œOh my God! I am so sorry!โ€ she cried out apologetically, rushing to the young manโ€™s aid with her iridescent-manicured hands covering her mouth. From inside the car, an anxious Kole was making gestures of concern and mouthing the word โ€˜Iโ€™m sorry!โ€™ over and over again. โ€œMy aunt is a terrible driver-- but you already know that, clearlyโ€ฆ Are you okay?! Did she actually hit you anywhere?! God, Uncle Warrenโ€™s gonna throw a fit if he finds out...โ€

With Special Guest: Lover #1 Tate Paxton @TootsiePop

For the majority of the student population of Liberty and Rosefell high schools, the time to make their grand entrances across the gates and to the Rosefell building was now. The pint-sized goth girl named Stephanie Cross was most certainly not one of them. Instead, the young woman was busy smoking a blunt in the street corner, impatiently waiting for the bus that would take her to Robert's Auto Repair. In normal circumstances, Spice would ask a friend for a ride to school and to the shop, and pick up her car at a later time. But towards the end of spring and the beginning of summer, โ€˜going to get her car worked onโ€™ had become something of a hobby. Namely, โ€˜getting her car worked onโ€™ by a mechanic/drug dealer named Ricky Quinn.

To the very few people that knew of the entanglement between Spice and Ricky, the topic was a sore one that was met with plenty of discomfort and disapproval. Not only were the circumstances between their initial meeting questionable at best, but the seventeen-year age gap and the fact that he was the father of her very first Rosefell fling pretty much topped the long list of reasons as to why they shouldnโ€™t be involved in the first place. But Stephanie Cross wouldnโ€™t be Stephanie Cross if she started to care about the opinions of the public. If she wanted to start off her day with a dose of Daddy Quinn magic at his bossโ€™ auto shop before driving off to her first day of school, then she would do exactly that.

But damn, this bus really was taking for-fucking-ever to finally freaking arrive.

Five minutes later, an oh-so-familiar purple Honda Civic came cruising down the street, travelling north, straight to her. The engine had an efficient hum, was clearly well oiled, and glimmered in the morning light, thanks to an ultimate shine car wash. There was only one person who would have the audacity to pick up her car, without her permission. The closer the vehicle got, the clearer the view became. There in the driverโ€™s seat sat a man Stephanie Cross knew all too well and it wasnโ€™t Ricky Quinn.

With his thick, lustrous brown hair slicked with gel to go into a blowout, strong and defined facial features, and a smouldering, sly smirk, a mysterious man, who went by Tate Paxton, pulled up in front of the damsel in distress. When he came to a full stop, parking her car, he brought the window down. His infamous smug smile was all that could be seen until he leaned closer to the window to see her vexed expression.

โ€œOye! Morning Kitten. Beautiful morning, isn't it?โ€ His beard was growing out, which only meant one thing. His schedule was busy and he took some time out of his week to drive all the way from Cleveland, just to see her. As he scanned her up and down, his eyebrows raised, liking what he saw. After a long, intimate moment, he rested his light brown gaze on her enticing face once more. โ€œWho wouldโ€™ve thought weโ€™d go to the same guy, aye? Not me thatโ€™s for fucking sure!โ€ he halfheartedly joked. Subconsciously, he tapped his right hand on her wheel three times, which was a subtle sign of his irritation.

"What the fuck, Tate?!" Stephanie cried out, her small face dripping with disbelief. Out of all the faces sheโ€™d been expecting to see on this day, Tate Paxtonโ€™s was certainly the last one on her list. In normal circumstances, she would be thrilled that Lover #1 had shown up to take her to school. She hadnโ€™t seen Tate in weeks-- and although theyโ€™d been in constant communication via scandalous texts and Facetime calls, it was never the same as when their bodies melted together behind closed doors.

But under these bizarre circumstances, with him arriving in the car that was supposed to be under Rickyโ€™s supervision back at the shop, it was very hard for Spice to get past the initial shock of it all. โ€œThere is no way in hell you come all the way from Cleveland to Columbus every time your stupid car needs to get fixed. And can you please fucking explain to me how the hell you got your hands on my damn car when it's been locked at a shop you have no knowledge of for three days?!โ€

โ€œYou want me to explain?โ€ Turning off her car, Tate pulled out the keys and tightly clasped them in his right hand. After opening the door with his free hand, he stepped out with his polished and clean black oxfords silently dropping to the cement street. Tate being dressed in formal wear wasnโ€™t usual for him unless he was in the middle of something important, that he cut short, to be here. โ€œYeah, Iโ€™ll tell ya.โ€

Throwing her keys up in the air and catching it, he chuckled, โ€œImagine me, minding my own damn business, giving you the space you need to spend time with your cute best friend-- lovely girl, by the way, that Aramintah-- letting you be. Just be. Freely.โ€

He paused and shook his head and sighed, โ€œImagineโ€”โ€ Once again the keys went up in the air and back down in his hand. His attention never wavering from her face. โ€œโ€”Iโ€™m calling a good friend of mine and finding out,โ€ The keys went up once more. He rolled his eyes at the thought that came to mind and instantaneously swatted the air to catch them. One last time. โ€œheโ€™s a good friend of yours too. A really good friend of yours.โ€ Shoving his hands in his pockets, along with her keys, he leaned in forward, his intense brown eyes locked with hers, and a smirk on his face. โ€œJust thinking about it, what are the chances, right?โ€

Stephanieโ€™s reply was instant. "The same chances of me driving to Cleveland to surprise you at the club and walking into your office to find your tongue down your new house mom's throat," the young woman spat without missing a beat, flipping back some locks of her long black hair while mirroring Tate's own smug smirk. How could she forget about the incident that had put an end to their budding relationship? "Imagine being so pressed about who I choose to spend my time with after going behind my back throwing what we had out the window. And imagine having the lack of common sense to show up to where I live to imply that I owe you any sort of explanation. I'm not your girlfriend, Tate. You made that very clear to me that day a few months ago. So whoever I fuck or don't fuck is absolutely none of your goddamn business. You have no fucking right to question shit.โ€

What a minx she was. He liked when she got all riled up because of him. โ€œIs that so, love?โ€ Standing up straight, he took his right hand out of his pocket but instead of her keys, he had his phone in his hand instead. The one with the only number she had of his. Clearly, Stephanie forgot who she was talking to.

Ah, but of course.

Who would he be if he didnโ€™t give her what she wanted? Tate heard her loud and clear. โ€œI got one last one for you.โ€ He waved his phone in front of her face, dangling it pridefully, sadistically, โ€œImagine a worldโ€”โ€ No texts, no calls, no surprise visits, no sex, no nothing. โ€œโ€”where Iโ€™m gone.โ€ Dropping his phone to the ground, he stomped on it with his dominant foot. Forcibly and only once, but enough to make Stephanie flinch. โ€œRicky can have you.โ€ Purposely instilling fear in her, he smoothly bluffed, โ€œAnd heโ€™ll thank you later, for costing him his job.โ€

With that, Tate took her keys out of his pants pocket, tossed it at her feet, and turned on his heel, leaving her behind. Whether she believed him or not was entirely up to her, he didnโ€™t care. Tate could disappear completely and she would have no idea how to trace him. She knew that. He could put all those she loved in danger, if he truly wanted to, like her dear best friend. She definitely knew that. Last but never the least, he had all the power in the world to ruin Rickyโ€™s life, just with the snap of his fingers. She just learned that.

Spice was playing a dangerous game and she knew exactly what she was getting herself into, the day she met him. Without using his fingers, he whistled loudly and in came a Bugatti La Voiture Noire. One of Tateโ€™s employees sat in the driverโ€™s seat. As he opened the passenger door, he turned to look back at her and for a split second, his mask dropped and he showed a shed of conflict and withdrawal, before entering the vehicle and smirking once more, โ€œGoodbye, Kitten.โ€

The door closed.

For a moment, Spice simply stood there, mouth agape at the absurdity of it all. This man had really driven over two hours to confront her about a relationship they didnโ€™t have. The same man who had made it crystal-clear to her that they were not-- and had never been-- an item was really out here throwing a bitch fit, wrecking phones and making threats because heโ€™d found out sheโ€™d moved on with somebody else. And, for a split second, Stephanie felt guilty about being the cause of his terrible mood with her actions.

But then that red-hot, blinding anger that always simmered underneath the surface of her being suddenly erupted, running down her veins like boiling lava. Who the hell did Tate Paxton think he was, anyway: coming out here demanding the faithfulness he wasnโ€™t willing to give back, and making her feel like his appalling behavior was his fault. No, sir. It wasnโ€™t her fault he was a deceiving pig who wasnโ€™t able to keep it in his pants. And it wasnโ€™t her responsibility to be loyal to a man like that.

Fuelled by the raging thoughts of how absolutely unfair this entire situation was, Stephanie knew she couldnโ€™t let Tate go just like that. One quick scan of her surroundings led her to a particularly large rock nearby, and the goth girl suddenly knew exactly what she would do next. She bent down, wrapped her small hand around the rock, swung her hand over her head, and threw the rock in the direction of the luxurious carโ€™s back windshield with all the strength she could muster.


The sound of shattering glass erupted through the otherwise quiet street, sending the neighborhood dogs into a barking frenzy. A few curtains from the houses nearby fluttered slightly open; nosy neighbors peeking out their windows with concern or curiosity over what they had just heard. But from Tate Paxtonโ€™s vehicle? No reaction. It drove away slowly and completely unbothered-- just like its owner had been when dismissing her as easily as he would a used Kleenex tissue.

And that fucking hurt

โ€œI fucking hate you!โ€ Stephanie screeched at the retreating car, loud enough to potentially cause damage to her vocal cords but being much too enraged to care. โ€œI fucking hate you, you arrogant, cheating piece of shit! I hope you run that fucking car of yours off a cliff and just fucking die already! FUCK YOU!!!โ€

But no matter how hard she screamed, the stupid Bugatti continued to drive away without a care in the world; leaving behind a sobbing, broken-hearted goth girl with mascara-covered tears of fury streaming down her beautiful face.


Ever since she was a child, Fiamma Giannulli had struggled with anxiety and insomnia in the face of changes, new events and experiences. For an introverted girl like her, the uncertainty of not knowing how a particular situation would develop sent her on a downward spiral of negative โ€˜what-ifโ€™sโ€™, filling her with nerves and dread of what could be coming. The night before her first day of senior year was, of course, not an exception to this. The redhead had spent her evening staring up at the ceiling, fighting against the pessimistic thoughts that threatened to swallow her whole. Would she like Rosefell? Would the teachers be as committed to providing the highest level of education as her Liberty ones had been? Would her classmates, old and new, continue to be cooperative in letting her go unnoticed and blend in with the background? Would she be capable of making new friends? Would she even keep her old friends? Or worseโ€ฆ Would Aiden find in Rosefell a prettier, more popular replacement for her, dump her and break her heart into a million teeny tiny baby pieces?

Thatโ€™s enough, Fiamma.

Just as sheโ€™d been on the verge of tears entertaining a stupid, unfounded, baseless scenario, her alarm clock signaled it was finally time to start her day. After going through the usual motions of a shower, makeup, hair brushing and getting dressed, Fiamma made her way to the dining room, where the traditional first day of school breakfast was already served and waiting to be devoured by the hungry inhabitants of the household. The smell of her fatherโ€™s Italian breakfast casserole had filled every corner of the first floor of the home- its taste as spectacular as always. After saying grace, the Giannullis had indulged in their decadent meal while engaging in the usual first day of school small talk, advice and expectations. Now feeling nervous again, Fiamma decided it was finally time for her to get going. But before she could excuse herself, her father kindly asked her for a few more minutes of her time.

โ€œSweetheart, before you go, your mother and I wanted to give you a little something to commemorate the beginning your last year of school,โ€ Mariano told his daughter with a wide smile, sliding a small Zales bag across the table to Fiamma while Catriona grinned excitedly.

Blue eyes alight with curiosity, Fiamma opened the bag, where she saw a small black box with the jewelry store logo resting at the bottom. She took the box out of the bag, opened the lid and gasped. Nestled inside the delicate red velvet of the jewelry box was a white gold necklace, with a dainty, diamond-studded cross pendant.

โ€œOh my God, this is beautiful!โ€ Fiamma exclaimed in wonder, staring wide-eyed at the lavish gift her parents had gotten her. "I'm justโ€ฆ I don't know what to say..." she trailed off, gently removing the necklace from its place in the box and draping it across her neck.

โ€œItโ€™s just a small thing, really,โ€ Catriona said with a small shrug, rising from her seat to assist her daughter in clasping the delicate chain on her slender neck. โ€œAnd since you lost your promise ring, we figured this was the perfect opportunity to give you a nice replacement.โ€

โ€œJust promise us youโ€™ll take better care of this one,โ€ Mariano added with his good-natured, booming laugh.

At the mention of the purity ring, it took all of Fiammaโ€™s energy and self-control to keep a nonchalant, straight face. After her relationship with Aiden had progressed well beyond the realms of heated make-out sessions and holding hands, the young woman had been waiting for the chance to come up with the perfect excuse to stop using it. Her golden opportunity came that summer, when she attended a four-week long music camp and came back home with the unfortunate news that the purity ring had 'slid off her finger when she was kayaking in the lake with some campmatesโ€™. The truth, however, was that the white gold โ€œLove Waitsโ€ ring was not lost to the depths of a lake in Colorado. Instead, the infamous piece of jewelry was resting safely inside its original box, hidden inside a paper bag in the back of her underwear drawer, along with the cutest notes she and Aiden had exchanged during class last year and a stack of Polaroids of them in all of their silly, madly in love couple glory.

Instead, the redhead let out a light chuckle. โ€œYes, sir!โ€ Fi said enthusiastically before placing her right hand over her heart. โ€œI solemnly swear I will guard this fine piece of jewelry with my life, so help me God,โ€ she declared in her silliest formal voice before standing up to hug and kiss each of her smiling parents. โ€œThank you so much, the both of you. I really do appreciate it, and I swear Iโ€™ll take good care of this gift. Pinky promise.โ€

โ€œYouโ€™re very welcome, dulcissima. Now go on, off you go. Canโ€™t be late for your first day of senior year,โ€ Mariano said, giving his daughter one last kiss on the top of her head before she formally excused herself from the table.

โ€œI canโ€™t wait to hear all about it!โ€ Catriona called out to Fiammaโ€™s retreating back.

Smiling, Fi turned around, waved enthusiastically at her mother, and promptly made her way out the door.

The ride to school was, for the most part, as uneventful as ever. But when the sight of Rosefell High came to view, along with the crowd of unfamiliar faces swarming around in all different directions, Fiammaโ€™s grip on the steering wheel tightened. Not even the soothing sounds of Daniel Jangโ€™s violin pop song covers could shake off the deep-rooted anxiety that had settled in the pit of her stomach, continuously gnawing and clawing at her insides as she pulled into an empty space in the vast parking lot. Until those she trusted made their appearance, there was no way in hell sheโ€™d be leaving the safety of her vehicle. So instead of joining the horde of students filing into the large building, the young woman chose to remain inside her small, peach-scented, beige-leather sanctuary.

With trembling hands, Fiamma grabbed her phone from the cup holder, unlocked the device, and let her thumbs fly across the screen to send a chain of slightly panicked messages to her best friend Niki Zabrecky.

Good morning sunshine! ๐ŸŒž Hope u had a good sleep! ๐Ÿ’–

U mind walking in w me today? U know how nervous the whole first day gets me ๐Ÿ˜–

If not itโ€™s totally ok! Just figured Iโ€™d ask. ๐Ÿ˜Š

See u soon! ๐Ÿ˜
To: Niki

And after that one was sent, it was time to send a message to the sweetest, kindest, loveliest, most handsome boy in the entirety of Fiammaโ€™s universe.

Good morning handsome! ๐Ÿ’– I canโ€™t wait to finally see ur beautiful face today!!! ๐Ÿ˜ I swear whenever weโ€™re apart time seems to drag on and on forever lol ๐Ÿ˜‚ And even though Iโ€™m glad u spent some time w the boys Iโ€™m so freaking ready to hug u and kiss u andโ€ฆ do some other things! ๐Ÿ™ˆ๐Ÿ™Š๐Ÿ˜‚ I love u so so so so much, Aiden: I love u with every fiber of this shy little heart. ๐Ÿ’– I hope you have a fantastic start to your day, Sugarbear๐Ÿ˜˜ See u soon! ๐Ÿ˜Š
To: AH

She didn't have to wait long for her boyfriend's timely response.

Good morning princess! Can't wait to see you later- it really does feel like it's been weeks. I love you so much, don't forget you're the most beautiful girl in the world ๐Ÿ˜˜
From: AH

Just like that, the dark cloud of insecurity that had been hanging over Fiamma since that past night evaporated into nothingness. Now beaming, Fi dropped the locked device back into the Fiatโ€™s cup holder, grabbed her wallet from inside her open backpack, and pulled out a Polaroid photo from one of the card slots. It was a beautiful shot of her boyfriend at the hidden creek where theyโ€™d spent an innumerable amount of afternoons that past summer. The sun made his blond hair look lighter in the image, his skin sparkling with tiny droplets of water, and the reflection of the stream in his eyes really brought out the glimmer of green inside them. But it was his heart-stopping, breathtaking smile what put every beautiful thing in the background to shame.

In Fiammaโ€™s eyes, Aiden Howard was absolute perfection.

With the dumbest look on her face, Fi lovingly stared at the photo for a few seconds before she kissed it and placed it over her heart. And with that silly gesture, the first-day jitters had been nearly forgotten.

Itโ€™s all going to be a-okay.


Feat. Xolotl @beetlemoth

...This isnโ€™t normal, right?

Itโ€™s a weeknight, and Xolotl was sitting in a limousine headed towards another gathering of gods; this time, organized by Jupiter, of all people. The Aztec god hadnโ€™t pegged him as the type to throw such lavish parties with such poor timing, though he supposed he simply didnโ€™t know the self-proclaimed โ€˜King of Godsโ€™ as well as he thought.

Truth be told, after seeing how well the most recent Conclave went, Xolotl had all but promised himself that he was going to wash his hands of the whole affair.

โ€ฆObviously, things hadnโ€™t worked out exactly the way heโ€™d hoped, thanks to a certain Norse goddess currently sitting to his side.

He should be working, he thinks, or at the very least, coming up with some way to guard himself and his kin against the supposed god-killer on the loose. Yes, he knew that the death and life of gods was commonplace, a natural cycle dictated by the very cosmos they all resided in, but things change โ€”โ€“ things have changed; and he wasnโ€™t about to stand by and let his kin be slaughtered by a faceless killer.

Of course, Xolotl still thinks that this whole thing is a terrible idea.

Every god in Seattle all crammed into one placeโ€ฆ what could possibly go wrong?

โ€œRemind me why weโ€™re even going to this thing, again?โ€ His words are heavy with the beginnings of a sigh, spilling sluggishly from his lips like smoke. Heโ€™s annoyed, that much is certain, and his fingers are just itching for a cigarette, but after a momentโ€™s hesitation, he stops himself. The car was a rental and he didnโ€™t want to stink it up.

The Norse goddess let out an exasperated sigh. When she had asked Xolotl to be her date to Jupiterโ€™s charity ball, she had expected the Aztec god to go about it as he usually did: playing along with her crazy ideas. She had anticipated a night of fine dining and cocktails, rubbing shoulders with the Seattle elite while showing each other off in the process, and culminating their evening with a good toss between the sheets. But prying the man away from his desk early on a weeknight and dragging him to the event was easier said than done. The closer the date, the deeper Xolotl seemed to dig his heels into the ground, and the more aggressive Freya had to get with her manipulation tactics of convincing. After what felt and seemed like a monumental effort, in the end she had managed to get him groomed to perfection, squeezed into a dapper-looking suit, and ushered into the limousine that was already waiting at his front door. To hear that he was once again questioning the motives behind their attendance, as if she hadnโ€™t already listed them a million times before, made her bristle with annoyance.

โ€œI could give you a few reasons,โ€ Freya replied in a monotonous tone, raising a fist in Xolotlโ€™s direction and lifting a finger for each reason offered. โ€œOne: you desperately needed a break away from the office before you work yourself into a comatose state (you really do abuse that godly stamina in being such a workaholic, you know that?). Two: itโ€™s better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. And three: because this might be that chance of a lifetime you've been waiting for to finally reconnect with that beloved underworld goddess of yours.โ€

Xolotl doesnโ€™t say a word, simply listening to Freya speak with a flat, sullen look on his face. He could argue, say that he happened to work the perfect amount for what he was trying to accomplish, and that he would rather put as much distance between himself and his enemies as possible; but while he might loathe to admit it, the Norse goddess did indeed make a point โ€”โ€“ several, in fact.

โ€œโ€ฆThatโ€™s fair.โ€ Xolotl concedes with a sigh, as if greatly put-upon. It wasnโ€™t like him to be so theatrical with his grievances, but that was the sort of behavior Freya brought out in him. And besides, he wasnโ€™t about to let himself do something as stupid as get his hopes up. The last time he saw Mictฤ“cacihuฤtlโ€ฆ It had to have been decades ago.

No use dwelling in the past, he tells himself.

โ€œIโ€™d just hate to make a habit out of it.โ€

All this pomp and needless frippery. He didnโ€™t feel the need to point out exactly what โ€˜itโ€™ was. At times, it seemed as if all the Romans saw fit to pride themselves on was their unrelenting penchant for excess. Xolotl decides then to practice hiding his disdain behind questions, deflecting. And quite frankly, he is rather curious about Freyaโ€™s own motivations for attending the ball.

โ€œWhat about you? Anyone youโ€™ll be looking out for once weโ€™re there?โ€ His words are casual, offhanded, though the sideways look he shoots Freya is anything but, nor is the smile that briefly crosses his lips. โ€œYou were awfully persistent about going. I canโ€™t imagine youโ€™d subject yourself to something like this on my account.โ€

Freya did not answer Xolotlโ€™s question immediately. Instead, she took another moment to really think about her justifications for attending this ball. She could say that, as a socialite and important member of the Norse pantheon, her presence was almost to be expected, and that her absence would bring about the wrong kinds of attention. And, party, she would be right. But a half-truth was still an attempt at self-deception. Why would she be almost mandated to attend events like balls hosted by Romans, but got a pass when purposely skipping conclaves, in which topics of much more importance were discussed?

No: the sole reason for Freyaโ€™s appearance at this gala had a name and a faceโ€ฆ One she hadnโ€™t seen in centuries; but one that haunted her dreams, and one she was hoping sheโ€™d be over after tonight.

โ€œLetโ€™s just say youโ€™re not the only one facing the ghosts of the past tonightโ€ฆโ€ she mused, letting out a sigh while turning to stare through the window at the roads and vehicles passing by. โ€œIโ€™m hoping to catch a glimpse of Janus this evening. As foolish as it may be, and as much as I know it will hurt, Iโ€™m certain itโ€™s something I must do in order to free myself of these decaying chains and move on forward. In fact, itโ€™s something I shouldโ€™ve done ages ago,โ€ she concluded, looking back at the Aztec god with a melancholic smile.

โ€œUsually Iโ€™d get my darling Patty to be my wingman for events like these. But seeing as heโ€™s... unavailable at the moment, I went with the only other man I trust.โ€ she said with a small shrug. Normally, it was Plutoโ€™s presence that would keep Freya calm and grounded during trying situations like these. But her beloved partner in crime was still in prison; dressed in an unflattering orange jumpsuit and sitting behind the cold iron bars of the same concrete cell he had occupied for the last five years (or twenty, if you counted the previous fifteen years heโ€™d spent at a Washington facility before his transfer to Seattle). โ€œAnd who needs the moral support just as much as I do, I might add.โ€

Before Xolotl could respond with more than a noncommittal grunt, the luxurious vehicle transporting the couple came to a stop right in front of the red carpet. Blinding white flashes shone through the tinted windows of the limousine, while a crowd of elegantly-dressed photographers and reporters could be seen waiting behind the velvet ropes, faces and cameras pointed and eagerly awaiting the reveal of which influential individual was making their presence known at the glamorous event.

โ€œItโ€™s showtime,โ€ she told the Aztec male with a smile, just in time for the suited-up driver to open the door and graciously assist her in exiting the vehicle.

At once, the camera flashes went into a frenzy, accompanied by a sea of shutter clicks and deafening voices calling out for Seattleโ€™s favorite socialite Astrid Wexler to look one way or another, give a smile, or disclose the details of what she was wearing. And for the next few minutes, the smirking brunette gave the crowd exactly what they wanted: greeting reporters and correspondents alike, posing for photos and conceding small interviews here and there. Once their appetites for curiosity had been mildly satisfied, the young woman waved at the crowd and sauntered off into the ballroom, the long train of her black dress trailing behind her.

The lady of the Norse pantheon had finally arrived.

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