Pluto paced on the edge of the tiny river marking her borders and glared down at the white flowers growing between her beautiful rocks. Again.
After she’d spent all yesterday weeding.
If she wasn’t already mad at Jupiter for cheating when they’d divided up the universe then she would have marched up Olympus or Capitoline or whatever cloud her baby brother had decided to call home and give him the strictest talking to he had ever experienced. Because the underworld had been one thing.
Getting her stuck with annoying neighbours was another.
Except then he’d totally tell Vesta who would tell Mom who would totally take away all of her books again. Or her rocks. She’d grown to love her rocks.
And now some hellish spring Norse god was hurting them.
There were literally three Norse underworlds and they couldn’t keep their vegetation from spreading to innocent Roman rocky realms?
So Pluto gritted her teeth, smoothed her dark hair, and jumped. Clearing the water that separated her beautiful rocks from the annoyingly vibrant meadow growing on the other side.
That was supposed to only be on the other side.
She definitely wasn’t relishing in the feeling of those tiny grass blades being crushed under her feet. Nope. Definitely no enjoyment there. But if they happened to get crushed, well, she wasn’t one to go against fate or karma or the vengeance of the universe.
Stomping her way across the field, she headed straight for the biggest building in sight. It was surrounded by a seemingly endless sea of souls in various states of partying. Souls that were staring at her. Tracking her.
Pluto raised her chin and kept her eyes focused on the building.
She was the Lord of the Dead. Guardian of the Darkness. Queen of the Cold Hard Rock. Goddess of Wealth. She did not get scared by dead Norse-people.
But they were so creepy. A shiver rolling up her spine. What was up with their eyes and why were they following her like that? Wisps of silver surrounding the pupils. Good, old fashioned Roman dead people didn’t do that. They just looked like people. Slow, bored people. But people.
She walked faster. It definitely wasn’t running away.
She just didn’t have time for this. She had to get home and polish her rocks and walk her hellhound and Mercury was supposed to be bringing her a new copy of Gilgamesh that he’d found and then maybe she’d finally be able to finish her own version of the story because there were definitely some holes plot-wise that the writer wasn’t addressing. Also, more romance.
Still the souls stared. Parting around her.
Her pace quickened again and Pluto jammed a hand in her pocket to clench the smooth piece of amber tucked in her pocket. Running her thumb over the surface again and again. Feeling the few remaining ridges.
She’d wear them down eventually.
“You’re bothering my people,” the voice was right in her ear.
Pluto spun, flailing her arms and calling the magic to her without thinking about it. Rocks bursting from the ground to float around her. Eyes squeezed tight as she definitely did not let out a tiny shriek.
It must have worked because nothing tried to grab her or impale her or something equally unpleasant.
“Do you even know what to do with those?” the voice came again, slightly farther away. Pluto gripped the amber tighter. Analysis first. Gather data. Female. A strange inflection on the syllables. Kind of husky. Kind of sensual.
Entirely beside the point.
She un-scrunched her eyes and said, “Did you just sneak up on me? Harpies tears! Why would you do that? That’s increasingly rude and basically holding a wolf by the ears. I mean, I understand that valkyries are thought to be the epitome of warriors but that’s relative to humans. I am a field unto myself and it’s generally ill advised to sneak up on those with the power to crush your head in. Like me. Pluto. Lord of the Underworld. Roman. Rattle any denarius? Because you do not have any indication of the number of valkyries that I’ve tried to talk to about this and -”
The words died in her throat when she finally focused on the figure in front of her.
By Terra what a figure. Pluto’s eyes roamed. Cataloguing. For purely data gathering purposes. The first thing she noticed was the thin circlet of gold on the woman’s forehead, barely peeking out from blonde hair. She squinted. The detailing was okay. Metal etched with an intricate flower design that had Pluto itching to ask who did the work.
She could definitely have done it better. Gold loved her. Even Vulcan couldn’t outdo her.
She was distracted from the question by the cape of feathers falling off the woman’s back. Normally not her thing but somehow showing off long legs and soft curves.
The last thing Pluto noticed was the large sword angled towards her and she took a step back, eyes widening. Probably should have gathered that data first.
“You’re not a valkyrie.” the words tumbled out.
“Freya, goddess,” she said then paused, eyes running over Pluto, “and you’re adorable.”
Pluto puffed up her chest, “ I’m terrifyingly powerful.”
Freya didn’t even hesitate in sheathing her sword, “I’m going to stick with adorable.”
“Lord of the Underworld, here,” Pluto said.
“Terrifying,” Freya deadpanned, “Join the club.”
Pluto’s eyes widened. This blonde, golden flower crown wearing goddess was supposed to be ruling the underworld? That did not align with any of the acquired data. Pluto was a Lord of the Underworld. All dark hair and pale skin and thin build with the general gloomy face that humans expected her to have.
She was working on the matching personality when she had formal audiences. It didn’t exactly come naturally and they couldn’t all be Hades. He had gloom in his bones. And tin in his heart.
And his crown definitely wasn’t made of gold flowers
She stared at Freya a little longer, uncaring if it was rude. Freya’s fingers twitched, fiddling with a feather from her cape. Then she drew herself upward, “You’re small and cute and that makes an awful lot forgivable but you’re also annoying my souls so I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“You’re the Lord of the Underworld?” Pluto was still stuck.
She sighed, “And Freyr thought I could get away from the idiots down here. Lose Thor. Find you. Still have Odin.” Freya’s arms were crossed. A scowl forming. Pluto almost took a step back as she noticed the alarming amount of magic sparking over Freya’s fingers.
Then she saw the tiny lilies sprouting at her feet.
Flowers had roots. Roots broke rocks.
“You’re the one who’s been messing with my rocks!” Pluto took a step forward and jab her finger at Freya, “I tried to be civil. I really did. Do you know how many messages I sent with your valkyries to try and resolve this like neighbours? An exceedingly vast amount. And do you know what it’s like talking to valkyries? Infuriating.” She stomped her foot for emphasis, “It’s as though I’m trying to talk to Mars after he’s had one too many bottles of nectar. If you’re lucky it’s mostly incoherent babbling and if you’re unlucky, it’s all death threats.”
Pluto took another step forward, “Do you have any indication of how many valkyries have threatened me? 13 and a half. A half. And their threats weren’t even original. They pretty much all just vaguely promised to use my intestines as decorations on their spears. Which frankly, is a terrible threat.”
Her hands were flailing now, taking up all the space between herself and Freya, “because you won’t even necessarily die from losing your intestines. I mean, yeah, you probably will,” she corrected herself, “but I heard the Ashvin twins were working on that. Plus, intestines would be a horrible spear decoration. They’re quite long. You’d have to wind them too many times and that would throw off the balance. And they all used that threat. Is that part of a handbook or somethi-”
There was an incredibly soft finger pressing against her lips.
“I take it back,” Freya said softly. Pluto suddenly noticed how close they were as Freya’s breath ghosted across her face, “That was terrifying.”
Pluto squinted then took a step back, “Don’t patronize me.”
Freya left the digit in the air for a moment before bringing it down and rubbing the finger against her thumb. Silent.
“The point is,” Pluto said, “that I have been asking you for months to keep your plants on your side of the river. And you haven’t. And I’m angry.”
Freya mumbled under her breath, “You don’t say?”
“And I have exceptionally good hearing.” Pluto said.
Frowning, Freya’s gaze ran over her again, “You really are angry, aren’t you?”
“You’re killing my rocks!” Pluto threw her hands in the air, “So yeah. And now I’m even more angry because I had to come all the way over here when there are so many other things that I could have been doing. I’m a busy person you know. I know that everyone thinks there’s nothing to do down here but do you know how many rocks there are? So many. Is anyone else even bothering to catalogue them? Nope. Just me. ”
“So your plan was what?” Freya said, “come over here, storm into Folkvangr, and threaten to pummel me with a bunch of rocks if I don’t cooperate?”
“What?” Pluto blurted, “Who said anything about pummeling with rocks?”
Freya pointed her finger just over Pluto’s shoulder.
She turned. The rocks were still there. Chunks of granite and old lava and a fairly sharp looking ruby floating in slow circles just over her head.
“Oh,” she said. Then she caught herself, “Oh yes. That was, of course, exactly the plan. See, highly terrifying, quite dangerous Lord of the Underworld stuff. Rubies are the third hardest natural gem so you definitely should attempt to avoid being bludgeoned by it. Fear me.”
Freya looked almost like she was trying not to smile, “I’d be more terrified if I thought you could actually hit anything with those.”
“I could definitely hit you if I wanted to. I just don’t. It would be too fearsome.” Pluto said. Clearly, this goddess was overestimating herself, she had to give her a way out, “Just say that you’ll stop growing lilies on my side of the river and I’ll go.”
There was a pause. Freya had to be joking. There was no way that she actually wanted Pluto to magically hit her with a bunch of rocks.
Freya had a wry smile on her face and a hand resting casually on her sword, eyes locked on Pluto. Then, her fingers came up and gave a clear ‘bring it on’ motion.
A dangerous glint in her eyes.
That did it. That cocky glint from behind the waves of blonde and just beneath the sub-par golden flower crown. So Pluto braced her feet and reached for the magic, pulling on the dark blue sparks that connected her to the rocks.
Freya still didn’t move as the magic pulsed around Pluto’s body.
She tried one last time, “Just say you’ll stop.”
So Pluto squinted, took aim, and pushed the magic forward. The rocks rammed forward as though they’d been shot from a canon, causing her to squeak and shut her eyes. The ruby feeling particularly responsive to what she wanted.
She winced and kept her eyes closed as she heard some kind of impact. Lord of the underworld. Not the same thing as death.
Blood or ichor or the equivalent spilled innards were rather disgusting.
“You okay?” she said, “I warned you. Do you have a healer down here or something because the best I know is Persephone and it’s sort of an 80/20 chance if she’s going to be down here or not. In addition, we’d have to walk over to the Greek side and if you’re quite hurt that’s going to be a problem because I’m not particularly strong and rather small.”
She waited for the moan of pain.
Instead there was laughter.
Her stomach flipped at the sound. Real, light hearted laughter that had no place existing in the underworld where it was mostly apathetic souls or screaming souls or screaming fathers or hissing harpies.
This was the kind of sound that she’d expect to find bottled on Apollo’s shelf for use in one of Eros’s love potions.
Pluto opened her eyes.
Freya was laughing, one hand covering her mouth as though she was trying to keep the sound in and failing miserably.
She’d missed. Competely. Totally. Every single stone impacting on the ground around Freya in a vague semi-circle of rock. Except the ruby. Which, adding insult to injury, Freya had actually caught and was now holding to her chest.
She caught it. Really? Of course.
Pluto scowled down at the grass, squashing it under her toe, “I’m having an off day.”
“I’m sure.” Freya said.
“I just didn’t want to hurt you,” Pluto said.
Freya was trying admirably to keep her face straight, “Of course.”
“Because, that’s not how I work,” Pluto said, looking up, “I don’t do the whole harbinger of doom shtick that a lot of the other underworld gods do. I’m more about delegating. I’ve got Charon handling bring souls in and the diraes do the punishing and I’ve even got a couple of the souls set up to do the whole judgement part so I’ve got time to do other things.”
Pluto started fiddling with the rock in her pocket as she continued, “So I’m not really up to date on the whole ‘fire and brimstone’ thing but Mictlantecuhtli promised that I could do an intensive case study of his methods and you know how much he loves bones and general blood spattering. I’m just not quite there yet. Need a touch more research. So I was kind of worried that I might hit you too hard and your face is so pretty and I didn’t want to mess it up.”
Her mouth snapped shut as her brain finally caught up with the words. Heat rushed to up her neck and she took a step back. Gaze jumping up to Freya, praying to Terra she hadn’t noticed.
Freya was looking at her like she’d just found something shiny. Really shiny. A sly smile on her lips and the glint returning to her eyes.
“Well now,” she said, taking a step forward to match Pluto’s step back, “we can’t have anything messing up my pretty face now can we?”
Pluto’s eyes widened. Reaching internally for anything besides the heat that she could feel clean through to her ears. Science. Research. Logic. “You’re a goddess,” she said, “you could always just get a new face if you had to.”
Good response. Well done science.
“But you like this one so much,” Freya said, something un-namable flickering over her face, “what if you don’t find the next one pretty?”
Mayday. Mayday. Centuries trapped in her father’s stomach with only her siblings did not prepare her for flirty, attractive Norse goddesses.
What would her siblings say?
Jupiter would try and get in her pants. Actually, he’d probably already be in her pants. Which just sounded a tad presumptuous. Vesta would try and give her a warm beverage. Fresh out at this particular moment. Juno. Terra knows what Juno would say but Ceres would definitely be making her flower crowns or something. Neptune would say something about seahorses or sea turtles or seabirds and wax poetic about how he’d paint her face in the waves.
Pluto didn’t know anything about aquatic life.
This was a terrible idea. Her siblings were zero help. Their love lives were the epitome of atrocious.
The length of her silence finally hit her as Pluto pulled herself back from her own head, piece of amber rolling under her fingers. Her gaze swept back to Freya’s face, stomach bubbling over as Freya’s flirty smile slowly started to fade.
“Rocks never change!” Pluto shouted.
She may have panicked. Maybe. If the raised eyebrow staring back at her from just below the golden crown was any indication.
“Rocks never change,” Pluto repeated as though that would make everything clearer. She dug in her pocket, holding out the small piece of amber for Freya to see. “Well, they do change but they don’t really. This wasn’t always rock because amber is actually fossilized tree resin. Technically it’s still the same thing it always was, it just looks different. And when I first acquired it from Helios, well, it was super bumpy and now I’m smoothing and polishing it so it looks different but it’s still the same thing underneath.”
That probably made no sense.
Freya’s smile was back. Smaller. Less sly. But back.
So she gave a tentative smile in return, amber still held in her palm between them.
For a moment it held, their gazes locked and smiles in place, until Freya’s vanished. Her face hardening into something much closer to a warrior Queen as she laid a hand back on the pommel of her sword. Glint gone. Eyes unreadable.
Pluto’s fingers curled back around the piece of amber. Slowly. Loosely.
“I’ll take care of the lilies,” Freya said, shoulders straightening and drawn up to her full height. The few extra inches forcing Pluto to tilt her head slightly back.
“Um, thank you?” Pluto said.
“If that’s all.” Freya said. Her eyes swept Pluto’s face once more before she spun away, cape swirling about her shoulders.
Pluto’s fist closed more tightly on the amber.
Watching her walk away.
Leaving a semi-circle of rocks behind.
“Wait!” Pluto scurried to catch up, when Freya didn’t stop, “wait just a secunda. Don’t think I didn’t see that. That wasn’t sneaky in the slightest. You can’t just walk all nonchalantly like that, I’ve got the eyes of a panther or a bat. Which, by the way, have exceptional eyesight despite other misconceptions to the idea.”
Freya kept walking so Pluto reached out, tapping her on the shoulder.
When that didn’t work, she pulled the goddess back around, “Give me back my ruby,” Pluto said.
A tiny crinkle formed between Freya’s eyebrows, then her eyes went down to the large red rock in her hand.
“Ruby. Ruber. Mine. Give it back.” Pluto repeated.
Freya looked at her then back to the rock and back up again, “You threw it at me. And you still want it back?”
“That is a great ruby,” Pluto said, “Look at the colour. Do you have any idea how much that’s going to shine when I get it all cleaned up? I haven’t seen a ruby such as that in as far back as I can conceive. So yes, I want it back. It’s mine.”
“I was under the impression that when someone gave a gem to a lady they thought beautiful, they didn’t traditionally ask for it’s return.” Freya said.
Then her lip twitched. As though she hadn’t meant to open them.
Pluto plowed right past the flirtation, “Oh no you don’t. No distracting me with all of that confusing seductive implication. I’ve got more than enough romance problems with Prosperina all up in my business despite repeatedly telling her that I am not Hades. Do I look like Hades? No. No, I do not. He doesn’t even like rocks. At all. Zero interest. But does Prosperina get that? Of course not. So, I’d just like my ruby back and then you can get rid of the lilies and we’ll be on our way.”
She held out her empty hand, fixed Freya with her best Lord of the Underworld glare, and waited. Willing to look up and wait as long as was necessary to get what she wanted. Choosing to ignore how little space was actually between them.
Instead of a ruby, she got a mumble, “First you’re angry and then you find me pretty and then you’re angry again.”
“I’m complicated,” Pluto said, “Ruby.”
She kept her eyes on Freya’s face as the goddess broke their gaze, feeling the coolness of the gem land in her palm. But it wasn’t alone, the brush of smooth fingers were warm against her skin. Four small pinpoints of pressure as Freya failed to remove her own hand. Ruby sandwiched between them
She fought the urge to look down, to confirm the feeling. Instead, she watched Freya watch their hands. Face still.
Until there was a flash of white teeth on red lips. A quick bite and gone again.
“You want the lilies gone?” Freya asked. Pinpoint pressure still in place.
“I think we’ve established that.” Pluto said.
Freya nodded and Pluto gave an internal cheer of success.
Until the ruby was gone, whisked away as though it had never been in her palm. The fingertips too. But she was focusing on the ruby. Definitely.
“I’ll get rid of the lilies,” Freya said, “I promise. But,” the sly smile came back, “I’m keeping the ruby.”
“You can’t just-” Pluto started before she was cut off as she started coughing. Black smoke billowing around her. Thick and hacking.
When it cleared the goddess was gone.
“That’s cheating!” Pluto shouted. The Norse souls looked over, white still whisping around their eyes.
Perhaps she’d take what she could get. If not, she could come back.
Maybe with her helmet of invisibility. And her hellhound. Her fire-creating hellhound.
As she crossed back over the river, Pluto told herself she was thrilled at the absence of any sort of new flower. Lilies already withered.
Still, she reached down and plucked one. The dead bloom dry in her hand. She carried it back home, clearing a space between her rocks to lay the brown flower.A placeholder. For when she got that ruby back. The advantage of immortality. She’d get it eventually, one way or another. These things tended to come around.
For now, Gilgamesh called. Sumeria had some things going for it, namely their epic production of fine literature.
It was two days and a complete re-write of the text later when Mors told her that there were red cowslips growing alongside the river.
On her rocks.
A small note tucked between them, “They’re not lilies.”
Forget weeding. She called for Spot, taking the firey hellhound for a long deserved game of fetch beside the river. If she was still her adorable baby girl who couldn’t control her fire yet and some flowers happened to burn up? Whoops.
She pretended she couldn’t see the figure at the window of the throne room across the meadow.
She pretended that she couldn’t see the flowers growing back as she walked away, a panting Spot at her heels.
She simply went out for another game of fetch the next day.