“Here’s the…here’s the thing, okay?” Isabel said, gesturing widely with the glass. A few amber drops sloshed over the side and fell glistening to the floor. Neither she nor Crystal took notice of the spillage – Crystal was leaned forward with a stare that was both intense and watery. “You…” Isabel pointed to Crystal, managing not to spill any more in the process. “You are a…goddess.”
Crystal nodded slowly. “Yes. I am.”
“And I,” Isabel again pointed, this time to herself, “am not.”
After a moment over consideration, Crystal repeated the nod. “That…that is…yes, you are. Not, that is.”
“So, you see my point.”
Crystal started to tilt her head, but given the way that made the entire bar tilt, she decided against it. “I lost the point,” she admitted after trying, and failing, to figure out where Isabel was going with this.
“My point? My point was..was…fuck I forgot.” Isabel took a sip from her drink, then nearly spit it out as her eyes got wide with realization. “Oh! No, I ‘member now. My point was that you…do not get hangovers. And tomorrow, I am going to curse. A lot. Probably curse all of you. Because I can’t keep up with your drinking.” Isabel raised her glass to finish it, but Crystal reached out to grab her wrist.
“No no no no, love, you – you’re right! You’re so right,” Crystal said, trying to keep Isabel from drinking and stop herself from falling off the bar stool. “You can’t keep drinking or you’ll get, you’ll get sick!”
Ryan and Athena shared a look, and Athena had to raise her hand to her mouth to surpress a laugh. They had let Crystal and Isabel get mutually obliterated, but the two of them had found a comfortable seat on the buzzed side of drunk.
“Think they’re gonna be okay?” Ryan asked, as Crystal forced Isabel’s hand to the table and began to carefully pry her fingers from the glass. Both of them were laughing as, once Crystal had one of Isabel’s fingers off the glass and moved to the next one, Isabel just closed the grasp again.
“I think they’re going to be absurd, then your sister is going to have a terrible headache in the morning.” Athena responded, turning away from them to focus on Ryan as Crystal said, “Isabel, stop! You’re going to….you can’t get sick!” Each word was enunciated carefully and dramatically.
Ryan chuckled at that, waving an Anansi wandered back over. “Man, Anansi, thank you again for pushing me.”
Anansi gave him a wide and somewhat wobbly grin. The spider god was, if not three sheets to the wind, at least a sheet and half. “Hey, that’s what I do, y’know? Being a wise and shit. Back when us gods were just people with power who weren’t…” the train of thought wandered away for a moment, and Anansi stared off into the middle distance for a second. “Weren’t gonna die! So we got extra experience.”
“I do miss that,” Athena said, her voice getting faded. “‘Oh wise Pallas Athena! My husband is sleeping around, what should I do?’”
“What was your advice for that?”
Athena grinned into her drink. “It varied, because I needed to know what the person was able to do. Were they strong enough and self-sufficiciffient,” Ryan didn’t think sufficient had that many syllables but wasn’t sure enough to say, “enough to walk away? Could they get away with an ulti…with telling the person stop or go? Or did they need to try something else?”
“I remember once,” Anansi said, “this young man came to me. He said, “Oh Anansi, this girl from the next village, I like her, but I do not know how I might win her over, for she is wise and strong and beautiful and my face is hideous and my arms are weak. But her father’s farm is suffering from a plague of rats, and I think, if I can save her, she’ll love me. So I told him where to find some wild kittens. And he caught them and he loved them and he let them save her father’s farm. Soon everyone wanted them.”
“Wait,’ Ryan interjected, “is this how cats got domesticated?”
Anansi shook his head. “No, they were first domesticated in Cyprus, right?” He glanced at Athena, who shrugged.
“Zeus claimed that was the case, but that was before my time.”
Anansi nodded. “But,” he said to Ryan, “this was before they were domesticated in my part of the world, so I am going to take some of the credit for it. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point was, after her father’s farm was saved, this young man? He wasn’t as hideous as he thought, and no one looks ugly when they’re playing with a handful of kittens. He courted this young woman but in the end, decided it was taking too much time from his cats, and eventually married a woman who loved his cats as much as he did. They died old and happy, surrounded by cats.”
Ryan frowned for a moment. “It’s a cool story, but I…maybe it’s because I’m drunk, but I think I missed the point.”
Athena, who had finished another shot a little bit ago and so had drifted back to the drunk side of the line chimed in. “That’s what, that’s part of what tricksters do. They give you the, the advice you think will get you what you want.”
Anansi’s grin broadened. “But it’s actually the advice that you need. We’re less straightforward than people like Athena here.”
“And more presumptuous,” another voice chimed in. Dainmu had made her way back over. “Since you think, in all cases, people do not know what they really want.” For a moment, Ryan thought she was completely sober, then saw the delicate way she was walking, each step carefully considered.
“I will admit its not always true. Just usually.”
Dainmu shook her head. “Also, you are easily distracted. I think you might find yourself without company tonight if you tarry too much longer.”
The palm of Anansi’s hand met his forehead. “Right! That’s what I came over to say.” He clapped Ryan on the shoulder. “Don’t wait up for me, I’ll find you tomorrow.”
Ryan gave him a thumbs up. He nodded and wandered back to a woman of beautiful and etheral looks, whose beauty was almost somewhat decreased by the annoyed expression on her face.
“How about you, Dainmu? Found yourself company for the night?” Athena said in a teasing tone.
Dainmu chuckled. “None that interests me enough in that regard, not yet. But the night is not yet over, and I’ve had enough fun where if I don’t find someone, my social needs are still being met.”
“Glad to hear that, at least,” Ryan commented. “So you and Crystal knew each other?”
“I do not think there is a god who doesn’t know Crystal, in one name or another. She made a point of meeting us all, early on. When we were Nascent, if she could. Helped me…helped me find my husband a nanoverse too.”
Ryan blinked and gave Athena a did you know? look, but she shook her head. “You’re married?”
“I was, but that was some time ago. Immortality is,” and here Dainmu showed her intoxication, slowly and carefully trying to get into her seat. After several failed attempts, she made a motion with her hand, levitating herself onto it, “immortality is hell on long term relationships.”
Athena glanced at Crystal and Isabel, “yes, it is.”
“Nope!” Crystal shouted, almost as if she was responded to Athena, but she was still focused on Ryan’s sister. Isabel’s hand was now off the glass, but it was empty, so Ryan had no idea who had won that particular contest. “You…you are not going to get out of this, Isabel Smith.”
Isabel made a plaintive noise. “I’m not any good at it!”
“Tough…tough cookies. You. You are going to dance. If you don’t want to dance with random people, you’re going to…you can dance with me. C’mon, love.” She grabbed Isabel’s hand and began pulling her off the stool. Isabel had stopped protesting – Ryan figured even her drunken brain had figured out that Crystal could be an irresistable force at this point.
“That sounds like a good idea,” Ryan said, leaning over towards Athena. “Want to hit the dance floor?”
Athena seemed to be startled by the question, her train of thought utterly derailed. After a few blinks, she smiled slowly. “Yes. I think I do. Dainmu?”
“I need to be off my feet for a bit. You two have fun – I’ll be back before too much longer.”
Ryan nodded to her. “See you then,” and before his nerve lost him, he reached out and grabbed Athena’s hand, and she smiled.
The rest of the night passed that way, drinking and dancing and conversation. At some point, Ryan lost track of Crystal and Isabel, but figured they’d be okay so long as they stuck together.
And if you want to make sure you’re going to be okay, you should probably stick very close to Athena. He smiled at the thought, at the woman he was dancing with, at thoughts of the new friends and reconnecting with his family…
And for one of the few times since this whole thing started, the end of the world seemed so very, very far away.