She hears the voice like an insect buzzing around her head: quiet, persistent, and profoundly irksome. It scratches at her, the opposite of an itch.
Eris growls with displeasure and turns her attention to it. Her fingers curl in anticipation of ripping it apart from the inside out. She listens: it's human, masculine, and familiar but unplaceable. It's coming from the temple.
The reminder of her temple both pleases and galls. Sinbad—her mischief personified, the eleventh hour doom of her cleverest plan—had the brass to suggest its construction prior to his exit from Syracuse. More surprising: the city had built it. It's as lovely as midnight, made of sandstone and onyx, with diamond accents and her effigy in cascading water. It's the first one of her very own in all of Greece, the first time she doesn't have to share a corner in—ugh—Hestia's temple, or—even worse—Athena's. Padding, all these safe siblings of hers, as though housing her with them has a diluting effect. One would think mortals would be quicker to pay tribute to the goddess of discord, if only out of a sense of self-preservation, but instead they ask for wisdom, further proving their deficit.
With a mixture of surprise and consternation she discovers the supplicant is the erstwhile sacrificial lamb of Syracuse. Proteus. The golden prince. He is praying, his voice as precise as the walls of a house.
Praying is a weak word for it. He's chatting to her effigy without the slightest pretense of prostration. She listens for a moment before rolling her eyes with a hiss of contempt. He's actually talking about the weather—and in so doing proving her theory that the behavior of good people—so-called—is not generated from any ethical inclination but simply lack of imagination.
The constellations float around her, heads atilt with curiosity, silently asking what part they might play in whatever she decides to do next. She's annoyed to even have to make a decision.
This isn't what he's supposed to do. She stole the Book of Peace with intent to turn the world inside out and nearly succeeded in getting him killed. He is supposed to hate her.
Inky night cloaks Syracuse. The moon is new and shadowed, the lamps in most windows doused. Sweet little city, asleep and untroubled: a matter she'll attend to the next time she's bored. They are fortunate she has more exciting plans brewing for the mainland.
The watery hair of her effigy ripples as though it has a mind of its own. She curls outward from it in a beautifully dramatic entrance that turns the precious prince white as a sheet. With some practice she could probably give supplicants a heart attack.
"What - are - you - doing," she seethes, in the voice that has decimated more than one brave man. "Aside from pissing me off."
It's rather unfair that Proteus has already seen her corporeal form once before; he recovers quickly from the shock, and merely says: "I thought you could use the company. Sinbad says you're lonely."
Her nostrils flare. Sinbad. She should have guessed he's to blame for this. Impudent, rash, unflappable—both of them. Cut from the same mold. Except that Sinbad doesn't have a care in the world and Prince Charming inherited them all.
How dare he stand there unblinking in the face of her ire. Idiot mortal.
"If you continue to plague me with your inane chatter, I'll see to it that you and your people follow in the steps of the Atlanteans."
Proteus merely smiles indulgently, sure of the safety cast by the book glowing bluely across the harbor.
"Wipe that presumptuous smirk off your face. You forget who you're dealing with. My hands may be tied in one direction," she sprouts eight more arms out of her back like wings, "but I have my ways. Consider yourself fortunate that my attention is currently focused elsewhere." She is also fond of her temple; she'd like to wear the shine off it before she sends it to the depths.
His smile vanishes. "I meant no discourtesy, goddess."
She's sure he really didn't. She decides to let him squirm for a bit while he tries to talk his people out of a watery grave, then grant mercy in exchange for a future favor and withdraw. There isn't much she can do to Syracuse tonight, not without coaxing Zeus into a foul mood.
There he goes again. She's a goddess, not a lost urchin to be coddled and kissed. And he is one of her more recent victims. Why does he care? Why bother? Perplexion and frustration roil within her.
He has managed to create chaos in her; she respects that.
"Never fret, little prince. I've plenty of new flames keeping me warm." She waves a hand to show him various scenes of wildfires burning all across the planet. An uninspired job—she simply wrote her name on the globe in fire and let the blaze burn whither it would, but she hadn't had time for more: she'd been brewing up a hurricane in the southern ocean for weeks and it was finally ready to be unleashed.
"Why do you do it?" He sounds patronizing as only those who consider themselves morally superior are capable of. "There's enough natural trouble in the world. Why create it?"
"It's my job. Goddess of discord. I thought you knew."
Her sarcasm flies right over his head. "But what joy is there in bringing torment and loss to people who have done nothing to deserve it?"
What a drip.
"Pleasure is a happy byproduct. What you evidently don't understand, little Prince of Syracuse, is that we're the same, you and I. You test people to prove they're good; I test them to prove they're bad. And so far," she grips the altar edges and looms over him, looking him straight in the eye, "I'm winning."
He says, "I disagree," as she knew he would.
"A bold claim from a man who hedges his bets with the Book of Peace. If humans are as good as you say, why do you need it at all? Perhaps you should let me have it back."
"Still rankles, does it?" He's smirking at the memory of her defeat, a glow of pride for his trickster friend in his eyes. She loathes the sort of mortal who can be so happy for another's glory that he needs none of his own.
"You're de-flect-ing," she sings, spiraling around the circumference of an onyx column.
"Sometimes we forget our better nature," he says. "Like Sinbad. But we still have it. Sometimes it takes someone having faith in us to wake it back up."
"And sometimes it only takes an earthquake to prove a 'better nature' is nothing but a hope and a wish."
"Keep playing your game, then," he says, "but you can't change my mind. The most selfish man I know was ready to die to save my life. I saw that so-called wish in action. And so did you."
He has a face that might have been cut from glass; it's still sharp on the edges, and the way he looks at her makes her feel like she could start bleeding.
A few days later he's at it again.
"When is it going to register in your tiny mortal brain that I am not benevolent."
He straightens and turns around. He's smiling. She glowers at him.
"I got you something." He holds out his palm; something small and reddish sits in the center.
She picks it up. "Am I supposed to be impressed by an olive?"
"That particular olive grew in a grove that lay directly in the path of an army on the march. The peasant who owned the field asked the general to lead his troops around the grove and spare his crop. The general did as the peasant asked, even though it cost his men time and added miles to their journey. Not only that, the marching army was an invading unit: the peasant whose field they spared was one of their sworn enemies. Proof," he says, not without a smug smile, "that man is good."
"You really believe that," she says. "They would have stolen the grove from him if they'd won the war."
"You know what I think, goddess?"
"Do tell," she drawls.
"I think you sound a lot like Sinbad."
"Will you stop bringing up that human flotsam—"
"Sinbad before he realized he was capable of love and selflessness."
She laughs. "Oh, Proteus. You're so sickeningly optimistic. Stop trying to draw out my better nature. What would you do without me? The world would be at peace and you'd have no one left to help."
"When you get tired of the emptiness, you know where to find me."
"Take care, little prince, or you're going to do-good yourself right out of the afterworld. Hades already has one bleeding heart pestering him, he doesn't need two. He'll stop you at the river shore and send you straight to Zeus to be hung in the stars where you can't bother anyone."
The clouds of her skirt start to roil. Just before she spins out of sight, he has the gall to sass back: "Is that a hope? Or a wish?"
And for half a breath she almost—almost—likes him.
"What do you want now?"
"Just a little homesick."
"You're at home, Proteus."
"Home isn't just buildings. It's people."
"Ah, that's right—your so-called best friend and faithless betrothed ran off together and left you here alone. And I'm supposed to make this better… how?" She claps, suddenly realizing what he wants. "Revenge? Finally! I'll send Sagittarius to hunt them down—"
"No, no! Not revenge! I just wanted to… remember Sinbad with someone who knew him. Really knew him. You're the only one here who understands him," his mouth twists, "even if you did make a major error in judgment about the most important part of his character, and about which, may I remind you, I was right."
She twirls in the air, settling into the seat of her water effigy. "You're a bore, Proteus."
His incisive seaglass eyes turn warm when he talks about his friends. He tells her about his childhood, about growing up alongside his brazen almost-brother, about their recent farewell. The expressions on his face battle for dominance: heartache and happiness flowing into each other like a delta into the moonlit ocean. He's lonely, she realizes. And foolish, if he thinks she gives a tiny rat's ass.
"Stop wasting my time, princeling. This is your own fault. Your soft little heart has never practiced moderation. You never learned how to turn to steel, to stone. What sort of king are you planning to be?" She sneers and withdraws.
He calls after her, "I'd rather have a full heart that grieves than an empty one that will never know what love is."
She sinks an entire fleet of his merchant ships for that.
He keeps coming back. Eris grows accustomed to the lines of his figure in her temple: that tall head on its sturdy neck, those square shoulders that narrow to slim hips, that neatly tied hair. He's a tidy person, is Proteus: tidy with his belongings, with his movements, even his thoughts. His prayers are methodical and follow a general pattern. She likes to show up when he's almost finished, cutting off his thoughts so that the last few are left dangling, sitting at the back of his mind and unattended to, slowly sliding out of his memory while he converses with her, leaving behind nothing but a frustrating hollowness.
After a while she starts showing up apropos of nothing. She likes to work at night, while the mortals are asleep and suspect nothing. Proteus is a night owl, too, and he is usually at work on one project or the other by the time she has finished her rounds. He likes repairing things: lamps and chairs and various bric-a-brac he's found around the palace. Sometimes she vanishes a nail or a screw in order to watch his frustration mount as he searches for it.
Tonight he is on his balcony gluing together an intricately painted porcelain platter. Eris hates painters; they have reserves of determination that seem to appear out of nowhere, even after she's toppled their paint pots and torn their canvases.
"I'm collecting inspiration. You're a gold mine. I just set in motion the opposite of whatever it is you currently consider important. Does the trick every time."
"And what havoc have you been busy wreaking?"
"At the moment I'm working on an international war."
"Don't you have any normal hobbies?
She props her chin on her palm. "I grow apples."
He carefully fits two shards of glass together. "A worthy pursuit. Are you sure you aren't a Hesperis in disguise?"
"I can't imagine anything more boring than tending that garden all the livelong day."
"You've been there?"
"Certainly. The Hesperides are my sisters." She laughs. "They are gracious if reluctant hostesses. I called up a hailstorm last time I visited."
"It's said the noblest warriors may enter the garden freely." He sounds wistful.
"Its virtues are exaggerated, as most virtues are. I'd pick Syracuse any day. You never know what the sea might belch up." Eris looks out at the moon-silvered water. She trails a playful finger through the sky, making Cygnus spin in pursuit. The seabreeze lifts Proteus' hair and drops it in his eyes.
"I suppose it is difficult to picture you tending flora. You're more apt to set off a factory full of fireworks."
"I'll accept that compliment."
He chuckles. "Take it. I always did prefer fireworks to flowers."
"And yet you long for an invitation to the golden garden."
"It's not the invitation, it's what it would signify. It would mean I'd done something good for the world, enough to be considered a man of valor. Do you know how much that indicates? How many lives made better? How much healing, how much peace?"
Ugh. He's so good.
He wedges a shard into the hollow created by three others. "Easier said than done, I suppose."
She makes a circle with her finger, causing the central shard to rotate into its correct place. She'll throw him a bone; he's practically begging for it. "Yes. But from what I've seen—and I've had eons to watch mortals ruin their lives without any help from me—you're one of the few exceptions to the rule."
His father is ill: the sort of sickness that could surge through his body and exit just as quickly, or could escort a new king of Syracuse onto the throne tomorrow.
She cannot help him, she reminds Proteus, who merely says he knows and doesn't leave her temple. He has already been to visit Asclepius. The whole city is flooding the temple of healing right now, and the prince of Syracuse chooses her company to see him through the night.
When he falls into an exhausted sleep she flicks away to the king's chambers. It's the sort of sickroom she glories in: full of the burning smell of poultices, the thick air of undrawn curtains, worried brows and low voices, bowls full of leeches, cloths soaked with blood.
The broad shoulders of her nephew are bent over the bed. She watches until she is satisfied.
Proteus is still sleeping. She touches his shoulder. He sits up quickly, alarmed.
"The fever broke."
His face contorts. He makes a sound that isn't quite a sob of relief. He closes his eyes tightly.
If she'd given it a single thought she would never have done it. She reaches out and lays her hand on his. Lightly, in case he wants to politely shrug it off after a requisite number of seconds.
He doesn't. He turns his palm so that theirs are pressed to each other's. His skin is calloused and warm. His fingers are long and tapered, and they tighten around hers.
Eris tightens her grip, too, pressing her fingers gently against the warmth of him, feeling tendons and bones.
She almost killed this man.
She lets go suddenly, startling both of them. "Good night," she says, unpleasant confusion in her heart, twining and writhing and uncomfortable, and not of her own making.
She twists into the air and vanishes. He doesn't call her back.
She bellows, "I am the goddess of discord. I am the dissonant note in the symphony. I am the oil poured onto the fire. I don't bring about final results; you do. I am simply the impetus. The stone thrown into the lake. The first domino that falls. I am not the goddess of war, or revenge, or murder. And the sooner you remember that," she seethes a smile, "the sooner the locusts currently headed to your farm will change course."
The vile little self-serving mortal shrieks in protest. He prostrates himself pathetically. Eris yawns and recedes into her effigy. After a time, the wailing supplicant runs out of the temple.
Proteus is leaning against a column, watching. He straightens and approaches the effigy, hands in his pockets. Light from the oil lamps flickers across his face. "You're going to call off your locusts, right?"
She trickles out slowly. "I don't plan to."
He has never asked her for anything before. She looks at him. His eyes are serious, searching hers. His expression is humble.
She casts her eyes heavenward. "For the sake of your pretty face," she says coolly.
He smiles: warm and alive and crow's eyes crinkling. His eyes hold hers.
—And suddenly she is exposed, visible, her skin is transparent and he can see every heartbeat, every lurch of purple blood through her body, the long paths of her efferent nerves, her fears and mistakes and every black drop of loneliness, all the shadows and poison that outline her bones and veins. She is turned to glass and under the weight of his gaze she thinks she might shatter, and she can't look away from it, that seaglass look that nearly, nearly causes her to hiss Oh and hold her hand to the sudden sharp pain in her chest.
Then—so quickly it could have been a trick of the light—his eyes drop to her mouth.
A trick of the light, almost, maybe, except that when they meet hers again a millisecond later they are transformed: dark water pooling, a hungry blaze in the deepest part of them. Invisible branches of lightning spark between him and her, flickering and effervescent. Eris' breath shortens.
His eyes widen. He breaks the link and blinks, swallows.
She watches him stride out of the temple into the dark cloak of night.
He says her name in his sleep.
She hears it all the way in Tartarus.
He is furious.
"Did you do this to me?"
His face is flushed; a storm rages in his eyes. Eris has never seen him angry, not once, let alone like this.
"Take it back! I don't want it!"
She is genuinely bewildered.
"This chaos in my heart! Every time I look at you, think of you—"
"Wrong goddess," she says, voice low. "You want Aphrodite."
"Aphro—" He chokes.
She turns before he can speak again, twists into nothing, and doesn't look back.
She shouldn't be surprised. Mortals fall in love with her all the time: they're hypnotized by her beauty and her power. Somehow she thought him immune. It's disappointing to find he's just as weak as any man.
She indulges that thought for a day; it wears thin fast. Proteus is steady and clear headed. He's disciplined, far-thinking, judicious. He isn't the type to lose his mind over an alluring face or figure. It would take much more than that to catch hold of his heart. Nor is he careless enough to fall in love with a goddess, unless he didn't know it was happening.
And he has gone silent.
Three weeks. Nineteen days, precisely. Just enough time to travel to Mount Olympus and back.
She didn't even peek at his conference with Aphrodite. She threw herself into her work, poured the bulk of her attention into the sprouting of a new chain of volcanoes in the South Sea.
Eris. It's coming from the temple.
Nineteen days and this is all the chatterbox has to say? Her name?
He is patient. The calls reach her daily, hourly, from the temple, from the palace, from his skiff in the bay.
Why does he insist on calling her when he doesn't want this?
The stars cluster densely over Olympus, forming a shining roof. Eris skulks in under cover of the shadows, doing her best to resemble one herself. She makes her way to one of the rose gardens. Their scent is heavy in the air and clouds the mind, which is exactly what she would expect of roses grown by the goddess of love.
"Little sister," Aphrodite coos. "I've been expecting you."
That alone confirms what Eris suspects. She loves him. It shines like an ember in the core of her being, and sits as uncomfortably as sand in an oyster shell.
She snarls, "Where is that wretched little archer?" She catches Eros by the scruff—he's gangly and green as a sapling—and gives him a shake. "Take it out," she hisses.
His eyes dart past her to find his mother. Aphrodite says, "It doesn't work that way, darling. Once the barb goes in, its removal requires an impetus. Death, betrayal, you get the idea. You might make quick work of your own," she glides up to them and removes her sister's hand from her son's neck, "except that you're holding it in place."
"What about Proteus?"
"Hmm, yes. What about Proteus."
"What did you tell him? Did he ask you to remove his?" Eris's mouth goes dry. "Did you?"
"That would be telling, lovely. Why don't you ask him yourself?"
She growls in response. The last thing she sees before the garden twists out of sight is Aphrodite's face lit up by the moon, her shining red mouth curving upward like a purring cat.
Love. It's inconvenient; it's undignified; it's unnecessary. And it won't go away.
She compiles a long list of his flaws. She sifts through her memory for his every failing, and for every probable future failing. But then his face rises in her mind and expels every fault.
What had Aphrodite said? Death. Betrayal.
The constellations look at her expectantly. "I'm not killing him," she snaps.
Betrayal. Proteus is too disgustingly honorable to betray anyone, but if it were masked as something else—something that seemed noble—he might take the bait. If he were to fall in love with someone else, perhaps.
She starts matchmaking. The princess of Thebes, the senator of Athens' daughter, the Emperor's niece: lovely and malicious, all of them. One might be able to trick him into marriage before he knew better. Her blood sings: bad matches! Such glorious discord! The senator of Corinth's daughter, what a pair they would make, him with his ideals, her with her sugar-spun niceties.
She imagines Proteus caressing another woman's face, smiling with warm affection at their mess of children.
She picks up a planet and hurls it into another; both explode into five billion fragments. She watches the dust bloom, her hands shaking, breath rattling in her lungs.
Her heart is as sore as though it were mortal.
Eris. I know you're awake.
"I never sleep, genius."
He turns around, startled. "You came."
"Yes," she says waspishly.
"I was starting to wonder if you ever would." He looks more closely at her. "Are you unwell?"
"What did Aphrodite say?"
"I never went to Aphrodite."
She is thunderstruck. It takes a moment for her to catch her breath. "You never… You didn't ask her to remove Eros' arrow?"
Anyone else would squirm, but it's Proteus, so he hesitates elegantly. "No."
She stares at him. He's studying the sandstone floor and running his tongue over his lower lip.
She says, "I did."
His head jerks up. "Why would you—You asked her to remove my arrow?" More slowly, "Or your own?" He gapes at her. "Eris."
"Needless to say, she refused to grant my request. Sisters." She crosses her arms. By the calendar it hasn't been that long since she has visited the temple but it feels like lifetimes. Her eyes run over the diamonds embedded in the ceiling. "So how do we get rid of it? I've been trying and getting nowhere."
"I don't want to get rid of it. I thought that was obvious."
She swells to five times his size and slams her fist against the floor, so hard the whole temple shakes. "No. No. We have to get rid of it. It's a weakness, this. It's a problem to solve."
"Love is never a weakness, Eris. It's what makes us strongest."
"Don't start with me, Proteus."
"It's the best part of us—"
"I don't have a best part!"
"Don't you? I see it every day."
"I don't want it! And I don't want this!"
She expects him to keep arguing, and she relishes it. This is what she's good at: discord. This is how they'll break it—knives out, drawing blood, hurting each other all the way to the core. They can claw their way out of love together.
But instead his voice is quiet. He sounds—wonderstruck. "Do you really love me?"
And Eris crumbles like an avalanche on the first day of spring.
She says, "I visited Hades after I left Aphrodite."
His eyebrows lift. "Trying to kill me again?"
"He and Persephone are from different worlds."
His eyes lock onto her face. She can hardly bear the intensity of his gaze; she looks away.
"I wanted to know what magic allows them to cohabitate, different as they are. I wanted to see it for myself. But there is no magic. He told me… she has never asked him to change. She loves him exactly as he is. And he has never asked it of her."
He's silent for a moment, absorbing. He says: "You would keep your arrow?"
She meets his eyes for a long, wordless moment. "Never let it be said a mortal was brave enough to do what I couldn't."
His smile is potent as wine. She has never seen him like this: shining, eyes warm as the sun-baked earth after sunset. "Is this possible?" he says softly.
She spins and re-materializes directly in front of him, sizing herself to human proportions again. She rests a hand on his shoulder. His eyes follow her every move; she has never had so much trust directed her way. Were he anyone else she would laugh at such naivete. With him, she wants to study it, take in every line and detail, like the intricacies of a gossamer spiderweb.
He smells windblown, sun-washed; she can feel the heat of his body through his thin linen shirt. Her fingers trace the firm muscles beneath. She brings her face close enough to his to feel the warmth of his breath. Her mouth skims along the sharp edge of his jaw, now covered in uncharacteristic stubble. She leans back, surprised, and realizes there are dark shadows under his eyes. He hasn't been sleeping.
She dips her head forward again and runs her lips over his knifeblade cheekbone until she reaches the corner of his mouth. "Kiss me," she whispers.
Proteus turns his head and presses his mouth to hers. He catches her to him, one strong hand behind her head, the other spread at the small of her back. He kisses her fiercely, his mouth hot and firm, his fingers burning everywhere they touch. His lips are demanding, relentless; his breath shudders against hers. When he gasps her name the iron and stone encasing her heart give way to a flood of molten silver.
She wants to melt into him, she wants to absorb him into her. Her hands are buried in his hair. She lets go of him long enough to pull open the sky. Her realm spreads out before them: the galaxy rotating slowly around the earth, pillowy clouds visible at the edges. A bed materializes with a wave of her hand.
"Come home with me."
Proteus goes still. He gently removes her hands from his body and steps back, face grey. "Eris. I can't do this."
"I'm almost certain you can, Proteus."
He looks anguished. He shakes his head and takes another step back. "Not like this. Not… ever."
She feels dizzy. Fury sweeps up and overtakes her panic; she lets it. "Then why have you been calling me? Why didn't you go to Aphrodite? How can you be saying this right now?"
"You've had weeks to think this through. Weeks to figure out how we can be together, how to make this work. Are you saying that at no point between your incessant calls to me you stopped to consider what might happen if I loved you back?"
"It's not that simple, Eris! I didn't expect any of this. I called you because I missed you and I was longing for you. I wanted to be near you again—it didn't matter if you didn't want me too. But you do, and—a night in your bed, believe me, there's nothing—but I want more than a night. I want to be more to you than a temporary amusement. And I, I want all of you. If I can't have that I'm better off with nothing."
"All of me."
"I am not in a position to treat intimate relations lightly. Not as a future king, nor in my heart. In Syracuse such intimacy signifies a lifelong commitment. And my duty is to Syracuse. I must have an heir—so I must have a wife. As for myself—to be one of many beds you visit, I—I'll go insane."
"Fine," she says. "I'll marry you."
She notes with satisfaction that she has finally managed to strike him speechless. It takes a few attempts, but eventually he is able to choke: "Ten minutes ago you didn't even want to be in love!"
"I live to be contradictory." She flashes him a smile. "I have no problem being faithful to you. If it's a vow you want, I'll make one." Her finger mimes an X in the air over her shoulder.
He stares, again at a loss for words.
"Haven't you ever completely reversed your opinion on something in an instant, Proteus? No, of course you haven't. Fortunately for both of us, I do this all the time. I'm very familiar with how it feels to change my mind in a wholly opposite and ultimately preferable direction. The fact is: I lied to you, and myself, and Aphrodite, and the constellations, and anyone who might have been listening in. It has been known to happen. Quite frequently, in fact."
"And the truth?"
"I've lived a long time. I've seen many ages and mortals come and go. And the concept of love never made sense until you."
"What happens when you want something else? What happens when you want to be free?"
She shrugs. "I suppose I'll kill you."
"You attempted that once before. I have no faith in your ability to succeed a second time," he says drily.
"Then you'll have to trust me when I say I won't change my mind again."
He runs his hand over his hair. "It's—a bit difficult to wrap my mind around. You, loving me. A goddess for my wife and queen. Rather different from what I've spent a lifetime imagining."
"If this is your way of saying you prefer a mortal wife—"
He looks anguished. "No, Eris. For you to turn mortal—it would change you. It would be a slow death of your spirit as well as your body, and I couldn't bear to watch it."
"Oh, Proteus. I don't intend to do anything of the kind. I'm quite fond of being a goddess. I only want to be sure this is what you want. I'll be a night terror instead of the queen you've been dreaming of, and I certainly won't be present and accounted for at all times. But it doesn't have to be a total loss. You royal mortals marry for political benefits, and who can protect Syracuse better than me? So that's the battle with your council settled."
"Of course," he says. "Like you're not loving the idea of the Senate losing their minds at the announcement that their future king intends to wed the goddess of discord." Eris smirks.
She goes on: "We'll have an untraditional marriage. I'm there and you're here and you'll die and I won't. It isn't ideal but I'll take it over nothing. Stop trying to break our hearts, Proteus. You already got the self-sacrificing hero award when you sent your previous fiancée sailing away into the dawn with another man. I'm not interested in helping you win it again."
He's starting to smile. He says, "I'm still not convinced this is real. How can you call yourself a night terror when I'm standing here hoping I never wake up?"
"Proteus," she sings, arcing in a curve along the ceiling, "does this mean you've never been with a woman?" She vanishes and re-materializes in front of him. "All the expressions on your face: I'll be the first to see them."
"First and only," he says, and her heart spasms. For half a second it makes sense—turning mortal, living a life alongside him, savoring each of the limited days, greeting that final sunset together. But before she can mentally chase the vision further, he starts kissing her—blistering, breathtaking—and she forgets to think about anything else.
The wedding is a disaster.
Everything quite literally falls apart. Flowers wilt, banners rip, the banquet table topples. A sticky, oily substance is spilled on the stones where they are supposed to stand and exchange vows. The guests fall to arguing, some to fistfights. Eventually it starts to rain.
Eris watches, eyes glinting.
She finds her bridegroom alone on a balcony, elbows propped on his knees, head in his hands. For the first time in her existence she feels a shiver of remorse.
"Are you angry with me?" The catastrophes can't have been unexpected, surely; but it's always good to know where one stands.
He drops his hands. "No." He sounds tired.
She dissipates; a moment later she unzips herself next to him, close enough to smell sandalwood, close enough to see the laugh lines around his eyes.
"I know you have to do all this because this is what you humans do. But I never cared about this, Proteus. All the pomp and exhibition—it means nothing to me."
"Don't you want a wedding? I want to celebrate with you, Eris. This isn't about having a grand party. It's about joyfulness. I'm so happy," his voice is warm and tender and she's startled to see the happiness he speaks of, right there, alive in his eyes, "and I want the whole world to join in."
She knows she loves him but it still catches her off guard sometimes, finding herself doing things or wanting things she would never otherwise want or do, just because he wants it, just because it makes her happy to make him happy, and that's strange enough, wanting him to be happy, and that something so mundane is now a thing that makes her happy.
"Well then," she says. "Let's celebrate."
The rain stops. The floor is cleaned and the wedding feast laid out. They say their vows in the cool twilight, as the sky is just deepening to slate, a single star hanging in the heavens above the horizon.
The sky may be darkening but the city is alight. All of Syracuse seems to be out of doors. They are shouting and cheering and running through streets and alleyways, chasing each other with handfuls of vibrant colored powder. Their bodies and clothes are splotchy with the rainbow, canvases for the powders they hurl.
She says, "What's this?"
"A wedding gift. Joyful chaos."
"You really meant it," she says softly. "When you said you didn't want me mortal. Even though it would have turned me safe."
"No one sets the world on fire quite like you, my love." Proteus smiles and holds out his hand. In his palm sits a bag of red powder.
Eris, eyes gleaming, bites her lip in a grin. She takes it from him as the sky above them breaks open in an explosion of fireworks.
"I like what you've done with the place," Sinbad announces, hands on his hips as he surveys the parts of the city that are visible from the harbor. He casts a look at the resident goddess. "You, especially." Eris curls her lip.
"And how long will you be staying, Sinbad? Leaving soon, I hope."
"I don't know," he says, sauntering across the creaky wooden dock to join Proteus. "We've been thinking about settling down, growing some roots."
Marina, descending from the ship behind him, says, "We think about it when the wine is gone and there's nothing left to eat but pickles and eggs. Don't worry, he'll get antsy in a week or two and you won't see us for another two years." She gives Eris a friendly smile. "Congratulations to you and Proteus. Sorry we missed the wedding—we had a tangle with a sea serpent that slowed us down."
"Mm," says Eris. "What are the odds."
It's easier, though, to suffer a braggart sailor when Proteus is so blazingly happy. Her husband could light up the sun itself. She rolls her eyes at the two of them, strolling arm in arm down the pier, but the whole universe will turn black before she'll be capable of begrudging Proteus something that makes him smile like that, even if it is a treacherous pirate wretch.
She comes to him on a warm spring night and says, "How would you like to raise a demi-god?"
Their daughter is made of pure spit and vinegar. She's a fighter, a whirlwind, compassionate and generous and dangerously clever, nimble as a fox and charming as a snake—or a wolf, depending on her whim.
"It's like raising Sinbad," he tells her, "so at least I have a sort of idea of what to anticipate."
Eris wants to name her Dichónoia; Proteus favors Eiríni. They compromise on Chará.
Syracuse prospers during its interlude of peace. Arts and literature flourish. Crops are bountiful and the sea harvest is generous. Eris has warned the populace that the reprieve is only as good as Proteus and Chará's lifetimes; they seem to be dead set on taking advantage of every second.
It's dreadfully boring. They don't make any progress at all in medicine or warfare, necessity being the mother of invention. Perhaps she'll send an epidemic when their time is up. Perhaps an invading world conqueror. A volcano. A drought. The possibilities are endless.
Inspiration will strike, she knows. She's in no rush to choose. It's a big world, after all, with plenty of other corners wanting upheaval. Syracuse can wait its turn.
Sometimes she comes to him as the beautiful young woman he first fell in love with, and he'll smile at her with eyes that are suddenly bright, the years falling away from his face.
Sometimes she ages herself to match him. She sits beside him and holds his age-spotted hand in her wrinkled one. They watch the fire-bright disc of the sun slide down behind the horizon, trailing bronze into the star-flecked indigo blanket of night.
"What do you want, archer?"
"The arrow. I've come for it."
"Haven't you learned yet not to meddle with things that don't concern you?"
There's a brief knot of confusion between Eros' eyebrows; then it clears, and he smiles in understanding. "My mistake," he says, bowing his head. "It won't happen again."
He departs. The universe rotates slowly, glowing purple and blue. Eris smiles up at her stars.
High in the heavens, the newest constellation smiles back.