it wasn’t the fast clickety-clack sound of her heels on the metal floor that gave her away. not the way that her edges glowed just a little bit dimmer than the others’ as they entered the waverider.not how she hesitated in her steps, sucking in a breath as they passed the jump ship’s docks, before giving in and rounding the corners to whatever bedroom she’d been assigned.
it wasn’t the way she stopped smiling at charlie when she felt unobserved, something that had only lasted hours, maybe minutes, until it was gone again; it wasn’t the renewed bitterness in her smile.
not any of that.
certainly, all of it had been noticed.
not by zari, who had taken a quiet shine to astra, whose eyes always observed, a background hum to the other parts of her, the louder, confident ones that took up space so brightly.
not by sara, who seems to, on principle, resent giving up on people. to be fair, she couldn’t see, and was probably more than a little bit drunk, and so exhausted charlie wondered how ava even managed to hold her up.
not by ava, mick, or nate, who were occupied with other things, with teens and partners and crushing on charlie’s ancient greek god friends. they hadn’t been studying astra’s body language all day, had noticed her difficulties adjusting but not the way this team shook her very core.
(charlie understands. they’re entirely different people, but she understands, and that’s how she knows there’s a chance, out there somewhere, for a good life. even for a kid raised in hell by a fate.)
not even john noticed, which was, frankly, disappointing. he was undoubtedly astra’s biggest advocate on the ship—before today, at least—and even he didn’t notice how her shoulders were suddenly drawn inwards, her smile crooked and false.
something was shattered in the few minutes it took everyone to get from the house to the ship, and charlie recognizes this broken pattern’s signature. she doesn’t think she’ll ever forget it.
so. none of the small, obvious signs gave it away.
rather, it was the big, glaring one.
charlie lingered beside the fabricator room, after everyone had long gone to bed. she didn’t need anything fabricated. she’d been happy to get back into her own, more punk clothes. college was fun enough, but there’s a place for go sisters! and there’s a breaking point, and amidst the craze and stupid drunk kids, she’d reached it.
she lingered by the door to the fabricator room, bizarrely enough, to see astra. astra had realized something big about herself today—something so grand and new it stole the breath from your lungs—she’d realized she could change, and the responsibility that implied.
charlie assumed that she’d want to get back into tacky shoulder-padded suits to feel a sense of security again.
she was, of course, right. after all, it was the first thing she’d done, dress this body as herself, after she’d been let out of her cage when she’d first been with the legends. she’d been pissed off, and the ground had been shaking under her feet and she’d cut up some clothes.
astra sat in the room quietly. brown dress a pool to her feet, suit blue and garish and cheap and looking entirely like clothes look when gideon’s mad at you.
she sat in the room quietly and bunched up the polyester fabric of her pants and breathed deeply. charlie stood beside the door, listening, and she considered turning back around and checking on zari or going for a midnight snack. then she considered going in.
then astra started crying, and looked so fucking startled at her own tears that it had cleaved through charlie’s middle, tore through her insides like a shapeshift gone wrong.
that sort of falling apart, that flinching as astra looked at the wetness on her fingertips, it was of a particular brand, and that brand was called charlie’s sisters.
so astra’s tears had given it away. charlie guessed that she’d leave the waverider and open a portal to hell that same night, which is why she’s here now, fully dressed, pressed behind one of the corridor’s corners, listening to the sharp click-click of astra’s heels.
it’s clear what’s happening, but there are still questions in need of answers. what is it that her sisters did this time? what is it that astra aims to do by leaving?
there’s option one, running and hiding. thinking you’re better off on your own because you’re faster, stronger, and more desperate than anyone else. charlie knows that. understands it.
there’s option two, threats—atropos’ specialty. she tells you she is going to murder you, which astra doesn’t seem to be afraid of, or to kill your loved ones, which wouldn’t faze astra much either, probably.
but if charlie had gotten their dynamic right, it wouldn’t have been atropos who’d visited astra, it would have been option three. lachesis. master of manipulation and guilt. if lachesis has gotten what she wanted, then astra isn’t fleeing from the fates, she’s running right into their open arms.
there’s an almost comical second in which astra clearly considers using the blade hidden in a pocket of her suit. either to send herself straight to hell or to knife charlie, she doesn’t seem sure.
seeing as they’re both immortal—two hours of sleep for the team, then the next twenty-two focused on the loom—it would probably be interesting. there are different kinds of immortality, charlie has learned, throughout her own endless life span.
“what do you think you’re doing?”
(the one where you’re still vulnerable but don’t die of old age. the one where you can be killed but you’ll come back. the one where every action of harm taken against you will reciprocate against the attacker. the one with the invisible force field. the one where you’re a ghost.
point is, there are many. when charlie had still been immortal by nature, she’d been able to get shot and stabbed and strangled, and it’d been unpleasant enough for her to avoid it when she could.
she just hadn’t died.)
“i’m allowed to be off the ship,” astra points out, her hand still in her pocket, where charlie can see the edges of the blade sticking out, barely perceptible. “i’m visiting old friends. you can’t expect me to sleep like the rest of you fools knowing i’m all-powerful. invincible. it’s only a day, and you’re wasting it dreadfully.”
“you’re not invincible, you’re immortal,” charlie points out, stepping closer to astra, careful to still her hands by her sides. no point appearing a threat yet. “and I promise you, they’re not your friends.”
“what are you talking about?” astra says, her tone spiteful but her eyes so very clearly lacking any kind of fire.
it still doesn’t feel real, talking to anyone about them, and especially not someone who knows them, who’s been under their control in a way similar enough to hers.
charlie thinks about them and her teeth begin to ache and her stomach turns and her eyes burn. she thinks about them and the centuries she had without them and the two— two conversations with atropos she’s had since, and she wants to be so small. literally and physically shapeshift, like she’d done when atropos had confronted her.
she hates it. she hates this feeling, but she deals with it like she deals with everything else. she doesn’t.
“lachesis,” she corrects herself. “I know she visited you. you’re not even good at bloody hiding it, and now you’re stealing off in the middle of the night.” she steps even closer, and sees astra shift the weight from one foot to the other, preparing for a fight. “I know they’re cheesy, the legends. I know that there’s a point where you feel so accepted and like you belong and then you’re alone at three am and it seems like a fever dream. but I know I got through to you, astra, I know you heard me. why undo all that now?”
“you don’t understand,” astra hisses, and leans forward, far, far into charlie’s space. her eyes are blown wide open, dark and pretty and so easily readable.
“i really bloody do,” charlie says, anger rising into her face. she still hates being open and vulnerable and trusting people, especially her sisters’ protégée, and she won’t lose the progress she made with astra. not to lachesis. not even to astra herself. “trust me, you’ll never find anyone who understands like I do again.”
“I don’t trust you.” astra is all spite, all resentment now, and it’s an improvement from her coldness but it really, really doesn’t feel that way. “I have no reason to. punk has nothing to do with growing up in hell. until your sister found me, I was starving. the creatures there… you either pretend you’re a threat, or you’re an actual threat, or they’ll devour you.”
“I was in a magical hell prison for long enough. I wasn’t a child.” charlie pauses. her concept of children is hazy at best, non-existent at worst, but she’s just human enough to know that they have to be protected at all costs. how you don’t just throw them in hell and hope hell spits them out the same.
“that’s different. i’m not you. but I know fighting for survival. I know getting through the day and I know growing more teeth than you need just so the monsters will get off your back.”
“I assume you mean that literally?” astra says, her nose crinkling. it’s absurd, really, the question, but it’s late and as far as they’re able to, they’re both tired. their filters are just off enough to trigger an explosion. or prevent one, preferably.
charlie smiles, and if she shifts a second row of teeth into her mouth, just for a second, she thinks that she can be forgiven.
“anyway, I—” astra tenses. “it’s not about you, charlie.” she hasn’t taken her name into her mouth, not if she didn’t have to, and it feels just intimate enough to be unsettling. “i owe lachesis. in hell, debt is the worst thing you can have. you can murder people left and right and still not have any kind of power, but if someone owes you… well.”
“what do you owe her for, then?”
“killing john,” astra says, matter-of-factly, and charlie snorts.
“of course.” she considers, and decides to take the step back, because this conversation isn’t one to have when you’re close enough to breathe the same air. “he doesn’t seem that dead to me, though, does he?”
“that was me,” astra says haughtily. “my decision. he would be, if I wanted to.”
charlie shrugs. “ so, how’s that debt thing work?”
astra stares. it’s really remarkable how badly done that stitch work on her suit is, charlie thinks. whatever had she done to rile gideon up?
charlie’s clothes had been miles better when she’d first come here, but maybe that was the benefit of a former team member’s body. maybe gideon just couldn’t bear to see beloved amaya dressed up in cheap plastic suits. or maybe it was that she hadn’t brought any legend quite as close to death as astra had.
either way, lachesis would latch onto it. the legends don’t respect you, they’ll never love you like I do, look at that godawful suit, and so on. tactically, it’s a bloody stupid move, but it's also sort of laughable.
astra is still staring, and charlie’s probably grinning—does she still have that second set of teeth?—and at least she’s doing a good job keeping her on the ship. it’s almost effortlessly easy, so obvious how badly astra doesn’t want to go. it’s surprising considering how firmly lachesis’ grasp was on her, but then, astra’s mother is still dead.
charlie’s sisters had never been team workers, never trusted anyone outside of the fates, and it’s an exploitable flaw. astra would do anything to bring her mother back. as long as lachesis doesn’t respect that, she won’ t fully have her.
“what do you mean?” astra asks.
“are you—well, bound by their powers?” charlie shrugs. “what’s this debt mean? what’s forcing you to repay it?”
“it’s—” astra stutters. “she’ll come after me. she’ll come after this ship. she’s ruthless.”
“you don’t have to tell me that, love.” there’s clanking somewhere down the corridor, a sure sign that the team is waking up. “they’re already coming after this ship, that’s the whole bloody point. they’re after me more than you. longer. there isn’t a thing that lachesis can threaten you with that they won’t do to us anyway, if they get hold of us.”
“that’s—” astra stares off at the wall behind charlie, her brows knitting together. she’s quiet for a second. then another.
“did I break that shrewd little mind of yours?” charlie teases, more of a habit than anything.
the ship is fully waking up now, after barely two hours, and she can hear the bickering already.
“bollocks,” she curses, “I never should’ve let them go immortal. they’re gonna burn this whole ship down.” there’s another crash, and a yell, and her stress levels rise.
when charlie looks back at astra, she is still standing in the middle of the corridor, blade in her pocket, hands twisting around each other.
her eyes are still so readable, an unsettling quality on this woman who’d ruthlessly worked her way up to the top of hell.
she looks lost.
“are you sure they… you want me to stay?”
charlie feels herself soften, her second row of teeth shifting back into nothing. “of course.” her hands reach out before she can stop them. “yeah, love. you’re staying.”
“lachesis, she’s going to end all of us.”
charlie crinkles her nose, not willing to engage with that sentiment again. “if you’re wearing that ghastly suit when tries, yeah.” she pushes at astra’s shoulder slightly, and astra just gives in, lets herself be guided down the corridor with only a bit of reluctance in her steps. “come on. let’s get you into something a bit more flattering, alright?” charlie smiles to herself. exhales. “i’ll take care of you.”