The diner was cool and unthreatening, glowing white under the fluorescent bulbs even at five AM. The windows were squares of blackness, thin barriers to hold back the quiet blank vastness. Shuffling wordlessly, Diane planted herself at one of the empty booths and nodded her thanks when the teenage waitress (trying to suppress a yawn, she noticed) set down a pitcher of coffee.
She kind of hated coffee, and it was probably burnt anyway, but the caffeine was welcome right now. A generous dose of sugar and cream killed the bitterness, and she finished the first cup quickly before taking her time with the second. She almost imagined she could hear a clock ticking somewhere, counting out the seconds with an impassive beat.
Ugh, she shouldn't be up this early - or late, as the case may be. It was making her internal monologue wax poetic. At this rate she'd be spinning lines about love-lorn hearts and drinking alone within--
Ah. Grace is here.
It was almost funny, in a not-very-funny-at-all way. Nothing about the woman really demanded attention, but every eye in the diner (not that there were many, at the moment) flicked briefly toward the door to note her. Not intentionally, or even really consciously, but they noticed her, Diane herself included.
Between the denim jacket, cowboy boots, and curly golden locks, she looked vaguely like some country-music singer, but she pulled it off pretty well. Annoyingly well, actually; Diane couldn't help noticing that Grace probably looked better than she did herself, despite being almost twenty years older.
There was nothing particularly seductive or theatrical about the way she walked, but it still made Diane mentally refer to it as a "strut" (and damn, those legs didn't help). The older woman eventually took a seat at the booth opposite her, nodding a greeting and pouring her own coffee -- black, of course. The waitress returned again, and the rumble of Diane's stomach got the better of her. She ordered a too-big plate of greasy breakfast food, and Grace chuckled in a way that made Diane blush slightly, then kick herself for letting the woman get under her skin so easily. She was supposed to be cool, impassive. Let Grace do the work trying to win her over.
The waitress finally tucked her pencil behind her ear and left. Sensing Grace start to gather her thoughts, Diane took the opportunity to get in an opening shot.
"So what's up, Mom?"
Grace just sighed, like the calm mature one willing to let the jab slide, and leaned back slightly.
"It's nice to see you in person. Have you given any thought to our last conversation?"
Obviously. It's not every day your long-lost mother e-mails you to tell you that oh by the way, she's a Greek goddess and you're a demigod. She'd spent the last two weeks trying to dismiss it as insanity or some kind of sick joke, but that was the annoying part. She couldn't disbelieve the woman, it just wasn't something she was capable of. Everything she said just seemed so perfectly obvious, a self-evident truth like "one equals one" even in the complete absence of evidence. No supernatural displays, no confusing explanations... Grace just told her, and Diane believed it no matter how much she didn't want to.
It was a moot point by now. She'd grudgingly come to accept it, and if she wasn't so dead-set on resenting the woman she might've actually been kind of excited. This was serious fantasy stuff, and her inner twelve-year-old actually had to restrain a squee when that giant brass-feathered condor swooped down on her a few days ago. Might've even killed her, but she'd managed to duck inside. She'd dug out one of those gorgeous metal feathers later where it had lodged itself two inches deep in a brick wall, but it rusted into a pile of dust that smelled like mothballs after a few hours.
Which was supposedly the reason why Grace was here in person. To hand over her "birthright", whatever that meant. Diane was pretty much here to pick a fight, though. Years of resentment didn't just go away overnight. Diane was looking forward to seeing Grace do a little groveling, although she still wasn't sure if she planned to grudgingly forgive her or not.
"Not really. Spent more time wondering how the hell you have the nerve to show up again after twenty years."
Grace's gaze fell to the table at that, Diane noted with satisfaction.
"I'm sorry. I was... younger back then. I can't make any excuses."
"Younger than what, exactly? Western civilization?"
"It doesn't work like that, dear. There was nothing I could-"
She snapped back without thinking, and was thankful to note that the diner's other occupants were utterly oblivious. Figures. Grace wouldn't want anyone else to notice such an embarrassing argument.
"You could have changed his mind, or made him leave!You could have taken me with you, god! I just... why?!"
Grace shifted suddenly, lifting her head to meet Diane's gaze, and the air seemed to chill around them. It was a subtle shift of her stance, her tone of voice, but it hit Diane like a hammer.
"I could have, yes. I could have killed him, even. I could have shattered his mind, turned his friends against him, driven him to suicide and kept my hands clean. But I didn't."
Diane was unconsciously recoiling, wishing she could pass right through the bench behind her or vanish into thin air. Every word Grace spoke was soft, but it pounded through her mind like thunder, engraving itself in her memory. Her eyes were like cold fire, her skin was like marble. She was beautiful, gorgeous, and seeing her angry or hurt felt like a knife in Diane's chest.
"Why? Why am I here, talking to you like an equal? Why ask for your forgiveness, when I could make you get on your knees and beg for mine?"
She'd do it, too. Diane could already feel herself trying to slide off the booth, to throw herself down and beg for forgiveness. All she felt was an icy spiral of shame and fear. She would give anything to make Grace happy, to erase that pain, to see her smile.
Then Grace seemed to relax, to uncoil with a weary expression and a sigh, and the spell was broken. Diane's fluttering heart and clenching gut slowly returned to normal, her pale face re-colored, her tunnel vision subsided.
"You can't be two things at once, Diane. You're going to have to make a decision, or someone else will make it for you."
Grace was already standing up, sitting a wrapped package on the table.
"I don't need you to forgive me. I don't need you to love me, or even like me. But I need your help."
Feeling vaguely shell-shocked, Diane unfolded the small bundle and found a knife -- no, more like a dagger. Bright gold, with an oddly curved edge and an apple-shaped pommel. The blade was etched with something in Greek. As if hearing her thoughts, Grace nodded to the blade.
"Its name is Eleftheria. Forged from the apple of discord, to cut ties and sever bindings. I figure it's about time the damned thing actually did some good."
Grace picked up her purse, and gave Diane one last look.
"I'm giving you a choice, which is more than most of you get. Turn the blade on yourself tonight, and the ties of fate and lineage will be severed. You'll be utterly mortal again. Otherwise, alea iacta est. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
And then she was gone. Simply ceased to exist, and it was like the room was a little dimmer and colder for her absence. And Diane just stared at the knife, mind blank.