Val scooped an egg out of the tray, and cracked it, separating the shell with one hand as she poured the contents onto the hot buttered pan. It was a performance as much as an attempt at making breakfast but for all her apparent grace the effort was marred. As the egg began to quickly cook in the pan, she watched the broken yoke run out across the pool of white that surrounded it.
Her attempt at a sunny side up breakfast was a flop.
So she whipped a spatula through the ruined egg and redeemed it into a scramble as best she could.
“A clever recovery,” Aranea said, sitting down on one of the high top chairs in Val’s kitchen. She snatched one of the cinnamon buns Val’s had pulled from the oven a moment earlier.
“Yeah, but now I need cheese and chives,” Val said, yanking the refrigerator door open to grab a bag of shredded cheese before turning to the drawer she kept her spices in.
Aranea watched the flurry of motion with confused amusement.
“Weren’t you going to serve the egg without those a moment ago?” she asked.
“When it was going to be sunny side up? Yes. Scrambled means cheese and chives though,” Val said, hastily adding the ingredients before the egg finished cooking completely. She wasn’t happy with the outcome – it certainly wasn’t an offering fit for a god – but it was also clear that Aranea didn’t look like it’s quality concerned her.
“I see how the many religions of this world arose,” Aranea said. “If something doesn’t have rules and boundaries, humans will invent some anyways.”
She made biting into the cinnamon roll look like a sin and Val had to resist the to kiss away the little bit of frosting that clung to the side of her mouth.
“It’s not about setting arbitrary boundaries,” Val said. “It’s just that somethings work better when they’re done a certain way. Sunny side up eggs have a flavor and texture that’s different from scrambled eggs, so you combine different ingredients with them to bring out the best parts. It’s all about taking the flavors you’ve got and getting them to be what you want.”
“My usual meals are the liquified remains of my enemies after their bodies have been broken down by my venom,” Aranea said, accepting the plate of the scrambled egg garnished with honey buttered toast from Val.
“So you’re saying you don’t know what you’ve been missing then?” Val said, cracking another egg into the pan for herself. Her second attempt went better than her first but she scrambled it anyways, to match what Aranea was having.
“That may be true,” Aranea said with a contented sigh. She brought a fork full of the eggs to her lips but her gaze remained on Val.
Val smiled back and took a bite of her own eggs. They’d turned out ok, a little under done but she wasn’t used to the stove in her apartment yet. With how often the Second Chance Club moved around she tended to eat out or eat the club more than she did at home. Thinking of that made her shake her head.
“What are you pondering?” Aranea asked, sensing even without divine awareness that Val’s musing involved her.
“I move a lot,” Val said.
“Yes. It’s quite fetching,” Aranea said.
“I didn’t think I would,” Val said, ignoring the compliment. “When my goal was to join the Army, I figured I’d be at whatever base I was assigned to for a while and then be moved to whatever my next assignment was. I didn’t picture that I’d be the one choosing to live in so many different places. Or travel as much as I have.”
“It’s a benefit of the life you’ve chosen?” Aranea asked. “Or a liability?”
“I don’t know if it’s either,” Val said. “It’s different, not what I expected, but I like it.”
“Would you give it up if a more expected pursuit was available?” Aranea asked. She’d stopped eating and while she didn’t sound concerned about the question, she was paying more serious interest to Val’s than she had been.
“No,” Val said with an easy laugh. “I didn’t know this was a life I could have, but I can’t deny how much it appeals to me.”
“Good,” Aranea said. “I would be displeased to find you were laboring in unhappiness.”
“But isn’t it your job to destroy me?” Val teased.
“Of course,” Aranea said, feigning proper severity. “I am pledged to cast you into the Abyss. You and all of the rest of your team.”
“And yet here we are,” Val said holding a fork full of scrambled eggs aloft. “You’re happy I’m not miserable in my job, and I’m happy to be making eggs with you.”
“It is an unexpected circumstance for me as well,” Aranea said, her pride slipping a little as her voice softened.
“How did we get here?” Val asked, easing into the questions that had been filling her mind since they first met.
“I believe you seduced me,” Aranea said, taking another bite from the cinnamon roll.
“What was seductive about me?” Val asked. “I just kissed you.”
“Yes, but it was when and why you kissed me,” Aranea said. “When I saw you, I knew you were my prey, but I wasn’t ready for that, and I certainly wasn’t ready for prey who walked right up to me, took my drink, gave me hers, and kept inching closer as she spoke to me until our lips met.”
“You know, the funny thing is, I didn’t know who you were then, I just knew you were dangerous, and you were alone, and you looked delicious.”
“I can look however I want you know,” Aranea said, blinking and changing her eye color with each blink.
“Yeah,” Val said, reflecting on the attraction she’d felt on first seeing Aranea and how it had changed over time. “It’s more than just the color of your eyes, or the shape you’re wearing though.”
“I am a goddess as well,” Aranea said. “There is an awe that mortals feel.in my presence.”
Val flicked a bit of scrambled egg so that it landed on Aranea’s nose.
“Awe, that’s definitely it,” she said, threatening to flick another bit of egg.
“You know I would eat anyone else who did that,” Aranea said.
“I do,” Val said, unfazed. “But not me.”
“Not you,” Aranea agreed.
“Why?” Val asked.
“Perhaps I’m saving you for later,” Aranea said. “Fattening you up for a feast when your team is cast down.”
“Are you?” Val asked, already knowing the answer.
“No,” Aranea sighed, her regal aura deflating to more of her true self.
“Why me then?” Val asked. “What do I have to offer a goddess?”
“That’s a question many mortals have asked,” she said. “I wonder if it’s not backwards though.”
“Backwards?” Val asked.
“Beings like me have power, but it’s a circumspect sort of majesty,” Aranea said. “I am the Goddess of Spiders, but that means I am, to some degree, bound both by the nature of spiders and by the…worship of them, though that’s not quite the right word.”
“I don’t follow,” Val said.
“Worship in this sense is more than supplication and begging for divine favor,” Aranea said. “It’s an awareness of the divine as it exists embodied within the world. Each time someone is surprised by a spider, or sees silk threads catching the sunlight, or cleans out old cobwebs, my domain is enriched. They’re small bits of worship of course, and they are not mine alone, but taken together across years and centuries they give me strength and substance.”
“So your power comes from people?” Val asked.
“No more than yours comes from the gods,” Aranea said. “Which is to say both yes and no. We each draw strength from the world that we all create, and yet humans are so quick to bow and scrape for favor from those with more power than themselves that they never seem to question if that’s the proper form their relationship with the divine should take.”
“What form would you suggest it take then?” Val asked, meeting Aranea’s gaze and holding it with a willing openness.
“That’s a complicated question,” Aranea said, breathing a little quicker than before.
“And yet I’m betting the answer is ultimately a pretty simple one,” Val said.
“Yes, but which simple one?” Aranea asked.
“Probably the one that feels right, even if it’s scary as hell,” Val said, reaching across the counter and placing her hand on Aranea’s.
“As one of the gods, fear is quality which is largely unknown to us,” Aranea said. She looked like she wanted to pull her hand away, but she kept it in place, under Val’s hand as though its slight tremble didn’t betray the tempest within her.
“As a mortal, it’s a quality we’re rarely ever completely free from,” Val said, squeezing Aranea’s hand gently. “But I don’t think this has to be about fear.”
“What would you suggest?” Aranea asked.
Val drew in a breath, paused for a moment to consider her response and then let her feelings carry her forward.
“I like you,” she said. “Maybe even more than that. Not the Spider Goddess, though she’s cool too, but you, Aranea, the person who’s right here with me having breakfast, and who was there yesterday when I had to get groceries, and the day before when I was tired and sore after my workout.”
“That is only a part of who I am though,” Aranea said.
“I know, and that’s what’s great about this,” Val said. “Whenever people meet, they only show one small part of themselves to the other. Well, I like the part that I’ve seen, and I want to see more. I know there’s parts of you that I’ll never understand, and probably can’t even comprehend, but that’s true in any relationship.”
“And if there are parts you don’t like?” Aranea asked.
“The parts I see now, the you that I think I’m falling for? I think she’s worth those parts, if they exist, and she’s absolutely worth taking the risk to find out,” Val said. “Here’s the great thing though, and why this doesn’t have to be scary; we don’t have to rush anything. Whatever we call what we have, it’s not going to magically make it stronger, or keep us from getting closer if that’s what we both really want.”
“There is a power in words though,” Aranea said.
“I know,” Val said. “I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not on you to know what you want to do next, or what you want us to be just because I do.”
“Can I tell you a secret?” Aranea asked, looking away.
“Always,” Val said.
Aranea began to speak but hung frozen for a moment, unable to breathe, much less form words.
“It’s ok,” Val said. “I can be good with what we’ve got now. I can be good with whatever you need. I don’t want this to be hard, or painful for you.”
“I want more,” Aranea said over one long breath, as though admitting it to herself as much as to Val.
“How much more?” Val asked, a nervous, excited pulse beating a tremor throughout her body.
“That’s the part that scares me,” Aranea said. “I don’t know. I can’t find a bottom to this desire.”
“There’ll be one,” Val said, forcing her calmer, more rational voices to the surface. “We call it falling for someone because it feels like there’s no end to it, but we’ll wind up with our feet on the ground eventually.”
“And when that happens, will you still desire me as you do now?” Aranea asked.
“I hope not,” Val said, joy at the idea of what the future could hold beaming through her. “I hope what we have then is even deeper than what we’ve got now. All the good relationships that I’ve seen are like that. They all change over time.”
“I am unused to change,” Aranea said. “And yet I find it is what I want most of all now. It feels like sorcery, but you’ve cast no magic on me.”
“I think maybe I used one of the oldest magics there is,” Val said. “When you needed me, I needed you back.”