Title: Variations on a Theme of You
Characters: Vaeramae, misc
Plot: Vaera doesn’t remember all of the people she meets, but some leave a bigger impression than others. Especially one that she meets more than once
Notes: I cried more than once writing this. Memories are in italics. For those with Spotify, the playlist can be found here. Link will open in a new window.
The first time she met him, he had blonde hair and a piercing gaze that she would remember from every incarnation of him. His eyes were blue. Or had they been brown? She couldn’t remember, except the intensity of his gaze and how they seemed to see right through the guise she wore to be among the mortals. He never asked questions, and so she never lied to him. He died young, in battle, and she mourned his passing as she did every warrior.
The second time she remembered him, he had brown hair. A merchant’s son, if she remembered correctly, and in love with the sea. Meeting him again took her by surprise. How many years had it been? She lost count. Time didn’t mean the same thing to her as it did mortals, ageless and timeless as she was. They spent two glorious days together before he went out to sea.
His ship never returned.
She started looking for him after that, wondering what form he would take. Would he be a woman next time? A priest? A scullery maid? A philosopher? A great ruler? She only knew him by the look of vague recognition whenever he saw her, and little things that seemed to carry over from each lifetime. His favourite colour was green, he loved to travel, he didn’t like the way he sang, and his favourite time of day was between dusk and twilight.
Sometimes, they would almost meet. She would pass him in a crowd, their gazes meeting for a brief moment. It was always the same look: confusion mixed with a fleeting memory. Déjà vu, she heard it called once. But he would be pulled away, by business, by friends, or shaking himself of the idea that he knew her somehow.
“Do you know her? You keep looking at her,” his friend said.
“I… don’t think I do. She looks familiar, though,” he said.
She wouldn’t pursue, caught up in her own business with high stakes. The gods weren’t known to be patient.
She met him once when he was a woman, full of bitterness at the unfair fate of being treated as a bargaining chip to cement alliances. There was so much she wasn’t allowed to do for no other reason than the circumstance of her birth. She railed at the heavens, but there was no answer.
“This is cruel and unfair!” she screamed at the heavens. “This is not the life I wanted!”
He was born as a man not long after, or maybe it had been some time. Centuries blended together, and she had a hard time remembering mortal history unless it was a momentous event. Wars and inventions happened all the time, and unless it changed the shape of a great many lives, she didn’t care. She merely observed him this time, too busy with whatever machinations the gods had planned for the universe.
When he was a child, she found him dancing in a fairy ring, and the Fair Folk whisked him away. She didn’t expect to see him again after that. At least, not in his lifetime. She did, much to her surprise, at a gala hosted by the Fae. He wasn’t immortal like them, but his life was extended greatly and some of their glamour lingered on him. His features were almost otherworldly, and he knew things before they happened. He wasn’t quite mortal, but he wasn’t one of the Fae, either. Maybe it was something from his fleeting memory of her that prompted him to admit, quite ruefully, that a part of him missed being wholly human.
“Are you made of stardust, then?”
The question made him laugh. “We are all made of stardust,” he said. “I simply have moonlight that lingers on me.”
There weren’t enough hours in the twilight of the faerie realm that she could spend with him during this lifetime. She knew him, then. His hopes and fears, his sorrows and joys, and his favourite things. She wondered if any of them would carry over to the next life that she would meet him in. She held fast to these small things, wondering if she could find him again when he didn’t recognize her with these little details.
“Why is green your favourite colour?” she asked.
“It reminds me of the forest, dark and deep; of the moon that hangs in our twilit sky; of the ocean when the sun hits it just right.”
He was a woman this time, bucking against tradition and running away from home to live life as she saw fit. She was an adventurer, determined to see the world. They met at an inn, the night before she was to set sail for parts unknown. They spent the night drinking and talking. Her favourite colour was still green, her favourite time of day somewhere between dusk and twilight (and she wondered if that had anything to do with her time as one of the Fae, who lived somewhen, before the coming of Man with a pale green moon and sweet smelling air, living in perpetual twilight). They spent the night together, and when they woke in the morning she asked the semi-divine being if she wanted to come along. She could hear the unspoken, “Tell me you will” in the air between them. With deep regret, the offer was declined.
“My duty is to the gods.” Maybe it was the wrong thing to say.
There were other times they met and he hated what she stood for, hated the gods, hated her, and it nearly broke her heart. She tried to see if the colour of his hair had anything to do with it, or even the colour of his eyes. She gave up over time, concluding that how he looked and what gender he was had nothing to do with whether or not he hated her. Those times she met him were some of the hardest. She began to wonder if maybe she shouldn’t have told him about her sworn and bound duty to the gods and the heavens above.
Maybe it was his bitterness accumulating from those past lives she met him so long ago. He sought to tear down the Heavens themselves. It was her duty to defend the gods, and she fought against him. He seemed to remember her, somewhere in the deep recesses of his memory, of his soul. She tried to use that memory of her to turn him aside, to relinquish this foolish quest to destroy the gods. It was one of her most bitter sorrows, cutting him down and casting him back to earth. But it was that moment that was her greatest joy. Just as the life began to flee him but before he fell back to the mortal realm, he smiled.
“I found you again,” she swore he whispered, and he began to fall away. “I remember you.”
She was given the opportunity to become a goddess for her steadfast duty to protect. She turned it down, choosing to remain semi-divine. If she became a god, would she be able to find him again? The gods didn’t dwell among the mortals often, and when they did it was never for long. He told her that he remembered her. Some part of her didn’t want to let that go.
It was centuries of lifetimes for him, and he still didn’t want anything to do with her or anyone like her. He always turned away from her, a brief flicker of something half remembered before he looked away, as if some part of him still recalled what she did. Maybe it was a thousand years. She wasn’t sure. A thousand lifetimes, at least.
He was a gambler when he spoke to her again. He had a devil may care attitude and a lopsided smirk that reminded her of the time he was a merchant’s son.
“I like the way you smile,” she told him.
“You like this crooked grin?” he asked, disbelieving.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
He could read tells and played his audience well. He quit the table before his luck ran out (or, she believed, before his fellow players became suspicious of the cards he held up his sleeve), and wandered in the direction of the bar. She couldn’t remember what she ordered but it was a stiff drink, neat. She remembered the order impressed him, and he asked for the same. It wasn’t long after that they started talking. He mentioned that he traveled, and she knew it was him. It was one of the constants about him: love of travel.
“Have you traveled far?” she asked. He told her of all the places he saw, sailing beyond the horizon to places never visited by winter and of the northern reaches where the sun never truly sets. His favourite colour was still green, and his favourite time of day was still that moment between dusk and twilight. They spoke of everything and nothing. When the hour drew late, he wished her a good night. He looked as though he wanted to say more, but refrained and was on his way.
“Yes?” she prompted.
There was a look on his face, as if something was on the edge of his memory but he couldn’t quite place it. “It’s nothing,” he said finally with a faint shake of his head. “Enjoy your evening.”
When he saw her the next day, his face broke out in a grin and he made his way over. “Hey there, beautiful.” It was, to her memory, the first time he ever called her beautiful. That day, he reminded her of who he was. It was the moment that they fell in love, and when his life came to an end she experienced a grief so profound that she withdrew from the mortal realm.
The next time she remembered him, he was missing an eye and an arm. Both were replaced by magic silver, allowing him to see and fight. They were dragged into a great war, one that even the gods were invested in. He was loyal to her, even as she destroyed worlds, framed as she was by her gold hair and lightning. They did so many terrible things during the war, things that they would likely never be forgiven for. The very last battle, it was she who left him. Unwilling and without a drop of divinity left, having used it all to cleave a great divine beast in two, she fell to earth.
They met again on a beach. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed, she was asleep for so long. For the first time, she was mortal, her body healed but her divinity just out of reach. He was different, but the same. He was younger this time, full of hope and ideas. He was the nephew of one important man or another. She didn’t care. All that mattered was that he was here, and she was mortal.
“Why is twilight your favourite time of day?” she asked.
“The moment between dusk and twilight,” he clarified. “I’m not sure. It seems to be filled with a magic long forgotten by the world. Anything could happen.”
The truth of who and what she was became apparent. It was necessary, and she knew it was bound to happen as her powers manifested. She could see the old resentment there, and she wondered if he knew what the true source of it was. She didn’t want him to hate her again, the last time being unbearable. With an apology and a wish for safe travels, she returned to the heavens.
She existed listlessly, ignoring the passage of time and willing the hurt away. Time heals all wounds, she was told. It didn’t, but the ache dulled. She performed her duties and did little else. She collected the souls of those who died in battle and brought them to the halls of their fathers. None of them were aware of her, until she nearly stumbled over one who could see her. It wasn’t his time to die, and she returned him to the living world. The second time she saw him, he was in that inbetween place of the living and the dead. He delayed his return by asking her a question. On some whim, she answered him before returning him to his loved ones.
She began to watch him. He was a prince, brother to the king and general of the army. He was reckless and brash, gambling on chance and somehow, someway coming out the victor. He was smart, his men loved him, and his seemingly chaotic plans made a great deal of sense from a broader perspective. He was young, but not so young to be a callow youth.
They met, again and again, in that inbetween place. He always asked her questions, and she began to think that it was him. He knew what she was. “Death maiden,” he called her in his tongue. There was no resentment in him for what she was. Did she dare hope that she found him again? But always meeting in this inbetween place was slowly killing him. She admonished him, told him not to return. He made a deal with her.
“Tell you what,” he said, “if you win this hand, I’ll do whatever you want. But if I win, you have dinner with me. Deal?”
She laughed, knowing full well that he would likely cheat. She didn’t mind. She wanted to have dinner with him. “Deal,” she said, shaking on it.
She agreed, but on one condition: he would have to find her.
He did find her, after a time. She was in a wheat field, harvesting, separating the wheat from the chaffe. He remembered little pieces of her life that she told him over time. There was no more resentment for what she was, that she belonged to the gods. He was content to be with her, for however long this moment would last.
“What would you have me do?” he asked her.
“I hate my singing voice,” he grumped.
“Why? I love it,” she told him, her smile bright.
“Come, and sing me to sleep,” she said.
They fell in love, all over again.