a step forward, a dance back

the underworld is cold — that's it's most overriding feature. not the darkness, not the presence of the dead. it is the cold. in all her years as demigoddess, diana has never known cold quite like this. the feeling of the cold in space is the only thing that comes close to it, when she's been alongside clark or a lantern. not even in the one time she had faced off against victor fries though, could compare to the way the cold in the underworld wraps around not just her body but the depths of her soul.

except it isn't just her soul being affected by the cold: penny's is, too. they are intertwined now, and as diana moves forward, the lasso at her side, she can feel it affect penny. can feel penny's thoughts, her mind turn away from the fear at hand and into something else: memories.

memories of an older woman with hair as white as snow, with kind hazel brown eyes and wrinkles inlaid on her skin. it fascinates diana; she will never age, her people do not age. but this woman, with such deep seated wrinkles, with such obvious signs of age, fascinates her. with all the wisdom, the knowledge she has, and overriding all of that is the love penny has for her. the love for those wizened hands in her hair, consoling her, for the scratchy voice when she chides penny for having a cigarette before having her own, for the way that she seemed to always know what to say to penny even in the wrong moment.

adelaide was her grandmother, and as they move deeper and deeper into the underworld, penny longs for her. longs for her touch, her voice, her love. longs to turn away from their path to hades' throne room, to call for her soul, to see her one last time. to place her head in her lap, to talk to her, to ask her for advice to tell her everything at all and nothing at once.

and that is something that cannot be done. diana can feel her leg tremble for a moment in the darkness as penny's mind turns further toward her, with longing, with that need for one last reunion.

please, diana. just let me see her, her voice begs, and diana can feel her chest constrict with it, with the force of all that love, all that need in her voice. all the years that have passed without adelaide there, with the pain penny had carried for so long for losing the woman she called her grandmother, a word that diana had known in concept but never in her own reality, a child of the gods themselves, immortal and divine.

and diana cannot say that if it were her grandmother or her own mother, she would not be tempted. that she wouldn't turn around, and look for her, to throw herself into her arms. to kiss her face and to tell her everything she has missed, to try and rebuild the bond they had, to be family again.

she tightens her grip on her lasso, feeling penny's pull towards her grandmother and her own pull to hades. "sister," her voice echoes in the darkness, "i know what you wish for. i — i profess that i have not had a grandmother like that, in truth. but this is the underworld. if we stray… we could both be lost here, forever. there would be no reuniting with her. not on our own terms."

penny goes silent. diana grips the lasso tighter — and then loosens it again. the lasso can see into people's souls, and even if they weren't tied together like this, diana knows she could see penny's face fall, that she could see desire on her face war with what diana had said. about what it would mean.

her body turns in the direction that her grandmother could be. diana wavers — she doesn't want to force penny, doesn't want to argue despite the urgency.

what she does instead is to gently remind penny of orpheus. of what happened when he turned around, in the underworld, away from the path. the story is painfully, terribly familiar to penny. her hand shakes, her throat tightens.

and then she breathes, the both of them. turns around, back in the darkness, away from the path where adelaide might be. and goes back towards hades.

to serve the king

she thinks she can smell the cinnamon her grandmother used to wear grow fainter and fainter the deeper they delve into the underworld. the lasso and diana herself seem to be compasses on their own, their north point turned towards hades.

penny can feel it too, pulling them — and too, she can feel her grandmother out there, in the underworld. she thinks she can feel her spirit there, and she wants to run away, wants to go to her. and still…

she knows what orpheus did. how he had turned back and eurydice was gone after. how that the world of the dead was treacherous and winding and she could be lost, forever. and what help would that be if she and diana were lost? what would happen to their friends, their sisters? the living mattered as much as the dead.

so she goes, follows that compass to hades' throne. deeper and deeper, closer and closer, that unnatural cold settles further and further until the only real warmth left is the lasso itself. there isn't any breath to be seen in the air as she breathes, and when she finally comes within sight of his throne, hear heart beats louder than it ever has before in hear chest.

to say that his throne was large was to be be an understatement. most of the room is his iron throne, overwhelming in how brutalistic it is, in the deep lines, in the way that her eyes are drawn to it. hades sits on it with burning eyes, a beard to his chest and all the countenance of a god.

diana knows that some of this is pageantry: she has seen the gods take many forms, in many ways over time. that this is less for her and more for penny as she comes closer. and both she and penny can see the throne beside him, empty of its owner: vines and flowers strewn together, but ultimately not true plant life. just a pale imitation of it.

diana brings them to their knees, bowing respectfully. "Ζεὺς καταχθόνιος, i have come to honor the bargain we have struck together. you saved not only my life but the lives of many others — and i am grateful for that."

she keeps her head bowed, as much as penny wants to peer into the man's eyes, make him see them. diana is proud, too — just diana knows a bit better of how gods work, of what it takes to appease her uncle.

and the appeasement works, as the air shifts subtly. his hand reaches out, presses down on her head. it feels heavy, with the weight of souls, of demand, of a god. his voice is hardly over a whisper as he says, "amazons never go back on their word; i am glad that such maxim remains true, daughter of hippolyta. do not be afraid of me; i am not like my brothers. i do not play the games that they do — what i will offer you is better than any trick, for what i will make you is more than what you were."

she can feel it spread from his fingers — a changing sense of godhood washing over her, one that has hades' own touch to it. penny can feel the hairs on the back of her neck and all down her arms stand up in response as it starts to flow into her, this change of power, this shift. diana can feel it too, both of them tensing up as more and more flows — as they change, as this thing blossoms.

"i bestow the power cosmic to you, as my new herald," hades' voice takes on a sharper note, more pleased. "it is a power that i give to you to act on my stead, not simply your own whims. know that i give it to you on my whim, and on my whim i will take it away should you ever deny me when i call upon you. you said that i saved more lives than yours, and should you break our covenant, amazon daughter, i will take their lives and yours, as owed to me. do you understand?"

penny has so many questions: when will this bargain be fulfilled? how many tasks? are lives what she is going to be collecting?

diana does not voice them, even though many of them are the same for her. instead, she shuts her eyes as she says, "i understand, Ζεὺς καταχθόνιος." his fingers squeeze down, and the deepest surge of power flows from his hands and into them. it is familiar in a way that a deep well with a never ending supply of water is, of being deep in an ocean without end, in an oblivion able to be held in her fingers and not all at once.

there is a cry — then hades is no longer touching her as the power spreads, wraps itself around her body and soul. the power here is immense, and diana almost drops the lasso; it's penny who's able to get her fingers around it as the power grows, and grows until it's flooded every nook and cranny of them both.

hades' smile is subdued with triumph; but it is triumph when she pants on the ground, as the power makes her eyesight pop with color, as she can feel it trying to tug her, to show what it was, to strike at hades' behest.

only he has given no behest. diana grits her teeth, raises her eyes.

in hades' dark eyes, she can see her form glimmering. she is as luminous as the lasso she holds, and when she stands, she can see that the light she emits is strong, and knows that with what he's given her, it could be stronger.

hades tilts his head, looking at her. "the power suits you; and i can tell that the mortal who you share with, she has a question, a need.and i will telly ou both now: i am master of the dead — the dead are to remain dead and the living to live. you may wish for the dead to come to you, but it would be a perversion of my throne to allow such a meeting in my realm." disappointment stirs in penny, but not shame. "i thank you niece, and when i call upon you, do not hesitate to meet me."

he waves his hand, and the underworld dissolves around them. they are back in their apartment, and it is a glass door that greets their reflection now. it's startling: her eyes are literal twin stars in her face, her hair glimmers, less like human black hair and more like pure liquid ink, her skin still shimmering as well.

diana is the one who turns away from their reflection and penny, minutes later is the one who picks up the phone to text tabitha. she does not mention their grandmother.

that night, she goes to sleep, her two dogs on either side of her, the lasso tucked beneath her pillow.

she expects to dream of themyscira perhaps. she does: of the ocean rolling up to touch her feet, of the sun on her back. distantly she can hear the sound of her sisters singing, can smell the fires burning and strangely, she can also smell cinnamon mixing with the ocean spray.

a hand touches her back, softly. she turns, in her dream, and it's her grandmother adelaide, eyes shining. she doesn't look like the wizened woman who died; no, she's like the photos of her that have been on the mantle, with her blonde hair blowing in the wind, her laugh vibrant. she's dressed like an amazon and when she leans over to whisper in penny's ear, she swears she says, we cannot visit in the underworld, but we can always visit in dreams.

in her sleep, she smiles.