dedication: to a brand-new year, to breaking through writer's block, to getting better.
notes: ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh my god? oh my goooooooooooood. OH MY GOD
title: leave no bridge unburned
summary: Strange things have happened to me. — Ava, Wrathia, Ava/Odin.
The magic nearly eats her alive.
Ava hits the ground, the Vengess power stripping away like peeling veneer. It hurts, everything hurts, all of her body on fire and star-crossed and alight with emotion that doesn't belong to her. She can feel it pressing against the back of her eyelids, a pleasantly smoking dawn, a sunrise lit bloody by a forest fire's hungry flames. It's so quiet, the scorched-out remains of TITAN'S headquarters perfectly silent around her.
Inside, Wrathia purrs.
I'm impressed. You do good work, kid, and Ava shouldn't be able to hear her but she can anyway. Whatever she was before, she isn't anymore; the part of her that was still human is gone, swallowed up in lava and killing and an unmaking that scared her so badly she gave the humanity up willingly.
"I should be dead, shouldn't I," Ava says aloud. She coughs, coughs, a cloud of ash leaving her lungs that tastes like blood and strawberries. There are embers in it winking in and out, little lights for every part of herself that she's carved away.
Probably, Wrathia says, and it's so smug that it makes Ava grit her teeth. But you're still breathing, unfortunately. So get up, we're not done yet.
"I hate you," Ava mutters darkly, fisting her hands against the floor as she pushes up into sitting. She—feels different, more dangerous somehow, like all of her edges have been compressed into killing things. The tips of her nails are still a little pointed, even, and it's to the sound of Wrathia's low smoky laughter that Ava picks herself up to make sure she's still all in one piece.
It's like this: head, shoulders, knees and toes, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Her skin's too warm, her teeth are too sharp, she still has a box where she should have a heart.
(At least the horns are gone.)
Taking stock gives her a minute and then two, swaying back and forth to music that no one else can hear. It's a faint scratchy thing that must be coming down the line from Wrathia, cooling in the empty air. Her bones sketch out beneath her musculature. Ava stands on wobbly knees, wondering how much of herself is left. What is she, a haunted girl without her haunting?
But that's a question for later. She can't stay here.
They can't stay here. She needs to find Maggie and Gil and even stupid, stupid Odin who got her into this mess but also got her out, and she would like to find them preferably alive. Alive is objectively better than dead. In the silence, the ragged hem of her dress feels heretical. She did this. She's eaten the world to stay alive.
Clean-cut TITAN blue flickering out in a hall hallowed by her rage, Ava walks.
The first step is nothing but screaming pain.
"This isn't what I meant when I said I wanted a whole different life," she grits out, bites her tongue bloody. Her blood isn't blood anymore, though, and what she spits burns through the floor. Ava spits, breathes, spits again, and her footprints are delicate arcs of glowing coals behind her as she goes.
It is a different life, Wrathia murmurs.
Well, Ava can't argue with that.
The pop-crackle! of broken wiring is the only noise, the weird skittering sound of electric embers bouncing off metal. She has to stop to lean against the wall, gulping down air, trying to quell the queasily hollow feeling in her stomach. Ava adjusts the high neck of her dress, wipes a trickle of molten rock away from her mouth. The burning aches all the way down her throat.
But she doesn't sneak.
She doesn't need to sneak.
Her skirt shifts around her ankles slow like currents beneath a volcano. Having to sneak would imply that there were people left to sneak by, but there aren't. TITAN'S headquarters are a cold metal grave, antiseptic blue light washing over her skin cool and callous as poison. She can feel it slipping down her throat and maybe it brings her back, makes her human again, reverberates against the slough of ash off her shoulders, and she's not, she's not real anymore is she—
As though she'd ever been real in the first place. The annihilation of the planet she'd grown up on hadn't hurt, not precisely, because dead and dying were things that she'd always been. Ashes to ashes and all that; in a world where Ava had only had a demon, dead and dying was what she wanted.
It might hurt now, though. Ava wipes a hand across her mouth. It comes away hissing, red-gold, such a beautiful burn. Once upon a time, she'd rather have eaten glass. Now…
I don't want to die, she thinks. That's a first.
Ava follows ashy footprints, visible in the golden light that's still shimmering off her skin like a heat mirage. None of her bones fit right. There are demons singing through her veins, summoned so close to the surface and she's a volcano, a forest fire, a whole planet woke and screaming primordial violence. It's beautiful and it's terrifying and she can still, still, still feel it. She could eat a star and it wouldn't be enough.
Gods, Ava shakes. Gods, she needs to find Maggie.
She doesn't know where she's going. Ava lets her feet lead her, wandering through the halls following an urge coloured purple-gold she doesn't understand, and she still doesn't find her oldest friend. Maybe Maggie's gone, off the planet, disappeared into the empty vastness of space. Gil's gone, too, and there's a part of Ava that's selfishly glad for it. Whatever she is now isn't what she was before, and she doesn't know what it would be like if they looked at her and saw a monster. She looks for Maggie because she's always looked for Maggie, always searching for the people that they both used to be. Wrathia was always there, but as far as people she didn't entirely hate went, Maggie was top of the list.
But Ava doesn't find Maggie.
What she finds is someone else entire.
"Odin," she says through her teeth, trying to keep quiet. The scent of charred flesh lingers in her nose, skeleton fingers locked together in prayer. He's lying on the ground, wrists laid out in open shackles. If that's not a good metaphor for his entire life, Ava doesn't know what is. "Odin, wake up!"
"Ow, what t-the fu—"
"Shut up, shut up!" Ava hisses, covers his mouth with a hot red hand. "Shut up, oh my god, you should be dead. Do you hurt?"
"I-I said o-ow," he gets out through grit teeth. The lines of his jaw all go tight, and something inside of her purrs at the distress in the vowels.
Ava chalks it up to Wrathia, and shoves it away. "Sorry, but I mean. Not really. Can you stand?"
"I dunno. Wh-what happened?" Odin asks and coughs. Coughs. It's a smoker's cough, an ugly hacking rasp that jangles across Ava's nerves. A haze of purple colours the air for a moment. And it's almost—she can almost put her finger on why it makes her cringe, but—no, it's gone. He's squinting up at her like he can't believe she's really there. "A-are you o-okay? You're g-glowing."
"I kind of, um, maybe, set everything on fire?" Ava says, wincing because it's not even a lie. Something itches at the back of her eyes that might be Wrathia scrabbling and screaming, but the link's faded enough now that she can't hear her erstwhile companion without the phone. She can still feel that awful giggle in her throat, though, such a hungry thing, and there's ash on Odin's cheek. She wipes it away absently with her thumb. "So we gotta, like, go."
"W-what the h-hell," Odin manages, jerking away. "Y-you're burning."
"I'm always burning," Ava blurts, too honest by half, but she's wired and shaky and running on adrenaline because that's how eating the world works. She takes her hand away, trying to ignore the furious red skin where her palm had been. "Seriously, if we don't get out of here, we're probably gonna die."
Odin looks at her steadily. His shoulder's at a weird angle beneath his ripped shirt, maybe dislocated, maybe not, but he just keeps looking at her like it doesn't bother him. Ava doesn't know what he finds the regard, but it must be something, because finally he exhales, hazy purple smoke curling through the air.
Ava remembers that, kind of. She doesn't know why. It feels like it was from another life.
(Swooning, swaying, making her way home.)
"O-okay," Odin says, at last. "Let's g-go. Where's my f-fucking pipe?"