[MM] How Many More Times

1 year, 1 month ago
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How long ago had the last round of this been, anyways? How many leaders ago had it been since he'd last faced down a jealous, angry mortal, desperate for answers? Two, three, four generations ago? Four thousand years, a blink of an eye in his life, a half-second, a shard of a shard of everything he'd experienced. How long ago had Narke cast him down, thrown him into the dirt to suffer for his precious mortals?

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"And, by the stars as my witness, I know you're a god, Cleverly!"

Though the worried stare on his face still hadn't quite left, and the pit in his stomach was churning into nausea, Cleverly still managed to hold a half-smile over his cheeks. He folded his hands politely in his lap, the silence in the summit room deafening, as he stared down the leader of Letter Colony - Hera Letter.

The other aner had stood during his rant, upper hands splayed on the table's wood, a lower finger pointing accusatory at Cleverly. The other leaders - Sires Abyssal, Kalmera Rain, Vemeera Ink, Kenstrall Shell, and Tale Shell - stared at Hera, eyes wide, in various states of shock. It was, after all, a rather out-there accusation. To point at another of their peers - another colony leader - and accuse them of being one of the stray gods of Myrme. Only a madman would make such an accusation. 

And, though it was not Cleverly's first time dealing with such an accusation, the stir of his emotions in his chest and the hard beat of his heart against his sternum still couldn't still. He tried to make his smile easy, tried to turn up both corners of his mouth as he held up his upper arms submissively. Play it safe. Play it off. 

"Hera, ain't that a little hard to believe?" he prompted, the words familiar in his mouth. "I mean-"

"-No, it's not," Hera repeated, slamming a fist into the table, which cracked slightly. "I laid out all my evidence. It all adds up! Your appearance matches, your mannerisms match, your lifespan matches - and you expect us all to accept that as a coincidence? You really thought you'd get away with prancing about, pretending to be one of us?"

Ahh... he was a little angrier than normal. What kind of resentment had built in the other's head? How many nights had he pored over documents, research, cross-referencing information, tying together myths? Was his visit to Phytomea three years ago a cover-up for sifting through religious records of Clover Colony? Had their friendship - this whole time - been a farce, a mask to wear for the mortal to find information? 

Still, Cleverly smiled. "Funny you go around, sayin' things about my colony's mythos and legends, when you're-"

"Sir, give the word and I will cut this insurgent down," came the voice of his Commander, behind him, sword clinking as they gripped its hilt.

He half-turned, as Hera's own Commander barked out a threat. Cleverly drowned out their voice. "Please, let's not devolve into violence. This is gonna be a perfectly reasonable discussion, and we don't gotta kill anyone."

"Hera, sit down," Sires finally prompted, the exhaustion of age tugging at his voice. "I don't know what's put such an idea into your head, but as a man older than Cleverly, I can assure you that he is no god."

He turned to glance at the Abyssal leader, at the half-faded colors of his fur and hair, at the tired peering over the rim of Sires' glasses. Despite himself, despite all the self-control he was shoving down his own throat, Cleverly stiffened. That wasn't how it went last time. Sires had joined Jemne, joined in interrogating him, biting insults and questions that he'd fumbled over until he'd cried. How deep had it gone? How hard had he been altered, to act like this now?

And how many more times would he have to play this game? 

No, no, focus on de-escalating. He had a matter of minutes. Think, think, something to throw them off. He wasn't so woefully incompetent as to let this chance slip through his fingers. 

"Keep your mouth shut, you shark," Hera snarled towards Sires, balling his hands into fists. His own Commander stepped forwards, a warning in their expression. "You think you know anything, stuck in your little air bubble at the bottom of the abyss? No one at this table knows Clover Colony - and Cleverly - like I do. And I've had my suspicions from the start!"

"I would like to think I know Clover fairly well," Cleverly near-blurted out, in spite of himself. He internally slammed his head into the desk.

Hera rounded on him, jabbing at his chest, "I'm sure a GOD knows plenty, don't they, Cleverly? What's your fucking plot, huh? Gonna try to overtake us once again, after we just shook off your peoples' tyranny? You think this world still needs your stifling coddling?"

Cleverly frowned. Oh, how the ebb and flow of culture still perplexed him, after all this time among it - how long ago had the mortals lamented, lost in agony and misery, begging for their gods back? How long ago had it been since Osage had pulled him aside, whispering fear of how to tend to his peoples, how to calm their hearts when abandonment ruled their minds? 

The change of mortals was something he'd admired, but always from a distance - a distance that he could mark in stone, a distance that never touched him. But here he was, down in the mud with them, and everything was swirling around his head in ways he couldn't quite understand. The pace made his blood swell in his head, made him dizzy to think of how fast the cycles repeated, how fast everything he knew was replaced. And, in those moments of weakness, fear, and doubt, he found himself missing Gemline.

How long ago had the last round of this been, anyways? How many leaders ago had it been since he'd last faced down a jealous, angry mortal, desperate for answers? Two, three, four generations ago? Four thousand years, a blink of an eye in his life, a half-second, a shard of a shard of everything he'd experienced. How long ago had Narke cast him down, thrown him into the dirt to suffer for his precious mortals? 

Did that Cleverly understand what he would come to reel from? Did that Cleverly know that he would be as much of a failure here, among what he'd once loved, dealing with a new adversary every few thousand years?

"I'm not a god," he said, but he couldn't keep the conviction in his voice. He knew he was slipping, despite everything he'd tried to hold together. But had he really even tried at all? With time, he'd been convinced that the similarities between himself and the god he once was would be scrubbed clean of history - the same as he'd seen happen, over and over, with the mortals of the past. How many more interrogations did he have to suffer through, until they stopped piecing it together?

"Then you won't mind if I stab you with this, right?"

There was a shuffle as several leaders recoiled from the gold dagger Hera pulled from his cloak. Sires stood, ready to defend Cleverly, but Hera's Commander's sword was pointed at his neck an instant later, and the bravery in his glare withered. Cleverly simply blinked down at the gleaming metal, which was vibrating ever-so-slightly in the atmosphere. 

That was new.

Hera gestured for Cleverly to stand. He didn't move. All he could do was keep his eyes trained on Hera's dagger, on the gold, on the talc hilt. 

This was it, then. There was no talking down from this. He'd failed to defuse the situation, again. He'd failed to bail himself out of these interrogations. How many more times was he going to fumble, need someone else to pick up the pieces of himself he broke on the floor? How many more tries? How much more could he take?

Cleverly leaned forwards, holding the sides of his head in his hands. How many more times? How many more times was he cursed to suffer this? What had he done to deserve this? What power of the universe had he displeased? What he had he done wrong, to deserve these attacks, to deserve this hatred, to answer for his peers' sins, to be thrust out from all he'd known and forced to claw his way out of the pit all alone? Why him?

"You think cowering will make me pity you, godblood?" Hera shrilly called, voice rough.

They had been friends. They had gotten drinks together, once, when Hera was newly-inaugurated as leader. He'd been so bright, so wide-eyed, full of wonder at everything and at the world. He'd been religious, but that had never been a cause of concern - plenty of Ants were still religious, still clung to the stories of old, to the stories of gods. Cleverly had never found Hera particularly pretentious or egregious. 

And they'd talked - about the world, about the meaning of it all, about the reasons why the sun woke up every morning and the stars came out every night. They'd talked, and Cleverly had felt solid - solid that another generation of peace with Letter was secured, that he'd maintain a friendship with its leader, and that his place in the world had been secured. He'd leaned on the balcony of his room and stared at the moon, and had felt safe for once - safe that this was where he belonged, learning and teaching mortals, among their ilk.

Now they were here, and all he could think of was how pitiful Cogito likely thought of him, how Narke would turn up his muzzle in disgust, how Llune would smile smugly behind her hand, how Saltis would snort and laugh. Look at Cleverly. He cares so much about mortals who'd backstab him in an instant, who'd turn on him if only they knew his real nature. They knew he was a snake. They knew he was a liar. 

How many more times would he suffer these feelings?

"Stand up and face me!" Hera screamed, voice hoarse.

What had broken his friend? What had torn that awe from his eyes and turned him sour? Why, why, why did mortals have to change? Why did they have to bend, adapt, break in ways that made them hate him? Why couldn't everyone just be happy, happy forever, never upset or angry, nobody yelling at him ever again? How many more times could he withstand this and resist, how many more walls around himself did he have to construct until the inevitable betrayals stopped twisting in his heart? 

Cleverly raised his head, despite the tears that clouded his vision. Hera tensed, hesitating, sudden pity stricken on his face. Their eyes met, and Cleverly didn't bother hiding the thousands of thousands of years in his stare; didn't bother hiding every mortal he'd lost, every mortal who had passed him by, every god who'd scoffed and laughed at his misfortune, at everything he'd suffered through.

"Hera, enough of this," Sires barked, though he did not move for fear of the Commander's sword. "Put away your dagger, call off Peirce, let's just sit down and resume the summit with none of your conspiracy theories."

Hera looked from Cleverly to Sires, fear and uncertainty on his face. How funny, to think an Ant hesitated. To think that, despite all the conviction in his mind, he hadn't yet brought down the dagger. Was that what friendship was, to these mortals? Was friendship staying their hand, when their blade was but a glance from the neck of their closest allies? 

Cleverly closed his eyes. 

"S-stay out of this, Sires, or I will cut you down as well," Hera said, but his voice wavered.

How many more times would he have to hear that terrified tone once more?

"Your youth is clouding your mind, and leading you down this path of-"

Cleverly closed his eyes, as the sudden buzz of magic overtook Sires' voice. He didn't look up, even as yellow light enveloped everyone else in the room. He didn't react, as the pop of teleportation announced the arrival of who he'd been expecting. He didn't flinch, as the other audibly sighed, resting a hand on the back of Cleverly's chair, fingers just barely ghosting over his sweater.

"Cleverly," Cogito began, voice heavy, irritated, "how many more times do you think I can afford to bail you out?"

The miasma in his chest exploded, and Cleverly burst into tears, sobs racking his shoulders as he mashed his palms into his eyes. Cogito jumped back, the warmth of his hand suddenly gone as he took several steps away. 

More than anything, the burning desire to look Cogito in the eyes, perfectly calm, and reassure him that the answer was 'none' overwhelmed Cleverly. But he knew, deep in his chest, that he couldn't breathe a word.

Cogito stepped forwards again, as the muffled sobs calmed slightly. "Don't cry. You know you brought this upon yourself."

"I kn-know," Cleverly said, sniffling as he looked up.

The mortals were frozen, wrapped in the glow of Cogito's magic, poised completely still. There was no rise-and-fall of their chests, not a blink of their eyes, as the other lesser god held them in suspended animation. Just like last time, just like the time before that. He had to lean on an old friend to save him in these pathetic moments of his.

Cogito's hand slid to his shoulder. His grip was hard. "Chin up. Or else I won't reset this for you."

He tried to swallow the hiccups. Crying wouldn't solve anything. Crying wouldn't bring back the happy world he'd lived in. Crying wouldn't make him feel better. He had to bite it back, dig his teeth into the inside of his cheek until blood filled his mouth and he had to lick it off his jaw.

"Well, Cleverly?" Cogito prompted, stepping forwards. He sat down on the table, facing Cleverly, "How should this act be finished?"

He didn't respond, listlessly staring at Cogito. The other had changed his outfit - the familiar duo of sweater and suit jacket had been replaced with a high-collared, two-tone blouson. What had prompted that? Why was everyone able to move on, able to adapt and change, save for him? His eyes flicked down to his own sweater, the same familiar clothes he'd worn for as long as he could remember. Were they a symbol of how badly he held himself back?

"Pay attention," Cogito snapped his fingers in Cleverly's face, drawing the other's gaze. "Or I'll just leave you to clean this up yourself. Do you want that, Cleverly?"

"No, I don't," he mumbled, hugging himself with his lower arms.

"Right. So, go on, tell me - how much do you want these mortals to remember?"

Cleverly let his stare drop again. What was the point, anyways? Why even bother pretending like this had never happened? Would it be so bad, to let the mortal toss the dagger into him, to let his true identity emerge? Why had he even bothered hiding, anyways? 


His fingers tightened in his sides. "What if we d-don't?"

Cogito blinked, then dull annoyance flicked on his expression. "Really. Really? You're going to be obtuse enough to think that everything will be beautifully keen if I just leave? Whatever could have prompted such ignorant lines of thought?"

"Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I just let them find out for once," he said, unsteadily. "Maybe things'll be okay."

"Ah, so you'd rather have even more of these worms crawling under your skin. Pity - I didn't consider you a masochist, Cleverly."

He squeezed his eyes shut. "They wouldn't - they wouldn't be like w-"

"-You don't think every mortal on the face of these miserable rocks would flock to your castle doors?" Cogito prompted, snidely, a snarl on his face, "You don't think they'd beg and writhe for godly mercy? Though I detest Narke's ill-begotten wisdom and decisions, I must agree with the abandonment of these putrid, senseless creations. Yet, here you are, spitting on my kindness, my generosity in helping you, prancing about and acting as if you'd rather have to nanny every bloated parasite of this world."

Right. This was why he had tried so hard to de-escalate before Cogito noticed and stuck his nose where it didn't belong. Cleverly's fingers curled harder, nearly tearing his shirt, nearly hard enough to claw blood out. The first time the other had shown up, he'd thought it a heavens-sent sign of providence. 

How pathetically grateful he'd been, for any interaction from his peers, for any sign that someone cared. He'd laid his head in Cogito's lap and cried his little eyes out, felt the other's hand threading through his hair - a surprising soothing gesture. Cogito had barely been able to speak after that, but Cleverly had returned to his position with a spring in his step and a bright smile on his face, reenergized, reminded that truly, he was not alone in the world, and that someone, at least, was looking out for him eternal.

And now here they were.

"Now your addled mind seeks to ignore mine?" Cogito challenged, anger rising.

"No," Cleverly said, bunching himself up into a ball. "I just thought... you know, so you don't hafta keep s-sneaking out behind Narke's back and everything. To come here, I mean."

Cogito scoffed, rubbing his hand on his pants. "As if I could not make it past his blundering muzzle. He can barely see past his own pride."

"Do you mind-alter him, too? Into forgettin' he'd seen you leave?" 

Cogito tensed, bearing teeth slightly as his lips drew back in a snarl. "No. I do not need to sully my magic by wasting it on the likes of him." 

Cleverly rubbed the back of his head, falling silent once more. Why did he think he could make small talk with Cogito? Why had he wanted to? Oh, he knew. He knew he was desperate for any sort of connection, any sort of stability, in the spinning world of change he'd been thrown into. And, despite how cruel he could be, Cogito was stability. He was a symbol of everything Cleverly had left behind, everything he still secretly pined for in his chest.

Why did he bother, to stay in this miserable world? Why did he bother to break and work and struggle and sweat, for these mortals that would never understand? When he looked at Hera - at his friend, his friend who had been about to stab him, determined and ready - he wondered how he'd even loved or admired them at all.

"Wait," Cogito said.

Cleverly looked up at the other. Cogito wasn't meeting his stare, instead side-eying Hera. His shoulders were oddly stiff. "Yeah?"

"You know - you surely must have heard?" Cogito, strained, let his eyes flick back to Cleverly. "Surely someone told you. Azamora? Saltis?"

"I'm not in contact with them - told me what?" 

Cogito stared, openly, mouth slightly open. Panic rose in Cleverly's chest. The other lesser god was never speechless. Cogito always had something to say, some biting remark, some way to reroute the conversation as he pleased. There was never a hint of uncertainty in Cogito. Until now? Until now, of all times? Was he forever cursed to have to watch everyone else around him change, alter, grow, leaving him in the dust eternally?

"You don't know?" Cogito managed.

"I don't," Cleverly tensely replied, hugging his knees to his chest.

Cogito breathed in softly, running a hand through his hair. Cleverly watched the tic - one that Cogito had buried years ago, but had seemingly reemerged now. He was staring past Cleverly, at the wall, while a giddy, tiny smile rose on his face.


"Narke has left, Cleverly," he said, nearly trembling in some form of excitement and pride.

Cleverly blinked. He pressed his back against the chair, against the cool plastic. "What?" 

"He abandoned us," Cogito said, clasping his upper hands together and resting his head on them, grinning disconcertingly, "he left some half-a-hundred-thousand ago. No one told you?"

"I-" Cleverly choked, slightly, as some rush of emotions filled him. He couldn't even place a single one of them; no words could help him find his way out of the bog now. He just swirled, over and over, in ever-changing murky waters, lost and alone. 

Narke was gone.

"Where is he at?" came out of his mouth, before he could even think it through. Desperately, he lifted his head, as if Cogito held answers.

The other's smile twitched. "Stars know. One morning we all woke, and his presence was wholly missing. A note had been left, of course - lamenting his ignorant leadership and fool ways. And then, of course, I took over."

"I- you're ruling Gemline now?"

"Of course I am - who else is fit for the task?" Cogito prompted, a hand on his chest. "Now, to bring our minds back to a previous thought: you spoke of wanting to let the mortals know of your godly nature. May I give you a different perspective?"

Cleverly blinked, eyes full of wet tears. 

"By the grace I deserve, by virtue of being the leader of Gemline," Cogito spoke, standing up slowly, then lowering onto one knee to place two hands on Cleverly's own, "I formally invite you to return to our ranks, return to your place among us, and restore your lost dignity."

Cleverly stopped breathing.

"After all - so long, you've been stuck down here, in the mire, drowning - but my grace, my kindness towards you knows no bounds, Cleverly and - Cleverly?"

He gasped for air, to get anything into his lungs, as a thousand emotions hit him at once. All he could do was stare at Cogito, at the other's smiling face, unable to formulate words or thoughts. This was really happening. 

"Are... you alright?" came the surprisingly-concerned prompt, as Cogito reached up to brush some of Cleverly's hair from his face. 

Cleverly breathed in, slowly, feeling the air whistle. His sinuses suddenly hurt, a twang reminder that he was still here, still breathing, that the world was still moving around him and the sun was still rising and the moon still falling and everything was still spinning. Slowly, piece by piece, his mind came back to him, little shards clumping together to form sentences, tiny thoughts forming into lines.

He could go back home.

For the first time in his entire life, he could go back home.

He could go back home. Back where he belonged. Where things didn't change, where everything was okay, where he belonged, where he'd grown and learned and been himself. He could sleep in his bedroom again. He could wake up every morning, throw open his window, trot down main street with a bounce in his step, see all his old friends.

Here it was, again, within reach. A day he'd never thought would come. He could finally go home.

Yet, as he stared at Cogito's elated face, uncertainty wormed into his heart. Where was Narke? Where had he gone? Why had he left? When had Cogito taken over?

"Is... is Narke the only one missin'?" he asked, a second later.

Cogito blinked, half-surprised at the sudden topic change. He steeled his shoulders slightly, excitement draining, "Ihalas has also been removed. And we lack those others who have been led astray by the glamour of mortal worship - Azamora, Saltis... you know. But I have collected all others."

Cleverly balled his hands into fists. "Where - why did Ihalas - removed?" 

"Of course," Cogito said, near-robotically, "I would not accept scum like that in my city." 

Cleverly swallowed.

"Therefore I was forced to remove him. Surely you understand, Cleverly?"

"What did he do wrong?" 

"What kind of a question must you plague me with?" Cogito half-chided. "His mere existence was a mistake, a blight upon the city I carefully crafted. We have withered so long under the harmful rule of Narke, and I would not stand to allow Ihalas to poison my city further. I had to remove anyone with dangerous ideals."

Something sick burned the back of Cleverly's throat. "But you - you call me names. You insult me, my ideals, a lotta the time. What's the difference-"


And there it was - the familiar snap of anger that made Cleverly's ears pin themselves to his head. And, trembling in his seat, his eyes flicked from his Commander, to Hera, to Sires, to everyone else in the room - anyone but Cogito, who had stood, hands shaking from rage.   

Despite everything, despite the interrogation, despite his breaking hard - he'd never been scared. He had never been scared of his mortals. He had never feared them, never feared their wrath, their anger, their retribution. No matter what, he could patch up any conflicts with them - and he could move on. He'd outlive every single fight he'd ever have with them.

And now, faced with a familiar fury, every half-buried stab of terror he remembered had risen to the surface.

And though he shrunk back in his chair, though dread filled his mouth, he managed to just barely squeak out, "I think I'll stay here." 

Cogito paused, the calm before the storm. He stared down at Cleverly, jaw loosely held together, teeth glistening in the artificial light. His expression was unreadable - somewhere in the midst of agony, confusion, and anger, that red-hot rage that Cleverly had long since learned to fear. 

He reached forwards, cupping Cleverly's cheek, though he flinched. "Cleverly. Cleverly. This is not a choice. You must come home."

Home. Home. That wasn't his home any longer. Something had happened to it; it'd been warped out of shape, past what it once was. 

Why did everything have to keep changing? Why couldn't one fucking thing in his life stay stable? Why did everything he care about have to rot and die, sullied and weathered from the passing of time? 

He didn't breathe a word as tears marked their way down his cheeks once more. 

"Oh, really?" Cogito near-growled, fingers curling tightly at Cleverly's silence, "You really want to stay here? Your corroded brain thinks it wants to stay down here, in the sludge? Has all that time with mortals whittled you down into an idiot, Cleverly? You want to keep playing this game and waiting for my grace to assist you when you inevitably fail?" 

"I have to stay here," Cleverly whispered. "This is where I belong."

"It is NOT!" Cogito screamed, at the top of his lungs, as his temper finally erupted. "You belong in GEMLINE! You belong with ME! You belong well within the borders of the PARADISE I have so PAINSTAKINGLY CRAFTED FOR US!" 

"I have to stay here."

"DO YOU EXPECT ME TO SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS FOR YOU?" Cogito roared, throwing his arms open, "Do you EXPECT ME to just SNAP MY FINGERS and let you walk away from every time a mortal figures out your IDENTITY? Cleverly, you HALF-WITTED MORON, even the MORTALS know what you are! They keep FIGURING IT OUT! Why do you think you have the RIGHT to run from it?!" 

He flinched, hard, cowering as he covered his head. 

No matter what he chose, each path would hurt. There would forever and always be some sort of pain he had to crawl his way out of. Why was it all so unfair? Why couldn't he just clap his hands and let the suffering be over? Why couldn't he adapt like everyone else? Why did the choice have to be between his oldest friend, consumed by his own fury, or the constant grieving as he lost new friends left and right?

Why did he have to leave? Why did he have to stand up for himself? It was what had brought his whole world crashing down, and even now, as he clung to his new one in favor of the old, he still missed what Gemline used to be.

But it was that way no longer.

Cleverly breathed in, slowly, and lifted his head. Cogito had fallen silent, staring back down at him, tensed and clearly still angered - but implementing a level of self-control that was unrecognizable on the other's face. Both stared at each other for several long seconds, at the emotional turmoil they both shared.

DId Cogito, too, wish for what their lives used to be? Did he miss walking the world with Cleverly, listening to the other blabber about everything they saw and experienced? 

Cogito's head dipped, and his eyes refocused on the floor. 

"Cogito?" Cleverly began, nervously reaching out a hand.

Though he was breathing heavily, Cogito didn't react as Cleverly took his hand, gently, thumbing over his palm soothingly. After a moment's hesitation, Cogito turned to gaze at Cleverly's fingers, at the soft brush of his fur. 

Perhaps he, too, missed it. Maybe he had lashed out, a victim of that same internal turmoil.

"You could stay down here with me," Cleverly offered, hope rising in his chest. "It'd be nice to spend time with you again."

Cogito wrenched his arm free, bitterly, but there was no frustration behind the motion. He glanced, irritated, at the mortals. "I would not deign to lower myself to such slime. My - our - rightful place is within Gemline's walls, within the city I have painstakingly crafted." 

Silently, glumly, Cleverly returned his hand to his lap. He couldn't meet the other's eyes. 

Still, Cogito half-turned his head to look down at him. "Yet... you... are still as pathetically kind as you once were, Cleverly."

Something stirred in him. Relief. Relief stirred in him. What an odd sensation, an odd feeling - the first grace he'd given himself since his fall. Cleverly sniffled, then raised his chin, blinking owlishly up as fresh tears rolled down his cheeks. 

He was still kind. 

Stability. That was stability, wasn't it? That kindness. It had never changed, despite everything. It had stayed the same. It was something he could cling to, something he could try for, bite down on and hold on for dear life. He could just be kind

"Dry your tears, they are most unbecoming in front of enemies of your state," Cogito muttered, idly wiping at Cleverly's cheeks. 

"Er - right," he mumbled, magicking up a tissue to finish cleaning. 

Cogito raised a hand, lit with magic. "The insurgent one will not remember any of this. They will remember having their suspicions quelled by an unusual display of manipulation and tact on your part. The others will agree with such memories. You may fill in the blanks as you please, with whatever phrases and words you feel are fitting. It is your task to make sure it is identical across all these mortals."

Cogito was helping him? "I-"

"Understood, Cleverly?"

He fiddled with the tissue in his hands, before reaching to take Cogito's hand again. The other pulled back slightly, but didn't resist further as Cleverly's fingers slipped around his. 

"Cleverly?" came the uncertain prompt.

"You'll keep comin', right?" he asked, voice trembling, as he looked up. "You'll keep visitin' me. I miss you. Right?"

Cogito blinked down at Cleverly, then glared at the far wall. "I suppose I have no choice if you continue tripping over yourself, hiding your identity. Though I will continually make my desires clear for your return."

"Okay. That's okay." Cleverly let his hand slip free, and magicked the tissue away.

Cogito half-nodded. "Very well, Cleverly. Have... a good day."

"I'll try. Thank you, Cogito. I... really appreciate you helpin' me with this."

Cogito wordlessly snapped his fingers. At once, he disappeared - presumably teleporting - and dropping all the mortals back into their seats. Cleverly breathed in, softly, as the others in the room blinked, shifting in their chairs as their minds accepted the new information and memories. 

"As I was saying," Kalemera suddenly piped up, leader of Rain Colony, "it is unbelievably rude that your people have encroached on the Hatterne River like that, Hera-"

"Oh, shall we do this dance of words again, Kalemera?" Hera taunted right back, leaning forwards in his chair and crossing his arms.

Cleverly closed his eyes. This was how it worked. This was why the world turned. It was in these moments, these familiar moments, that he remembered why he still cared, why mortals still mattered. No matter how many he met, no matter how many he saw, he still understood them, still saw reflections of himself and all he'd known in them. They were as much products of this world as he was. 

How many more times would he sit through these summits? 

Hopefully many.

"Cleverly!" Sires suddenly cut in. "Are you alright? You look like you've been crying-"

He opened his eyes, smiling as he leaned on the table, "Yeah, I'm alright, no worries. Let Kalmera and Hera hash it out - hopefully without fightin' this time, guys, aye?"