I opened the door to my suite and went inside, closing it behind me. I unstrapped my shield from my wrist and hung it on the wall, where it expanded into its full size. Then I hung Cerberus, in its sword form, beside it.
It was more of a symbolic gesture than anything else. Marking the fact that I was home, laying down my responsibilities for a while and reminding myself that it was time to let go of the stresses of the day and relax.
“Honey,” I called jokingly, “I’m home!”
“Good,” Eos’s voice responded from around the corner in the main room. “The pizza’s getting cold! Get in here already.”
I snorted a little laugh and smiled, feeling tension I hadn’t consciously acknowledged ease out of my muscles at the sound of her voice. “That was fast.”
I rounded the corner into the suite’s main room, which was divided up into a little library, a combination dining room and kitchen, a small recreational area (the Foosball table had been Mel’s idea, honest), and a living room. In the center of everything was a big bowl-shaped brazier on a low marble stand, doing the job of a fireplace in making the big room feel cozy and homey.
Eos was sitting at the kitchen table, dressed down to gray sweatpants and a dark blue t-shirt emblazoned with a print of the Disney version of Hades giving the viewer a thumbs-up, with his minions Pain and Panic in the background.
I blinked a couple of times, then started laughing. “Oh gods, don’t let Hades see you wearing that.”
She grinned at me, but I thought it was a rather tired-looking expression. I was amazed she was awake, let alone upright.
“Hey,” she said, “it accomplished the goal I set it. You’re laughing.”
Michel, sitting across the table from her, made a grumpy sound. “I still can’t believe you talked me into letting you leave the infirmary. Hell, I can’t believe you’re upright. You should be asleep for at least another eight hours based on your vitals.”
“I wasn’t going far, and I’m resting,” Eos said firmly. “Blame it on adrenaline. I’ll be sleeping again shortly, I swear.”
“I’ll make sure she is,” I vowed as Mel brought two party-sized pizza boxes to the table and opened them.
“We have plain cheese, and the artery-bomb special...hamburger, bacon, sausage and pepperoni.” Mel beamed. “I knew you’d be hungry.”
Michel rolled his eyes and pulled a couple of slices of cheese onto his plate as Eos all but attacked the meat-lover’s pizza.
“Sorry. Starving,” Eos said, and began to voraciously devour her first slice.
I chuckled and sat down beside her, taking a piece of each for myself.
Eos swallowed her first bite before protesting, “You try doing what I did and not be ravenous afterwards. I’m more hungry than tired right now.”
“That was a heck of a thing,” I said fervently.
She grimaced. “I probably did some damage to the local weather patterns.”
“You really did,” Mel said. “Meteorologists around the world are tearing their hair out trying to figure out how a highly localized and incredibly powerful hurricane formed and dispersed in less than fifteen minutes. They’re talking about record low temperatures and snowfall in the Yucatan for the next few days.”
Michel winced. “What did you do?”
Eos was busily taking a bite out of her slice of pizza, so I answered for her. “She called up the mother of all thunderstorms and blasted a hydra in two with the biggest bolt of lightning I’ve ever seen.”
Michel blinked, then nodded. “That’ll burn a lot of calories.”
Mel giggled. “Is that your new weight loss program?”
Michel grinned. “I doubt anybody else could pull it off.”
Mel had been very good for Michel. Not that he’d ever been a wallflower...he’d always been a charmer. But his death had been a traumatic event (he got shot, after all), and she’d been the one who broke him out of the daze he’d been in.
Eos swallowed her bite of pizza. “I’m sure it’ll just get blamed on Global Warming or something. They’ll forget about it in a few weeks when there’s no repeat performance.”
“So,” Mel said, wiping her mouth even though I hadn’t actually seen her eat anything. There were a couple of slices of pizza missing, though. Eating with her was frequently like that. “How’s the investigation proceeding?”
I sighed. “Not so well. I’m starting to feel a bit like we’re running in circles.”
“And our primary suspect is out of reach, at the moment,” Eos added, frowning.
“Don’t you mean only suspect?” I asked, feeling an unhappy weight in the pit of my stomach.
“Point,” Eos said. “Hey, did you find out how that hydra got loose?”
I nodded and told them about Hephaestus’s findings. When I finished, Eos whistled softly. “That’s some big mojo. And Vulcan’s coming along with us now? That’s cool, but let’s keep an eye out for him. As far as I know, the last time he was in the field was B.C.E..”
“Vulcan is a mighty warrior,” Mel said softly. “You don’t need to worry about him.”
Michel grunted. “And he’s tough. He’s come in four times with burns he hadn’t even noticed.” He snorted a little laugh. “Of course, he’s rather fire-resistant to begin with, so I suspect anybody else would’ve been charred to cinders by whatever scorched him.”
I nodded. “I’ll be glad to have him along, especially if we end up...” I trailed off uneasily.
“End up what?” Michel asked.
“Having to confront Demeter,” Eos said quietly.
“Oh,” Michel said. “Wow. Yeah, that would be a little scary. Have Avatars ever had to stand up to a god before?”
“Had to?” I asked. “No. Apparently, when Circe was Aphrodite’s Avatar, she made an attempt at a coup, though. According to Mother, she almost succeeded, and it took Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and Hades to stop her. So it can be done.”
“Maybe,” Eos muttered around a bite of pizza, then swallowed and slid a couple more pieces onto her plate. “We don’t really know how much of that story is true. We should try to find out.”
“I’ll put that at the top of my To Do list for tomorrow,” I said, handing her a fresh napkin. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
She gave me a look, and I somehow knew what she was about to do. So I reached over, placed my fingers beneath her chin, and kept her from displaying the contents of her mouth. “That’s amazingly childish, love.”
She swallowed, then stuck her tongue out at me, winked, and attacked another slice of pizza. Sometimes I wondered if her ‘overgrown child’ routine was genuine, or if it was something she did to make people underestimate her. After what I’d seen her do today, I wondered too if it was a way of hiding what she was really capable of.
Michel grimaced. “Eos, watching you eat is like watching a train wreck. Horrifying, but I can’t look away.”
Eos grinned between slices. “I know, right?” She started on another piece of pizza.
“If any of the rest of us ate that way, we’d end up round,” I said dryly.
Eos polished off the piece she’d practically just started. “Sorry, I’m famished.”
She didn’t sound particularly sorry. I gave her an amused look and took another piece for myself.
Michel shook his head. “It’s a good thing none of us need to worry about cholesterol or anything like that.”
We ate slowly for a couple of minutes...or rather, Michel, Mel and I did. Eos devoured most of the meat-lover’s pizza by herself. But even she finally seemed to have had enough and sat back, wiping her mouth and giving us a sheepish look.
“Sorry,” she said, and this time she actually did sound at least a little contrite. “I haven’t thrown a bolt like that in decades. I forgot how much it took out of me.” She stretched and yawned hugely.
I smiled. “I assume you’re staying the night.” She started to answer, but I held up a hand. “Let me rephrase that. You’re staying the night. Not only am I sure Michel’s going to want to have a look at you in the morning -”
“Damn right,” Michel said firmly.
“- but there’s no way I’m going to let you Step home when you’re yawning like that.”
Her jaw cracked audibly as she yawned again, then smiled. “I was about to say I wasn’t going to turn down any invitation to spend the night. Then you got all forceful and dominant. It’s sexy. Will there be handcuffs involved?” She waggled her eyebrows comically.
Mel giggled and got up, gathering up plates and leftovers. “I think I have some -”
“Mel, love,” Michel said wearily, “please don’t.”
She giggled again and started packing the leftovers - mostly slices of the cheese pizza - into the fridge.
I raised an eyebrow. “I am so glad our rooms are soundproofed.”
“Not half as glad as we are,” Michel said fervently. Then he blushed furiously. “I mean, not because of anything we’re doing...Oh, hell.”
Eos and I both started laughing.
Michel rose. “Absolutely nothing I can say at this point is going to come out right. I’m going to bed.”
“That sounds like fun,” Eos purred.
Mel giggled and hooked her fingers in the back of Michel’s shirt in passing and towed him along in her wake. “Come along, my soul. You can be the lion tamer tonight.”
“The...?” I started to ask, then stopped myself. I probably didn’t want to know.
Mel gave Michel a little push into the room they shared, turned and made a pawing gesture at the air in my direction. “Rowr!” Then she too disappeared into the room and the door closed behind her.
Eos and I watched it for a long moment, then Eos snorted. “That girl is weird.”
I smiled. “I know. Isn’t it wonderful?”
She yawned again, then rose and stretched. “Come on, I’m not quite ready to go to bed yet. Are you?”
I shook my head and rose too. “Too much adrenaline.”
“That’ll fade soon enough.” She led me over to one of the curved sofas that surrounded the firepit and settled onto it, curling her legs under her and pulling me down beside her.
I settled in with her, curling up beside her and leaning against her. “Did we make any real progress today?” I rested my head on her shoulder and sighed. “It doesn’t feel like it.”
“Hey, we’ve only been working on it for one day.” She wrapped her arm around me and held me close, making me feel warm inside. “It’s a two thousand year old mystery. We can’t expect to figure it out in one day. If it was that simple, it wouldn’t be that old a mystery, eh?”
I smiled. “That’s my Eos. Always cutting through to the heart of the matter.”
“Well, someone has to,” she said, sounding amused. “You and Danae are so detail-oriented that you can’t see the forest for the trees sometimes.”
“True,” I agreed, snuggling a little closer to her. “You know, I always knew you were more powerful than me, but until today I had no idea how much more powerful.”
“Hey, come on now,” she sounded uncomfortable now. “I’m not more powerful than you are, Ms. Power over Life and Death. My powers are just different than yours. And...largely oriented towards huge amounts of destruction and creation. You weren’t doing so badly out there yourself.”
“Maybe,” I said, then yawned, covering my mouth with my hand. “Strange that the Avatar of Hades ended up policing monsters instead of the Avatar of Zeus. You seem better suited to the job.”
“Nah,” Eos gave me a little squeeze. “I’m a bit of a wrecking ball when I get going, as you’ve seen demonstrated so spectacularly, and so were my predecessors.” She chuckled. “Your attention to detail and substantially better interpersonal skills keep you from having to resort to that kind of violence as often as I did when I was covering that part of your job by myself.”
Listening to her voice rumbling in her chest, along with her heartbeat, was making me feel relaxed and drowsy. “Oh?”
“Sure,” she said with quiet certainty. “Until you came along, I had a long track record of hunting down and killing anything that escaped. So did my predecessors. But since you filled the office, you’ve been bringing more in alive than any Jupiter ever did. Doing the job right takes more than brute force and the skill to apply it successfully.”
“Mmm...okay, I guess I get that.” I yawned again and closed my eyes.
“I thought I was the tired one,” Eos said, and I felt her kiss the top of my head. After a long moment, she spoke again, sounding a bit hesitant. “Talia?”
“What’s been bothering you?” she asked softly. “You’ve been a little off all day.”
I was relaxed, warm and probably half asleep, and if I couldn’t share my fears with her, who could I? “Do you think Hades might’ve been involved in Persephone’s death?”
Eos was silent for a while. I was suddenly wide awake again and a little tense as I waited. Finally, she said, “What brought that thought on?”
“Something Ceres said when I tried to see Demeter.” I considered that for a moment, then shook my head against her shoulder. “No, it was Demeter speaking through Ceres. She all but accused Hades...told me to look to my own master for an explanation. Her words.”
Eos made a thoughtful sound. “From what you told us, and from what the Gorgons and Circe said, that seems pretty unlikely to me. I mean, they all practically gushed about how wonderful a person Persephone was and how happy she and Hades were together.”
“But the old stories...” I trailed off, feeling uncertain and uneasy again.
Eos laughed softly. “The old stories are frequently contradictory. Look at the stories about Heracles. Some of them credit him as a towering moral pillar of a man. Others accuse him of being a drunken lush who wanted glory and money more than anything else. You know him...which is the truth?”
I grimaced, opening my eyes and looking at the fire. “He’s the guy who smashed my head in.”
She giggled. “You still haven’t gotten over that? Oh, love...”
“It’s not funny!”
“Yes it is,” she said, kissing the top of my head again. “But I get it. You really ought to bury the hatchet, though.”
“In his head,” I muttered, making her giggle again. Now that I thought about it though, I didn’t feel any real rancor about it anymore. I sighed. “I guess I’m not upset about it anymore. It’s just a really awkward thing hanging between us. How do you deal with that?”
Eos hugged me a little tighter for a moment. “I’m the wrong person to ask about dealing with emotions. I have a tendency to either tackle them head on, or avoid them for years and then tackle them head on.”
I smiled to myself. “Yeah, I remember that. Saying nothing to me for five years, then confessing your love when you thought you were going to die...”
She stood up suddenly, scooping me up in her arms and making me squeal in surprise. “Wench! I should spank you for that.”
“Just try it!” I shot back, wrapping my arms around her neck. “Do your worst.”
She bent a little and kissed me softly. When she broke away to smile down at me, her eyes were shining with obvious happiness.
“I think,” I said, a little breathlessly, “we should be in bed by now.”
“Oh yeah,” she agreed fervently.
I woke up sometime during the night when Eos slipped out of bed and tried to ask where she was going. It came out as a sort of unintelligible mumble.
Eos kissed me softly. “Shh. I’m going to go talk to Dad. Go back to sleep, love. I’ll be back in time for breakfast.”
I shifted and snuggled into the warm spot she’d left as she tucked the blanket tighter around me, and drifted back to sleep listening to the sounds of her getting dressed.
Mel woke me in the morning by waving a mug of coffee under my nose. I opened one eye and peered at her, though it took her a moment to come into focus. “That had better be Kona.”
She beamed. “What else would I bring you?” She set the mug on my bedside table. “Breakfast will be ready in twenty minutes. There was a note from Eos on the counter saying that she’ll be busy this morning, and Michel said she made a flying visit through his office and is fine.”
“Not quite that politely, I’m sure.”
Mel giggled. “He did do some swearing when he let me know.”
I sat up and stretched, yawning hugely. “All right. Contrary to popular belief I can get through a day without her.”
Mel arched an eyebrow and gave me a decidedly amused look. “Really? You seem to be forgetting to dress yourself.”
At which point I realized that I was quite naked, and that the blanket had slipped down into my lap when I sat up. I quickly pulled it up, blushing. “Sorry!”
She giggled. “It was a lovely view. I don’t mind at all. Anyway, it’s just us girls here right now.” Then she turned and skipped out of the room, closing the door behind her.
I shook my head and let it go, having long since given up trying to understand or keep up with my friend and secretary. Instead, I dropped the blanket and picked up the mug of coffee. I held it under my nose, inhaled deeply, and sighed. Then sipped at the hot liquid and eyed the open bathroom door.
“Shower,” I said with a little nod, and slipped out of bed.
I emerged from my bedroom freshly dressed for work and ready to face the day - thanks to a hot shower and a glorious mug of coffee - just as Mel was setting food on the long island-bar that separated the kitchen from the dining room. She smiled at me. “Breakfast is ready. Waffles and ham with fresh fruit and juice.”
I set my empty mug on the counter and sat on one of the tall chairs that lined the counter. “Thanks, Mel. I might be able to get through the day without Eos, but there’s no way I’d make it without you.”
Mel beamed and blushed, and I thought that just a bit more purple iris became visible around her huge black pupils. “That’s silly. You’d be fine. You just wouldn’t be as fine.”
I chuckled and tucked into the breakfast she’d prepared. “What’s on my agenda for the day besides continuing my investigation?”
“Odysseus has asked for a few minutes of your time...again...” She made a face. “He’s a charming man, but very driven and determined.”
I groaned and dropped my chin to my chest for a moment, before sighing and eating a bite of (really, amazingly delicious) waffle. When I finished chewing, I pursed my lips. “Tell him you just can’t squeeze him in today. Please?”
She smiled, obviously pleased with me. “Done. I’d wondered how long it would take you to ask me to.”
“I’m slow on the uptake sometimes. What else?”
“Just the usual things,” Mel said, peeling an orange and laying the slices on my plate.
“I can do that myself you know,” I joked.
“I know. But it’s fun.” She licked her fingers. “Oh, Father said he might have something pressing for you to take care of. But he didn’t say what.”
“Guess I’ll find out.” I frowned. “I really don’t want to set this investigation aside though.”
Mel tipped her head to the side and looked at me from an angle, something she often did when she was trying to figure me out. “Why?”
“Why not let it go for a little while? It’s waited two thousand years...if you’re short on leads, why not wait until things are clearer. A couple of months might help clear up certain things.”
I blinked a few times. A couple of months...would take us to the middle of winter. When Ceres had said she’d be free to speak.
Josh is a life-long native of Western Massachusetts. He spends his daylight hours disguised as a mild-mannered IT specialist, trying to get inanimate objects to talk to him and work the way he tells them to. He spends his nights trying to keep all of the animated characters in his imagination from saying too much…and work the way he tells them to.
For the past couple of decades, Josh has been creating worlds for his characters to inhabit, and dreaming up ways to push at the practical implications of a wide variety of Science Fiction and Fantasy tropes. He loves telling stories, entertaining his readers, and sparking fun debates about how to make the implausible plausible. He has a degree in Folklore & Mythology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst