I stop myself for the hundredth time to keep from yanking at the tie knotted at my neck. I fucking hate wearing ties. Might as well write, I’m into autoerotic asphyxiation, across my forehead.
I’m especially careful with my appearance today, something I’m sure will surprise some people. Glancing in the mirror, I fix the knot of my tie again, brushing down my dark blue suit, my lips twitch at my reflection.
I look like Dinlas.
Well, close at least, probably the closest I’ve ever looked to my twin.
A low whistle sounds from the doorway, pulling my gaze to Clio, who’s leaning on the jam wearing one of my shirts, looking me up and down, “Need help?”
An unsteady laugh comes from my throat, “From you? Always.”
She smiles and steps in close to me, reaching up to fix my tie. “So, are you going to tell me why you look super hot?”
Wrapping my arms around her back, I fit her body to mine “Are you saying I don’t always look super hot?”
She stands on her tiptoes, kissing me softly, even as she adds, “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Scoffing, I pull away from her. “Wow.” I brush the hair away from her face. “I have a meeting upstairs. We’ve been getting strange reports.”
She scrunches her nose at me, stepping away. “Strange reports? What do you mean?”
Play it off. She doesn’t need the stress.
Dropping my voice, I mimic Thanatos as close as I can muster, “Ghosts. Booooo…”
Clio giggles at me, jabbing my side. “Really, Lykos?”
Stopping in the kitchen, I scrounge for my protein shake. I grab it as I answer, “There are usually a certain number of ghosts on our plane. Sometimes, they, well…get sighted. But recently,” picking up the leather folio, I’d left it on the counter so I would remember to take it with me, I unzip it and look at the contents, “there’s been an increase of 400%.”
Clio’s eyes shoot wide, the iridescent colors swirling. “What?!”
I show her the folio. The details laid out for her to see. “And the reports keep coming, there doesn’t appear to be any sign of a drop-off.”
Her eyes scan the documents, her lip between her teeth. “How did you find this out?”
“Work. Who knew wearing a shirt has benefits?”
Giggling, she scrunches her nose, closes the folio, and hands it to me. “I did.”
Rolling my eyes, I kiss her nose, tucking the folio under my arm and shaking the protein drink in my hand. Heading to the door, I look back at her, smiling softly. “I love you.”
She walks over to me, kissing me again. “I love you, too.”
Opening the door, I shoot one last look at her. “Be naked when I get home.”
She laughs and rolls her eyes at me. I shut the door, heading for the elevator.
My good mood lasts until I stop at the 91st floor, the anxiety returning in a rush. Strolling forward, I make a detour before barging into my grandfather’s office. I’m delaying this interaction, and I’m not sure why.
Okay, that’s a fucking lie. I know exactly why.
One of my oldest friends is in Tartarus. And…I can’t do anything about it. Not yet, at least.
Stopping at Aunt Hebe’s desk, I bow formally, making her quirk a brow in surprise. “What is your plan here, Eros?”
Glancing at my aunt, I tilt my head, assessing her. She’s dyed the bottom of her hair a light pastel pink, her lips, and dress all the same shade. Something about her…
“Is he in?” I murmur to her.
Hebe sighs. Glancing at the office doors, she leans forward, her voice dropping, “It’s not a good time.”
My brow furrows, and I look back at the doors, murmuring to her, “It never is when you’re the king.”
Standing, I brace myself and push open the door, seeing my grandfather at his desk.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I last saw him, since he put me in charge of PNS. I don’t know what I expected. But for the first time in my incredibly long life, the larger than life, King of the Gods, looked human.
His electric eyes were bloodshot, and dark bags hung under them. His white hair was tousled from his fingers threading through it multiple times. A look I’ve seen in the mirror numerous times.
Before I register what I’m doing, I’m across the room, resting a hand on his shoulder. “Papu?”
He looks up at me, his eyes flashing. “Eros? Did we have a meeting scheduled?”
Shaking my head, I move to sit across from him at the desk, surveying him. “It will keep, what’s wrong?”
Zeus lets out an emotion clogged laugh, throwing his head back, before sighing so deeply his entire body shudders. “What isn’t wrong? Let’s see,” he starts listing off on his fingers, “my wife, who I just rescued, doesn’t recognize me. Oh, and she’s been turned into a teenager! What else? My entire kingdom is in shambles because I died. My father and Chronos are still at large. My firstborn, the same firstborn I had to imprison in Tartarus, released the titans. And you have the actual gall to ask me what’s wrong?”
His eyes connect with mine again, and despite his words, tears are filling his eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him display such emotion, and if he has, it certainly was not in front of me. I’m usually the one forcing others to face their feelings, not sitting slack-jawed in the face of my grandfather’s devastation.
My mouth opens and repeatedly closes, blurting out the first thing I can think of, which ends up being, “I can get her out of Tartarus.”
My grandfather’s eyes crackle with life for the first time since I entered the office, then they narrow. “You’re not suggesting you’re planning to break her out, are you? I’m still dealing with the fallout from the last prison break.”
Sitting back in my chair, I close my eyes, pinching my nose. “No, no, not break out. I’m a trickster, I’m not insane.”
A choked laugh comes from my grandfather, and my eyes flash open to connect with his. “Sometimes, I’m not so sure about that.” He pauses, taking a long, steadying inhale, and that flash of humor in his eyes vanishes. “Tell me.”
Fuck, should have really thought this through. All my plans for this conversation happened with my grandmother. I was ill-prepared for it with my grandfather.
Time to do what you do best, Eros. Make shit the fuck up.
Clearing my throat, I wipe my hands on my pants. “Yaya,” Zeus’s eyes flash with unveiled pain at the mention of her. “I have, um, a favor from her, carte blanche.”
Zeus steeples his fingers in front of his face, analyzing me. “And you want to use this favor to free Atë, why?”
Why?! Why? Why? Why did I want her free?
“Why didn’t you kill her?” I shoot back.
A single white eyebrow goes up. “Does it matter?”
My eyes scan his face. “Humor me.”
“Because…I didn’t want to make the same mistake. I threw her away once and caught her the next.”
I frown. “Then you imprisoned her.”
His eyes crackled with electricity. “And then I imprisoned her.”
My eyes repeatedly scan his. “You are the God of Justice. So you did what justice demanded.”
His eyes narrow on mine, little more than slits. “And now, justice demands that you honor a debt held by your queen. A debt held by me.”
“And you wish to use it to release Atë, why? Who are you to her?”
Of course, he won’t make this easy for me.
“She…” Fuck, how do I explain her? “She…”
Zeus scoffs, looking down at the papers, dismissing me.
What is she, Eros? What is she?
“She’s a villain and a hero. She’s destruction, and she’s creation. She’s broken, and she’s whole. She’s complicated, and she’s simple. In short, she’s just like the rest of us.” My eyes connect with my grandfather’s trying to convey the sincerity of my plea, “You want to do something different, yet your hands are tied by duty and justice. I’m here to unbind them. I cash my favor for the release of one Goddess of Ruin from the bowels below Tartarus.”
Standing, I brush imaginary lint from my pants along with non-imaginary sweat. My eyes stay focused on my grandfather, and for a moment, a shine of what looks like relief crosses his electric eyes.
“This will cause an uproar,” he adds, watching me closely. “The titans hurt many in this family when they were out.”
My lips twitch slightly at the edges. “Grudges are so mortal, don’t you think? We are gods. We move on. We have to.”
Turning my back on my grandfather, I head for the door, shooting one last look over my shoulder. “Don’t tell her it’s from me.”
My grandfather purses his lips slightly behind his beard. “Why not?”
With my hand on the handle, I sigh deeply, turning my face away from him. “I don’t want her to start this new life owing anyone. The secret to genuinely defeating Atë? You love her, and you’ll find there is one thing she will truly risk anything for. Her family.”
Without another word, I pull the door open and stride out. A breath I hadn’t known I was holding hisses from my mouth when the doors shut behind me.