“Whatever is going on between Hades and me is between Hades and me. And between us is the last fucking place you want to be!”
Hekate rolled in like a storm, slamming doors in her wake. Pity, whoever that was on the other end of her tongue. She stalked to the bar without even glancing in my direction and poured herself a drink, downing half then refilling higher than the original line. She leaned heavily on the bar, shoulders trembling with rage. I lowered my book and waited, wondering if she had seen me. A moment later, she looked up, straight into my eyes.
“I swear to all the gods, not us, Hades, I hate the gossip around here.” The whiskey had not diluted the venom in her voice.
“I am not fond of it either. May I ask what happened, or would you prefer not to talk about it?” I wasn’t going to push for something that may upset her further.
She jerked her head toward the security cameras in the corner. “I get that those things have a purpose, but I’m fairly certain that purpose does not include turning this room into a peep show. Everyone seems to know that you kissed me, and they all want me to tell.”
A dark look crossed my face, and I chewed the inside of my cheek. “I do not regret what I did, but I am sorry the zoo is making a mess of this. Is there anything I can do to help?”
She growled into her glass and took another sip. “Be my drinking buddy? Because I think Dinlas is hiding from me.”
“It would be a pleasure. Do you need me to speak with him?” I rose from my seat, setting aside my reading to pour myself a drink of wine, returning to the sofa.
“Nah, leave him be. We’ll catch up eventually. We always do.” Her easy smile meant the whiskey was filing down her mood. “Actually, I’m glad you’re here.”
Sitting on the opposite end of the sofa from me, I watched her wrist make graceful circles, swirling the whiskey in her glass. “I’ve been thinking, Hades, before this…before we go any further, there are things you should know.”
Ah. Hekate has finally decided to tell me her heart, at least in a small manner. I would not ruin this moment, so I nodded silently, waiting for her to continue. She paused, this mysterious confession weighing heavy on her lips.
“Hades, I’ve never been in love.” Her eyes met mine, piercing. “With anyone. Ever.”
I nodded once. “Okay.”
“I’ve always ordered myself around duty. Serving Persephone. Guarding the Gates. Love isn’t something I do. I’ve long considered it a weakness, drawing us away from what needs doing because of some selfish desire for something else.” For the briefest of moments, her lips curved in a smile at some inward thought. “I’m not saying I’ve not had lovers. I have. Just…mortal ones. It’s easier with them. They die. It’s quite self-limiting. Reminds me not to get attached.”
She took another long drink from her glass. “So, needless to say, Eros and I don’t get along. Lately, I added fuel to that fire.”
I had heard the rumors but wanted to hear it from her. Her version. “How so?”
“Well,” she sighed, “he was fighting his feelings for Clio. It was a fucking baggage wreck all over the Complex. So, I challenged him. Said if he’d let himself love Clio, stop being a pretend God of Love, I’d…”
She stopped again. I waited. Again.
“I’d willingly let him shoot me with an arrow and fall in love.” The look in her eyes was almost apologetic. “So, you see, this has complicated everything. You’d have found that out, eventually, and it wouldn’t be long before you’d be asking the question—is this real? Or is she just making good on her word with Eros to balance the books?”
I tilted my head back, exhaling softly. “I apologize if I have put you in an awkward position, Hekate. That was never my intent.”
She waved away my apology like smoke. “No, trust me, if there’s awkward positioning going on, this bitch bent over on her own, I assure you.”
Her use of words pulled a crooked smile from me. Her ensuing blush made it widen.
“Sorry, you get what I’m saying, though.”
“That I do, Hekate.”
She cleared her throat, taking another drink before continuing.
“I’m not saying…not saying stop. I just wanted to explain why that nerve is a little raw. People have been teasing me about kissing Eros for weeks. Which, to be fair, I did kiss him, when we had that blow up over the arrow.” She smiled down into her glass. “I still prefer Dinlas, though. Hard for a good girl to resist a bad boy.”
A smile flickered across my face. “I was not aware I was a bad boy.”
She bit her lip, her words barely audible. “You might be the worst.”
I let the comment roll over me, keeping it in my back pocket for later. “Well, if you think I am going to fret over past motives or lovers, you would be wrong.”
“No, I don’t think you would.” The flicker of a smile on her face went out. “I just have very little faith in anything not me. Plain and simple.”
I leaned forward casually, elbows on my knees. “I can see that.”
“Can you? Because, frankly, you’re woefully out of practice where relationships are concerned.”
My eyes tightened at her comment, but I said nothing.
“Oh, I didn’t mean that cruelly,” she amended. “I’m just being direct.”
“Then allow me to add to that.” I clasped my hands a little tighter than I intended. “I may be out of practice where relationships are concerned, Hekate, but that does not mean I do not remember how the mind works. There is logic to be found in your words—I am not dead in that aspect.”
“Alright, I’ll…concede that point.” She lingered over the word, a private joke between us now. “You might not be dead, but I am. And that’s been my own choice. Something I had to do.”
I watched her closely as I spoke. “And do you wish to stay the same? I am not mortal, Witch Queen.”
I caught a hint of a tremor in the breath she took. “No…no, you most certainly are not.”
“So, allow me to ask you a question.” I swirled my wine, downing half the glass without meaning to. “What am I to you?”
If my question caught her off-guard, she did not show it. “Unexpected. An ally. A formidable adversary at times, though we always end up on the same side eventually.”
I shifted slightly. “I see.”
“I didn’t say I was done. A king. Someone I respect. Someone I trust. Who has earned that trust, not simply demanded it.” Her eyes dropped for a moment, then met mine again. “You are worthy. I’m not sitting here because of some stupid arrow or some debt my ass is going to have to cash. I’m sitting here because, Fates help me, I think I want to.”
I rubbed my thumb over my knuckles, peering at her. “You think, or you know, Hekate?”
She sat still for a long moment, then rose gracefully, setting her glass on the table. My eyes followed the curve of her hip as she pivoted to face me, holding out her hand. I took it, rising with her, watching her face.
Hekate stepped close to me, her hands sliding up my chest, eyes following. A moment later, her fingertips made contact with my skin, trailing up my neck, down my jaw. She traced my mouth with a single finger, marking her place.
“Let me make sure,” she murmured, touching her lips to mine. Her kiss was soft and whiskey-laced, the intent in it sober and heavy as lead.
I exhaled slowly as she pulled away, the warmth of her body retreating. Eyes still closed and a lazy smile on my face, I asked her, “And now?”
“I know,” she said in a feathery voice. “And so do you.”
I opened my eyes and nodded, watching Hekate grab her glass and head for the kitchen, maybe just a tad too quickly. Absently, I conjured a small square of paper, folding it quickly while humming to myself, following Hekate into the kitchen and leaving it beside her.
She picked up the folded sculpture, examining it. “What’s this?”
“A crane.” I leaned against the counter, arms folded. “For wishes.”
“Really?” she asked, arching a brow. A crooked smile flashed across her lips. “Wishes aren’t really my forté.”
“I learned it from an old friend many years ago. I do not believe in wishes either if we are being candid. But I do believe in the intent behind them.”
“Well, then. What is the intent behind this wish you don’t believe in, that I now hold in my hand?” She lowered her voice, whispering, “That’s a rather complicated, roundabout way of saying, ‘Tell me.’”
“You always have a way with words, Hekate.” I flashed her a smile. “I am giving it to you with the intent that I will not wrong you.”
“You never have. Not even when…” she stopped, swallowing the rest of what she had been about to say. “It’s not you I’m worried about.”
“I meant going forward. Allow me to worry for the both of us.”
Her fingers danced across the points of the crane. “That’s the way of it most of the time, I think. No one intends to hurt anyone. Not really.”
I frowned slightly, wondering what had unraveled this part of Hekate in her past. I wished, for a moment, I could pull it out, like a loose thread in a ball of yarn. The shadow of some distant sadness darkened her smile.
“Things happen, Hades. I can’t always see the future. And I don’t know how this dance between us goes.” She set the crane down between us and leaned toward me. “Here is what I can promise—I don’t half-ass anything.”
“Do I look like someone that does?” I gave her a questioning look.
She tilted her head, giving me a sidelong glance through the parted curtain of her dark hair. “Then, I think…we’re in trouble.”
I inhaled quietly and smiled, rolling my shoulders. “I am beginning to dislike that word. Why, may I ask?”
“You play cards?”
“Going all in is the only way to win big. It’s also how you lose everything. And I don’t want to lose thousands of years of…” She toggled her finger back and forth between the two of us. “Good.”
I grabbed her finger between us. “We will not.” I kissed the tip of her finger before letting go, grinning widely when she started.
“You say that now,” she warned, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Guess we’re about to find out. Because I need to ask you for something.”
“How may I help?” I finished my wine and set about washing my glass. Hekate crossed her arms, leaning against the bar.
“I want to see Atë.”
“For what purpose?”
Her eyes flashed hot above her cold smile. “Don’t you trust me?”
“My trust does not blind me to my kingdom, Hekate. For what purpose do you wish to see Ate?”
This felt off: far too off. Hekate looked at the floor. My question made her uncomfortable. Good. I was not in the mood for frivolous requests where Atë was concerned.
“I will put it as plainly as I can, Hades, and let you be the judge of the merit in my request.” She looked up and waited for me to nod before continuing. “Of all my brothers and sisters, I lost the most due to
Atë’s treachery. I relinquished the blood price that I still feel is fairly owed me. You were there. You saw me swear.”
Hekate stepped toward me, not as a Queen demanding her due, not as a victim demanding retribution: just…open.
“I’m asking, Hades. Me. Hekate. Not Zeus’s daughter. Not whatever I am to you. I want the satisfaction of seeing her behind bars, knowing that she is paying for what she has done.” She looked up at me. For a moment, it struck me how slight of a thing she was. “I am asking for the only payment that both has a chance of satisfying my rage and keeping Atë whole.”
Her reasoning was excellent. But the thought of letting Atë and Hekate speak with one another… “You wish to see her, and leave? A short visit.”
“It’s your realm, of course. Your rules. But yes, I want to speak with her.”
I rubbed my jaw hard. “You may do so, under one condition.”
I folded my arms, face blank. “You must surrender your powers to me.”
Her face paled. “What? Why ever for?”
“I am concerned.” I paused for a second to collect my thoughts, feeling the pressure of her stare. “While your power seems diminished at the moment, it is nonetheless rooted in emotion. I have no desire for that to re-ignite if Atë decides to goad you.”
I studied her face, waiting to see if she was going to be insulted or not. Hekate glanced down at her hand, watching the power flicker at her fingertips. Her strength was returning, the flash was bright, but her control was erratic. She curled her fingers into her palm and looked up at me.
“You want me to be honest with you?”
“Hekate, I always want that,” I whispered in reply.
She nodded, taking a deep breath. “I understand your concerns. They are valid. I am a tempestuous, volatile creature, even at the best of times. I don’t count that as distrust on your part but as a rather pure form of trust. You trust me to be what I am, and you respond accordingly. But…”
“But?” I echoed after her.
Her voice thinned to a threadbare tone. “You don’t know what you’re asking, Hades. I don’t mean Atë. Fuck Atë. It’s one thing to have you strolling around inside my head, my heart, like you own the place because it’s either that or die. That’s not really much of a choice. And don’t try to pretend you didn’t take a look around while you had me last time. I don’t like liars.”
I raised my eyebrows as the words fell out of her mouth. “Well, that is a lot to take in all at once. First of all, I know exactly what I am asking of you. I am asking you to meet me somewhere in the middle, so that I may fulfill the request you made of me. You asked to see Atë. I am more than willing to make sure that happens. But you need to relinquish some of that infamous control. And you are right, this is different. There is no immediate threat nor any acute danger. There is only me, trying to fulfill your wish while still making sure that nothing untoward happens.”
I took a breath, pausing to formulate a response to her last challenge. She waited, patient, her eyes never leaving mine.
“As for rooting through all your dark corners, or sifting through your baggage like a skulking thief, there was no need. Your emotions, wants, needs, and desires were thrust upon me. I could not have ignored them or looked the other way if I had wanted to. It was wave after wave washing over me, drenching me in your fire. You want the truth?” I paused, holding her gaze with mine, making sure I had her full attention. “It was intoxicating. I have felt empty and devoid of intense emotions for some time, and yours filled me up for those few minutes. They heated me from within. And, as I have said before, I do not lie.”
I watched her absorb my words, the meaning, and intensity behind them. She looked away for a moment, drawing a shuddering breath through parted lips before turning her face back to mine. Her eyes glimmered in the low light of the room.
“I don’t think I have ever been so expertly persuaded to be complicit in my own captivity.”
I took a step toward her and said, “You are only captive if you are held against your will. That would mean you do not trust me.”
She tilted her face up to mine. “I do not fear you, Hades. I fear this becoming a habit. Do not think me a fool. I train my bitches to the collar. I know how this works. I am not your bitch. Do you understand?”
I frowned as her words lashed across me again. “Fear? We do not need to fear something to consider it untrustworthy. I hope you would not fear me. As for training, those are your words. You train your hounds with reinforcement, be it positive or negative. That is, you want them to perform a task, so you reward them after they have jumped through your hoop.”
I paused for a moment to tap my index finger against my lip thoughtfully before continuing.
“I have presented you with no hoop, Hekate. There is no trick or task I wish for you to perform. Remember, you are the one asking me for a favor, not I, you. Though, as for collars, it has been my experience that the bitch grows to appreciate the security it brings.”
For a few long moments, she said nothing. Hekate speechless was a wild card in a game that could go either way. “I’ve asked for what I want. You’ve named your price for what you want in return. I asked for a visit. You asked for all of me. I will take it under consideration.”
“I understand. I have asked you to surrender. That is not easy. But remember, it is as temporary or permanent as you wish it to be.”
The moment I saw her smother the flames in her eyes, I knew negotiations were over. Hekate turned and walked away, pausing at the door to glance back at me over her shoulder. When she spoke, I knew where the fire in her eyes had gone.
“You will have my answer in three days. Goodnight, Hades.”
I watched her turn and exit. When she was out of earshot, I replied, “Goodnight, Witch Queen.”