It had been a difficult morning already. Several gods from the party last night asked how I was, not that they liked the lack of answer I gave them. That’s what happens when you fuck me over when I’ve tried to be benevolent. You get the bitch.
And last night was a serious fuck over. I glance through the hallway windows, looking into the lounge as I walk past, noticing it’s nearly empty. Except for Hades. I sigh on the inside. I don’t feel like being vulnerable today. That was yesterday’s portion. I straighten my back and walk in like last night never happened.
“Good morning, Hades.”
He turns, a slight smile on his face. “Hekate. Did you rest well?”
I give him an arch look as I make my way to the kitchen in search of coffee. “You’re not usually one for dumb questions.”
He sits on the sofa, eyes tightening at my barbed comment. “It was an honest question, Hekate.”
Feeling him staring at me, I add cream to my coffee, taking my time, buying a few moments for the conversation I know is coming. After last night, there are about five different directions that conversation could go, and every one of them, a path into one hell or another. I take my cup and wander to the window, looking out for a moment before deciding to just get it over with.
I sit down on the opposite end of the sofa and wait for him to speak. He says nothing, just watches me. The set of his jaw tells a story, but it’s a line I’ve not yet learned to read.
“Have you spoken to Fath…to Zeus this morning?”
Zeus wants to abandon his duty to his family? Fine. I can forget mine, too. I apparently know nothing of it, according to him. I drown the bitterness on my tongue with more coffee.
Hades takes a long drink from his mug. “No, I’ve been unable to locate him. But there are still many places to look.” He shifts slightly, a moment of tension flashing across his face. “I…feel I must apologize.”
I lower my cup, hoping my calm front is as believable as I want it to be. “For what? If anything, I should be thanking you. Taking the bolt from Eros was the right thing to do. And you were the most appropriate caretaker at the party. At least, I trust your discretion with such an…” My lips twist on the word. “Important thing.”
“My desire was to stay with you. But my duty was to protect my brother’s throne. Everyone wants the crown, but no one wants the pressures.”
“I have no desire for a crown. Sovereignty is an individual thing, and I keep my own.” My defensiveness makes him sigh.
“That is not what I meant.” His eyes scan my face, but I know he’s looking at everything below the surface, the things I’m not saying. He sets his mug down on the table and leans forward, elbows on knees. “Hekate, please tell me. What are you right now?”
“What I’ve always been. Though, maybe a little wiser than last night.”
“You make a poor liar, Witch Queen,” he murmurs. He looks away for a moment before catching my eye once more. “Very well. And what have you always been?”
“Holder of Keys, Watcher of Ways, Defender of Choice, Bestower of Magick. She Who is Unmoved. Mistress of Hounds. Daughter of Zeus.” I recite the familiar litany of titles, the last one coming out strained. “And your ally below, of course. Add to that someone who will never throw a party again. That’s the wisdom part.”
He sits in silence for a moment, considering me. I feel like leaving. I need to escape this conversation and the horde of emotions that have been giving chase since last night. But the weight of his eyes pins me down. The same way he wouldn’t let go of me that day in his office.
“You are broken, Hekate.”
His point-blank assessment of me is intimate, jarring. His words set off an aftershock of memory along the fault line of last night. “Must you use that word? Can’t I just fill the cracks with gold and call it good?”
He smiles faintly. “Kintsugi is not going to cover the pain. Please, trust me on this.” He rubs his hands together, considering the coffee table as if it were a piece of art. “I am aware of this feeling more than I would admit to anyone, but…you need time.”
“Well, how convenient. I happen to have an infinite supply.”
I feel a twinge of guilt at the look on his face, realizing too late that I’ve rewarded his vulnerability with the sharp edge of my tongue. I look down at the floor, weighing the cost of being open, and decide that I owe him. Just a little.
I take another sip of coffee, wishing I’d added something stiffer than cream to my cup. “Last night was, in every way, the worst possible combination of things. The wishes. Zeus. Kissing Dinlas. That was like salt in a wound I thought healed.”
Fuck. I freeze and look up, suddenly remembering he wasn’t there for that part. He had already left with Erebus. “Not because I wanted to.”
My face warms as the lie crosses my lips. I feel like an alcoholic, sober for tens of thousands of years, who took a single drink and wants to dive back into the bottle. Except I don’t…and I do. I force myself to keep talking because if I don’t, the memory of last night is going to drag me back down.
“Eros’s stupid game. After you left, Eros decided it was my turn with the arrow. I humored him in the hopes of shutting him up. You do the math.”
Hades doesn’t move or register even so much as a surprise. If he has qualms with what I’ve said, he isn’t showing it. “What wound had not healed? Do you still care for him?”
I sweeten my bitter laugh with a smile. I want Hades to know it’s not his question that bothers me. It’s our history—Din’s and mine.
“Of course, I care for him. It’s not…like that. We were quite close when we were young—him, Thanatos, and me. I don’t think I’d be who I am without Dinlas. He showed me that being a bastard princess didn’t mean I had to keep my head down or my mouth shut.” I find myself smiling at the memories flashing through my mind. “He gave me my taste for whiskey, taught me to throw a decent punch. He’s always had my back. There were times that he could have enjoyed someone taking advantage of me, and I would have never known, but he stood up for me instead. Even then, he was like that.”
A hint of a smile touches Hades’ lips. It occurs to me that what I’m seeing is pride. He’s proud of Dinlas. I wait for him to say something, to give me a reprieve, but Hades just looks at me. Silent bastard. I take a deep breath and notice my hand is shaking. I put the cup down, somehow managing not to let the mug clatter against the table.
“It wasn’t love with Dinlas,” I hear myself say. “But saying it was lust sounds wrong. Too…base for how close we were. One night, we almost gave in to the temptation. Or rather, we were giving into it when Thanatos walked in. Good thing he did, or I might be telling you a different story. One that ended with us not being such close friends.”
“I didn’t know it at the time, but Than loved me. It hurt him, seeing us like that. So, we chose to put our friendships first. Dinlas and I vowed that one taste of each other was all we would ever have. We weren’t meant for each other, that much I knew. I saw it that night, saw Nyx in his future, but…”
I stop, realizing I’ve never admitted what I’m about to tell Hades to anyone other than Dinlas, who set me on fire, and Thanatos, who saw me burn.
“Dinlas is the one who woke me to my magic. That night etched my body with fire for the first time, linking me to the source of my power. Maybe that’s all it was for. Ever since that night, we’ve kept our promise and held the line between us, not unlike the way you and I hold ours. Until last night.”
“There is no now, Hades. That night is nothing but a memory, though I’ve never found the right amount of whiskey to wash the taste of him from my tongue. Last night was a cruel trick of Fate, though I distinctly remember not inviting them to the party. We crossed a line that hasn’t blurred even once in forever. All to avoid awkward questions about something that’s none of anyone else’s business.”
Distaste flashes across Hades’ face. He’s as private as I am. “I meant what now for us, Hekate? You said you and Dinlas have held a line similar to how we hold ours. What line?”
I freeze, realizing I’ve been careless with the truth. The line with Hades is mine, drawn by me. One more thing I’ve hidden from him, but it makes everything with Dinlas look like child’s play.
“Every relationship has boundaries that define it. Even ours.” I take a deep breath and shift the conversation. “Dinlas aside, kissing him isn’t really what broke me, to use your words. It just softened the ground.”
“I offered those wishes last night, thinking, foolishly, that others would treat them with care. A rare and fragile gift of trust from someone who does not surrender control willingly, if at all.” The look Hades gives me makes it hard to breathe, makes me glad I don’t have to spell out the memory of handing my power over to him not once, but twice. “When Eris asked me to do some kind of magic to pull love for Atë, it was a dagger in an open wound. And yet, I gave my word to fulfill whatever he asked. That’s what broke me. Eris pitted me against myself, knowing that fulfilling one promise would mean failing the other. And he did it in front of my father. And in front of you.”
“You are not any less for that, Hekate. Eris was, in my eyes, a poor immortal to have in that situation because all they want to do is cause havoc. We have enough in this family who wish to do that, but just because it fell on you, does not mean I think any less of you. Zeus should feel the same, though I know he is clouded greatly at the moment.” Hades sighs, rubbing his jaw.
“At this point, I don’t care what Zeus feels.” I give Hades a cold look. “Everything I am is duty. For better or worse, in the absence of other things, this is what I chose. For Zeus to call me out and say I know nothing of the only thing I am and have ever been, and then to throw his own duty into the floor and walk away from it is the height of hypocrisy.”
I look away, knowing I can’t say the next thing with his eyes burning through me like they are. “And then, you left. I know why. I’m not faulting that. But it’s rare that I need someone. It’s rarer that I admit it to myself. And I suppose, since I’m sitting here and everything’s fine, I guess I didn’t need you, and it’s a moot point. Anyway, the party was a disaster, and my trust is back under lock and key, where it belongs. I wouldn’t suggest asking me to grant wishes or favors anytime soon, either.”
I give him a smile to let him know I’m joking. To let him know I’m not.
He clasps his hands together, staring at me square. “I would like to invite you to my home then. For rest and recuperation.”
His offer takes me by surprise. It takes a moment for the full realization of what he said to sink in. His home. “Why?”
His head tilts to the side, and I can see him chewing his cheek as he considers his answer. “Because I, too, am in a very vulnerable position. Being scrutinized by your peers is disconcerting, and even the hardiest of us need a chance to meditate on their surroundings.” He sits up, crossing a leg over his knee. “I know you may think this is unlike me to do, and you would be correct, but…I would not wish this feeling on anyone, least of all on you. If I can assist in helping alleviate that, then I will do so.”
He grabs his mug again, his thumb rubbing the handle absently before finishing its contents.
There it is again. That same soft strength, like the willows in his garden that bend but do not break. It’s the same vulnerability that was in his eyes as he sat beside me on the bed. It strikes me fully for the first time that this god I thought I knew, this known quantity, is more of a stranger to me than I realized. I’ve dealt with the King for most of our immortal spans. This is Hades.
I take a breath and meet him where he is. “I do feel a little like the target for the Poor Atë Fan Club lately.”
He nods once, and I wonder how he feels about Ate right now. “You would be left alone, as you like, to my properties. No duties, no responsibilities, but the ones you have to yourself.”
“I see.” I catch a hint of disappointment in my voice and pray Hades didn’t notice. “It’s been hundreds of years since I saw anything of your realm beyond our conversations in your office. You’ll have to arrange for someone to acquaint me.”
Hades raises an eyebrow at me. “You think I would not do so myself?”
“I think I choose not to presume what it means to be King and the time it takes to serve your people.”
His chuckle surprises me, makes me smile. “You are one of the few. I would, however, ensure you are looked after when I am not around.” A faint twinkle enters his eye. “Besides, who better to give the Witch Queen a tour of the Underworld than her King?”
“Is the King giving himself permission to take a day off?” I smirk. “Surely, the world cannot stand.”
“I do not rule over the world, Hekate. But I am sure a day or two would not hurt anyone. Alex and Thanatos are quite capable.”
“That they are.” I think about finishing my coffee, but know the dregs are cold, and I’m no longer interested. I take a deep breath and smile at Hades. “Well, since we’ve moved on to negotiations, it would seem I have said yes.”
He rises from the sofa, taking our mugs to the kitchen, then returns to stand before me with his hand out. “Shall we?”
“Is there somewhere else you’re supposed to be?”
I stand up on my own because I’m not that broken. It’s petty, but I don’t care. What’s important is what I do next.
I place my hand in his. “I’m at your pleasure, your Majesty.”
And we vanish.