The instinct that told me to put on my gym clothes that morning was right. The fearsome, dreadful twins weren’t in their room in the God Complex but on the battlefield, getting their daily workout in. By the time I had arrived, they’d just finished up a warm-up and were trying to decide what to do for the day. “What will it be today, Phobos?” Deimos asked, rubbing his chin like he always did.
Phobos started cracking his knuckles with an intense grin on his face. “Free-for-all. No rules. First to pass out losses.”
Deimos sighed, shaking his head while facepalming. “That’s all you ever want to fucking do. We do need some structure in our training, for fuck’s sake.”
“Remind me, Deimos, which of our victories were born of structure?” Phobos challenged with a knowing grin. There were no rules in war. We all knew that. It was a fact that had been drilled into us for years. Was there honor? Yes. Did history look well on those who fought with honor? Sure. But if they died and lost the battle, honor was about as valuable as our drachmas were after Greece’s most recent recession.
Of course, that didn’t mean that structure and strategy didn’t have their place. If that were the case, Dad never would’ve taught us how to fight. He would’ve just released us into the wild and said, Go, my children. Have fun. Be free.
“Do you two not realize that you can have both?” I called out to them with my arms crossed over my chest.
“Adrestia!” they shouted in unison when they saw I had joined them. Phobos dashed over to me as fast as he could. I didn’t move out of the way or open my arms to him for the inevitable impact. I just kept standing there with my arms crossed as the brute-ish meat-head scooped me up into his arms, lifting me off the ground. Anyone else would’ve snapped in half from the sheer force behind my brother’s embrace. Not me. I’d gotten used to his spine cracking hugs and had built up the necessary muscle strength to withstand them. Although there was a chance that my time away had left me out of practice. I did feel the beginnings of a bruise at the small of my back.
“Good to see you too, Phobos,” I stated flatly. I wasn’t a terribly affectionate person with most people, not even my own family. Eros was kind of the exception to the rule, and that was not through my choice. The little shit insisted upon it.
“It’s good to see you again, Adrestia,” Deimos said, approaching me calmly and only pulling me into a half hug from the side.
“You too, Deimos.” I dug into my pocket and pulled out my dreadful brother’s credit card, handing it to him with my fore and middle finger. “I think you’re missing this.”
Deimos took the card with furrowed brows that shot up in surprised frustration when he got a better look at the card. “Eros?” I nodded in confirmation. “Little shit.”
“My sentiments exactly,” I agreed. “You won’t believe—”
I couldn’t finish my sentence before Phobos interrupted me. “Wait!” Phobos barked, calling everyone to a stop. He started looking me up and down, taking in the sight of me. Was there something on my face? “Who did this to you?”
“Did what?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“This,” Phobos said, pointing to my eye. Oh, right. Sergai. I was still healing up from my experience with the former Russian soldier. The black eye had gone down a lot, but it was still pretty obvious. “Who did this to you?” Phobos repeated, adding a growl to his voice.
“Heel, BoBo. I’m the one who picked the fight, and I made him eat concrete.” The truth didn’t seem to pacify my brother, whose hair would’ve started standing on end if it wasn’t military short. His twisted, angry face grew a deep red as his breathing became heavier.
“We want a name,” Deimos jumped in. Even though he was more level-headed than his twin, he still looked like he was ready to kill someone. The only difference was that Phobos looked like a rabid dog ready to tear a throat out. Deimos looked like a strategizing general who strategically played the long game, but was still looking to destroy whoever hurt me.
“I can take care of myself, you know. I’ve only been doing it for the last two thousand years.” Seriously. Phobos, Deimos, and Eros always treated me like I was so damn fragile and sensitive and a smol bean. It didn’t matter that I could keep up with—and even out-do them sometimes—on the battlefield. They treated me like a doll, ready to break at any moment.
“This isn’t about whether you can take care of yourself, Adrestia,” Deimos said, looking down at me with loving seriousness. “No one hurts our little sister and gets away with it.”
“What part of I picked the fight, and I made him eat concrete, don’t you get? He’s been taken care of. It’s fine.”
“It is not fine!” Phobos screamed. Two thousand years, and he still had no chill.
“Well, then I’m not telling you who it is,” I stated, readjusting my crossed arms. “You can’t just beat up everyone in the world in hopes of getting the right guy.”
“Watch us!” Phobos screamed again. He started moving forward and past me when Deimos stopped him with a hand on his chest. “Get off me!” Phobos and Deimos rarely fought—if ever—so seeing Pho scream at Deimos like that was frightening, even for me as the onlooker.
“There’s an easier way, Phobos. We can get the information we want, and we won’t have to get arrested to do it.” I couldn’t say that I wasn’t starting to worry that Deimos had clearly found a loophole.
Phobos also seemed surprised. “What did you have in mind?”
“Well, Adrestia thinks she’s a big girl now who can take care of herself, right? Why don’t we put that theory to the test?”
“Ahhhh,” Phobos said, nodding and smiling with his twin as they turned their gazes back to me. “Good idea, Deimos.”
“What do you say, Adrestia? Why don’t you prove to your big brothers what a big girl you are now?” Their mocking tones irritated almost as much as Eros’s did. Almost. “If you fail, you tell us who hurt you, and you don’t try to stop us from finding them.”
I quirked an eyebrow and asked, “And what happens when I prove that I’m perfectly capable? What do I get?”
“Well, what do you want?” Deimos asked. I actually had to think about it. I wasn’t a big gambler, so I never knew what to demand that would be worth what was asked of me.
“How about you both stop babying me and treat me like an adult from here on out?” I offered.
“Deal,” my brothers said in unison, offering their huge hands out to me. I shook them one after the other. “Shall we begin?”
“No time like the present,” I said, brushing between them to the middle of the battlefield. I cracked my knuckles, stretching my neck to the sides for a quick warm-up. “So who’s first?”
“First?” Phobos asked.
“Yeah. Who am I taking on first?”
“Oh, Adrestia,” Deimos condescended, shaking his head at me. “We never said we were doing this one at a time.”
Did I say that Eros was the king of fighting dirty? Because these two would’ve been the regent kings for this trick alone. That’s what I had to tell myself to keep myself from feeling like a total idiot for falling for it.
So there I was, all five-foot-nine of me, in the middle of the battlefield, with two gym rats who were over six-feet tall circling me like two lions circling an antelope. If this weren’t a friendly family competition, I would probably be scared. But not likely.
I kept myself in a defensive stance that was guarded but light-footed at the same time. I looked between my brothers, wondering if they had changed their tactics at all in the last two thousand years.
Out of nowhere, Phobos charged at me, screaming at the top of his lungs. You just can’t teach an old dog new tricks, can you?
I turned my back to Phobos, hyper focusing on Deimos, who was moving more tactfully and quietly. He’d actually managed to halve the distance between us before I’d turned. A simple step to the side at the last minute took me out of Phobos’s warpath.
The second my brother passed, I spun up behind him and leaped onto his back. My legs wrapped around his abdomen and locked into place at my ankles. Meanwhile, my right arm slipped over his shoulder and around his neck. My hand rested comfortably into the crook of my left elbow, and my left hand rested on the back of my brother’s head, a subtle warning that I had the upper hand at that moment. All I had to do was squeeze, and I would start cutting off the circulation of blood to Phobos’s head. Once that started, he would have a limited amount of time to get me to loosen my grip before he completely passed out.
Once Phobos and Deimos both froze in place, I asked, “Two thousand years, and you two still haven’t switched it up? What have you been doing this whole time?”
“Oh, we were just taking it easy on you, Tia,” Deimos scoffed.
“Good to see that you’ve finally stopped falling for the bleeding obvious, though. We’re proud of you.” I could tell by Phobos’s tone that he was grinning condescendingly as he patted the arm that was around his neck. It wasn’t a tap of surrender. He had no reason to do so yet. It was the pat of Aw, you’re so cute. I had taken a lot of pats like that over the years from practically everyone in the family. Most felt my wrath after doing so.
They were trying to piss me off. To get me to break focus.
It wasn’t going to work. Taunting was Eros’s forte, and he was ten-times better at it than these two meat-heads.
Out of nowhere, Phobos grabbed my arm with both of his hands and bent forward, attempting to throw me off of him. I managed to squeeze my arms and legs as tight as possible at the very last second. Rather than being thrown onto my back and forced to release my brother, I stayed clinging to him. The move didn’t go entirely the way I wanted. I could’ve pulled any other person to the ground with me until they were back in my chokehold, but with Phobos’s sheer size, it was impossible to do that. So instead, I just came back up with him when he stood up straight. But I still took the impact against the ground. That was going to leave a nasty bruise.
Even when Phobos straightened up, I didn’t stop squeezing his neck. I couldn’t afford to, he was going to keep trying to throw me off of him until he succeeded. That meant more back bruises were coming in hot, and too many of those would mean my loss for the fight. I needed to start cutting off the blood flow to make him weaker. It was now or never.
When a second pair of hands grabbed at my under my arms, I realized I had done the one thing I told myself not to do. I’d forgotten about Deimos. And true to his word, his touch sent a shiver of dread down my spine.
“Tsk, tsk, Adrestia. When will you learn?” That was the only lecture my brother gave before his fingers start wiggling at the sensitive skin of my armpits.
Yep. I, the Goddess of the Revolt, she who can not be escaped…was fucking ticklish. That had been a secret that, fortunately, stayed within the family for safety purposes. That didn’t make it any less embarrassing.
I tried holding my breath to keep from screaming out, but all it really did was muffle my squeals for a short time. Besides, it became impossible even to do that much when Phobos decided to join in the fray. His fat fingers started playing at the back of my knees like he was playing the fucking piano. It was clumsy, to be sure, but it was still too much.
Instinct took over. My legs unlatched from Phobos’s torso while I threw my elbows back, trying to get Deimos off of me. The result was that I tumbled into Deimos’s arms trust-fall style with Phobos gripping my legs and keeping them suspended. “No! Stop!” I screeched.
“Do you surrender?” Phobos taunted.
“No!” I shouted with a scowl. I started struggling to get out of my brother’s grasps, but they paid my kicking and squirming no mind.
Deimos gave his best friend a mischievous grin. “What do you think, Phobos? To the river?”
“You read my mind.”
“No!” The looming threat made me squirm harder.
“Then give in!” the brothers of war demanded in unison.
“Fine! I give!” I shouted. Once I had given my surrender, my brother’s released my torso and legs, dropping me straight to the ground. “That was a dirty fucking trick!”
“All’s fair in love and war, Adrestia.” Basically, that was our family motto, and nothing annoyed me more than when it was used against me, especially by the two ass-hats who had just gone for the biggest low-blow ever.
Fine. Two can play at that game.
Deimos was the one to offer me a hand and help me to my feet. “Now, little sister. We want a name.”
With a heavy sigh, I admitted, “His name was Sergai.”
“Sergai what?” Phobos growled out.
“I don’t know. I never caught his last name.” My older brothers gave me a long, hard look, trying to determine if I was lying. “Oh, and you two take the time to hear your opponent’s life story? Come on! There wasn’t exactly time for pleasantries.”
“Well, where did you meet him?” Deimos asked.
“Ah, ah, ah,” I tsked. “The bet was that I give you a name and don’t stop you from finding him. I never promised you any other information.” It certainly did pay to have a trickster for an older brother. It made you choose your words carefully and examine the words of others with equal care.
“That’s not fair!” Phobos screamed.
I shrugged. “May not be fair, but it’s the way it is.” With that, I turned on my heels and started walking back to the God Complex. “It was good to see you both.”