Aside from the impending doom over our heads, I felt better after visiting my sister. So much so that I caught myself humming a little in the elevator back to my office. I smiled at Aphaid as I walked past them. “Any messages?”
“Yes, m’lady.” They handed me a small stack of paper.
I absently thumbed through them while walking into my office. As my awareness of the room came into focus, I noticed a bright white envelope in the middle of my desk. I hesitated to pick it up. The last time I’d opened something without knowing what it was, I ended up as a teenager locked in the pocket dimension my father put us in as children. Reaching into a drawer, I grabbed a letter opener and poked the envelope with it. When nothing happened, I used my tool to flip the envelope over. There was a wax seal with a lightning bolt pressed into it.
I growled, “That son of a bitch.” I snatched the envelope up and tore through the wax seal to see what was so important that my darling husband had to send a letter instead of telling me to my face.
I’m coming home.
I expected to feel the pain of sadness that had been following me like a dark cloud for all these months. Instead, all I felt was anger. I was seething, and it needed an outlet, and my husband just volunteered. I gripped the paper so tightly it ripped. It’s time to plan my love’s homecoming.
I threw the door to my office open so hard that when it hit the wall, the doorknob stuck. “Aphaid!”
“Yes, Lady Hera?” They straightened in their chair.
“My husband is coming home.”
“Are we celebrating?” They tilted their head slightly.
I walked past them with a smirk on my face. “That’s one way to say it. You might want to go home early.”
They stood up. “Yes, ma’am.”
I stepped into the elevator and turned around. “Oh, Aphaid?” They turned to me, and when they paled I knew lightning was flashing through my eyes. As the doors closed, I said, “You’d better call that code.” If I didn’t know better, they looked afraid.
I rode the elevator in silence. We had various codes in place that elicited different responses. Everyone was familiar with Code Adam for when a child went missing. We locked down the complex, and no one went in or out until we found the child. Of course, as gods, that tended to be pretty quick. We had Code Kyklos for when a couple of gods got into a heated argument. That was because heavy things often got thrown, as well as deadly things, and we didn’t want to kill the mortals. It also gave the other gods notice so that they could go somewhere else if they so chose. There was also a Code Typhon for extinction level events that have nothing to do with my temper. The biggest one, though, the one we never wanted to use was Code Io. That’s the code I instructed Aphaid to call.
Everyone was in danger when that happened. Why? Because that was when Zeus and I fought. I didn’t mean argue or even throw things at each other. I meant, when we got so upset, so passionate in our arguing, that we used the fullest extent of our powers on each other. The last time I let out a fraction of that, I exploded the top half of the complex, shattered windows on the way down, and cracked neighboring buildings. I planned on doing so much more than that to my husband when he walked through that door.
I pulled a chair to the center of our bedroom and got comfortable. I had no idea how long it would take him to get home, but I planned on meeting him. My anger festered while I waited and I let it. Eventually, the bedroom door opened, and my husband, the light of my life, my heart, the breath in my lungs, glided in with a smile so big, the sparkle of his teeth outshone our Tiffany chandelier. It just pissed me off more.
“Honey, I’m home!” He giggled and tossed some things over to the bed before looking at me. His disregard was the last straw. I shot up and clenched my fists, barely contained power sparking over my skin.
“You left me.” I narrowed my eyes.
“I..uh..but..well..” he stuttered, backing away slightly.
“You. Left. Me!” I took a step closer with each word.
He held his hands up. “Now, Hera. Let’s talk about this.”
I ground my teeth together and growled loudly. “You! Left! Me!” I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I flung out my right hand, arcing power towards him. As it connected, his body exploded and reformed as a donkey…well, an ass, to be more precise.
“Hee-haaaw.” He shook his elongated head and shifted back to god form. “Okay, I get it. I’m an ass for leaving you. Will you please sit down?” He reached his hands toward me, and I flung out my left hand, another arc of power hitting him.
His body arched backward, and he fell to his belly on the floor, his new serpentine body slithering closer. His tongue flicked in and out quickly, and he shifted back to god form. “I know. I’m a low-down dirty snake for leaving you. Will you please let me explain?”
“You! Left! Me!” The sky went black, and a deluge of rain battered against the windows. Webs of lightning streaked across the sky. I was pulling power from the storm, and both of my hands flung toward him, hitting him with an even larger blast of anger-fueled power. The walls shook dangerously, and the windows started to crack as his body contorted in on itself. He fell to the floor again, this time coming together as a scorpion. I moved to step on him, but he was quicker and shifted back into god form again.
“Woman! Enough!” The power behind those words crashed into me and bound me to my spot. It reverberated through the building, making it sway, and shattered the windows. It would have thrown a lesser being through the wall behind me, but I have never been a lesser anything. I was the queen, and I stood my ground. Unfortunately, the adrenaline was passing through my body quickly, and I started to feel exhaustion follow in its wake. Damn, I’d really used a lot of power.
We stared at each other, sparks flying from our fingers, storms racing across our eyes, chests heaving from the exertion. The storm outside raged on. The sky got even darker, and the rain fell in sheets. Eventually, the rain slowed, and the clouds lightened. Zeus’s shoulders slumped, and he hung his head in defeat. I tested his hold on me, but I was still locked in place.
“I’m sorry.” He lifted his face to meet mine, and I saw it. His desperate need for me to believe him was clear in his eyes. I may have calmed down over the years, but I still wanted to throw heavy furniture at his head. My body was frozen, so I used the only thing I could, my voice.
“You left me,” I said that probably one hundred times since he came back, but this time, instead of anger, my words were filled with sadness. “You left me,” I whispered as a single tear fell from my eye.
He took a deep breath and walked to me, his thumb wiping the tear away. “I know.” He leaned his forehead against mine and whispered, “I know.”
“I died, Hera. I’ve never died before. You’ve been locked in our father’s pocket dimension before.” He put a finger against my lips when I opened my mouth. “I’m not discounting how painful it was, but it was familiar to you. Death wasn’t familiar to me. And when I finally woke up, you were gone, and no one knew where you were. I thought I’d finally done something you couldn’t forgive me for, and you left me.”
I pressed my lips together to stay quiet. He needed to get this out, and I needed to hear it.
“I lost my center. Even though we tried to get back to normal afterward, I still felt off-balance.” He took my hand and placed it over his heart. “I had to put myself together again so I could be the king I needed to be. To be the man you deserved.”
I took a steadying breath. “We’re a team. Just because you die doesn’t mean you face life alone. Dying doesn’t excuse your selfish actions.”
He shook his head. “I had to do it alone for it to be authentic. Otherwise, I’d keep wondering if I was going to fall apart. I’d continue questioning myself. You have always been my strength. What good was I to you if I didn’t feel whole? No. I had to do it alone, Hera. Please understand that.”
It took several minutes of staring into his eyes before my ire started to fade. I suddenly felt tired, not just tired, but bone-weary. I was weary from all the energy I had just expended. Weary of being mad at him. Weary of not being happy. Weary of being alone. When my shoulders slumped, I felt his power release me. I fell into his arms, resting my head on his shoulder.
“We are a big mess, aren’t we, Zeus?”
“I wouldn’t have you any other way, my dear.”
We stood there in silence, with him smoothing my hair and occasionally kissing my cheek as I listened to the cadence of his heart. It was a sound I had built my own life around. When he picked me up in his arms and carried me to the bed, I knew we would be okay. We would always be okay.
- The Trials of Herakles, Part VII - September 1, 2022
- The Trials of Herakles, Part VI - November 5, 2021
- Herakles, Part V - October 18, 2021