As the wards seal Atë’s cell, Hades steps toward me and takes my arm. His grip is tight but not painful. I can tell by the firm way he is handling me that he is done here. He teleports us back to his office, and I feel my shoulders relax, the screams of the Pit fading in my ears. Hades lets go of me and takes a step back, saying nothing.
His eyes burn into me. He isn’t judging me, but neither is he pleased. I put my hands on my hips and stare him down.
“What? I didn’t touch her.”
He sighs, shaking his head. “No, you didn’t. Not physically anyway. Do you feel better? Did you get out of this what you hoped? To see Atë miserable?”
I don’t have to say anything. His words ignite a flash of guilt in me only he feels. Holding on to me like this, all he has to do is talk and let me roll through him like a wave. It’s a ruthless and instantaneous form of honesty.
“I’ll take that as your answer,” he says, crossing his arms. “Before I release your power, I need to tell you something, Hekate. But I have to be sure you are ready to listen and truly hear me.”
I open my mouth to give him hell for prolonging my captivity, but the serious tone in his voice stops me. He’s not toying with me. I uncross my arms and force myself to relax, knowing that he will be able to feel whether or not I’m open to him.
“Alright, I’m listening.”
“It’s no secret that I can see, hear, and feel every inner emotion and thought you have right now. You have already accused me of snooping in your thoughts, so you are aware.” He looks down, brow furrowing, weighing out his thoughts before speaking them. “Hekate, what is the source of your magic?”
His question is strange, rudimentary, but I answer it. “I pull energy from everything, but I’ve always used my emotions to shape it. It’s like shaping clay. The clay has no form without direction from the one throwing it. My emotions shape my magic.”
“So, to further your analogy, if the energy is clay, then your emotions are the wheel that turns the clay and gives it form. It takes the unfocused material and gives it beauty or purpose?”
“Yes. Although pottery can’t level a city block. I can.”
“Yes, I understand the difference there.” His lips twist in a smile as he pauses again. He’s considering his words so carefully. He acts like a man who has fallen into brambles and is trying to choose the best path out of his predicament. “If you lost your wheel, could you make pottery from clay?”
“Well, I could, I suppose. But it would be difficult. And the results would be…heavy. Not as well-formed. And that’s if I could keep it from collapsing in the first place.”
“Exactly. So, if you can’t make clay into pottery without a wheel, what makes you think you can shape energy into magic without emotions?
“Well, of course, I can’t.” I give him an arch look. “Is this conversation actually going somewhere, Hades?”
He brushes my barbed comment aside like just another thorn. “You are walling off your emotions, Hekate. You are walling them off and failing miserably. The only thing you have succeeded in doing is disabling the tool that shapes your magic. You fear me, fear having feelings for me. Instead of facing that fear, you have walled it off and, with it, your magic.”
Hades steps towards me, and I take an involuntary step back, trying to keep the truth in his words at bay.
“I see it plain as day,” he continues, “but I think it’s too personal, too close, for you to see. Or perhaps I should say admit.”
Every word he says is like a lash on bare skin. And with him in control of me like this, I’m naked, and he knows it. I know it.
“Your emotions are strong,” he says in a low voice. “They mold you, shape you. They define every inch of who you are. The Witch Queen, The Bitch Queen. Loyal to a fault and just as unforgiving when the coin flips. Let yourself go, Hekate. Let yourself be vulnerable and trusting again. Then, and only then, will your magic return.”
I know the tang of truth in his words. I can taste it. I want to deny it, but I can see my emotions flickering in his eyes. He’s held me long enough.
“Are you going to give me back to myself, Hades, or do I have to take it?”
He gives me a flat look and pulls up his sleeve again, revealing the all-too-familiar tattoo. “You need take nothing from me. I freely give you back yourself, as was my promise.”
I grasp his forearm again, laying my hand on his tattoo. The ink flares again, and I feel the energy reverse, flowing out of him and into me. It’s a torrent, pouring through me like a raging river, rushing back in to fill every crevice of my voided self.
As it does, I feel something different. It’s foreign but familiar. Looking up into his eyes, I realize it’s him. It’s his energy, mingling with mine, the same flow I felt the night he gathered up the broken pieces of me and held them until I could pull myself back together.
Warm, safe, intoxicating…those are the words that come to mind as my eyes drift shut and I wrap myself around the small piece of him. His energy laces mine like a drug, powerful and addictive. I open my eyes and look up into his. He is frozen, startled, as though he didn’t mean to give me that small taste of what might be.
I lift my hand from his arm, breaking the connection. I don’t look down, but I know his tattoo is fading back into flat ink. We are silent for a long time, unable to look away from each other. When he speaks, his voice is low, something meant for the bedroom, not the office.
“Use that, if it helps. I will admit it was unintentional, but nevertheless, it happened, and I know you felt it. There is no sense pretending you didn’t.”
And that’s where he’s wrong. I’m not pretending. I can’t. Not after that. I don’t know if it’s his words or the shock of our energies being reversed–him inside me instead of me inside him. But the next thing I know, I’m hurling myself at him, like he was the wall instead of the reason for it, and all I want to do is bring him down.
This kiss is nothing like the last one I gave him. That one I handled with care and forethought. This one is the opposite. I’m not thinking at all, and I don’t care that we’re standing in his office, or that Alex or anyone could walk in at any moment. I want him, down to my bones, and damn everything else.
He steps backward, sitting on the edge of his desk, absorbing the force of my body careening into his. I press against him, one hand gripping the back of his neck, the other hand clutching a fistful of his shirt. His hands run up my back and tangle themselves in my hair, pinning my mouth against his every bit as hard as I’m pinning him against his desk.
It’s like it was before, that night I bartered my freedom for a kiss, and yet different. I’m no longer that pale, hesitant, wild creature he is trying not to startle. The kid gloves are off. His mouth is turning me inside out, the way he moves his hands over my hips, the delicious nip of his teeth on my lower lip.
That’s when I feel it. The heat…sliding beneath the surface of my skin as surely as his hands are sliding over me. The pretty little wall I built between us doesn’t crumble as much as it disappears, combusting. Once again, I’m trembling in his arms, the same way I did in the garden when he tasted me for the first time. The thought sends a different shudder through me.
I remember. He doesn’t. He doesn’t even know. I realize that if I don’t stop, he could remember. That can’t happen.
I push away from him hard, gasping. I’m grateful he gave my emotions back before that memory was laid out for him to see. I look down and notice my hands and arms have the ember-like tracings of my magic. My power has been restored, just as he said it would.
Hades refuses to let go of me, even as I pull back. His hands move to my shoulders, but he doesn’t loosen his grip. His eyes are dark, hungry, a mirror of mine. He looks closely at me, and I would swear he sniffed the air as though he could smell the fear on me.
“Why do you pull away? Do you think I am going to let you go that easily?”
“I think you should, before…” I stop, not wanting to give voice to the war my mind is losing to my body.
Hades frowns, his grip relaxing. “Before what?”
His hands may have released me, but his eyes have not. I can feel the razor’s edge of my emotions pressing against the delicate flesh of my heart, ready to cut me if I move wrong. And I can still feel the part of him that he gave me, feel him and his desire through it.
And suddenly it occurs to me how easy it would be to divert all this intensity, all this urgency into the physical. Get it done and over with, and out of our systems, before our hearts get involved and ruin a good fuck.
I give him a look that I hope burns his self-control to the ground. “Is this what you want? Do you want me right here? Right now?”
Secretly, part of me is hoping he’ll say yes. Because I can think of five different ways I want him to take me on this desk. Because the longer I have to play this game, the more I wager…and, the more I wager, the more I stand to lose.
“Answering a question with a question? Alright, I will play along.” He doesn’t even flinch. “What I want is the time and space for us to fully explore one another. After all, we are immortal. I am ready and willing to move at your pace, but that doesn’t mean I won’t nudge you along at times when I think you are dawdling. So, I think you need to ask yourself that question. What do you want, Hekate?”
“We definitely broke down a wall a minute ago. But I see you building others already.” He lets go of my arms and looks me in the eye. “So, what will it be? Witch Queen…or Bitch Queen?”
If he keeps talking like that, I’m going to assume he has a preference for the latter, I think to myself.
“To put it bluntly, fucking you would be safer.” I hurl the words at him. He treats them like the empty air they are.
“That doesn’t answer the question. Is that what you want? Perhaps you need some time to think about it. You know my feelings, you have felt my feelings. You just don’t seem to know your own.”
“Goddamn it, Hades! You want to know how I feel? Then, add it to your list of things to spy on the next time you’re in my head!”
His smile is a well-laid trap. “Already thinking about the next time, hmm?”
And just like that, the battle’s won. There’s nothing I can say that won’t reveal too much or conceal too little. I turn on my heel and leave his office, ceding the field.
Better that than losing the war.