It takes less than a second after I step from the shower, wrapping a towel around my waist, to realize my wife is upset. My pregnant wife has been slightly unpredictable as of late. In other words, she tried to stab me with a pair of tweezers while I was sleeping and then jumped me a moment after I woke up.
At the moment, she’s pacing the bathroom, waiting for me. I sigh audibly. “What is it?”
She glances at me, nibbling her lower lip. “Worried.”
Okay, Aren, work with me here.
I lift the towel to the side of my head, dry my hair, and head to the closet. “About?”
From the bedroom, she mumbles, “Telling our daughter.”
Yanking on some jeans, I zip the fly up, still toweling off my hair. “What about it?”
Frowning, I turn to find a t-shirt to pull on, almost jumping out of my skin to find Clio behind me. She’s becoming almost scary silent.
Her hand drifts down to cover her stomach. “I don’t think telling her about the baby will go over well.”
Yanking a long-sleeve t-shirt over my head, I huff irritatedly when I find a small fox shaped bite mark on its sleeve.
My former sanctuary is now a menagerie.
“Why do you think that?” I murmur, tossing the towel into the hamper.
Clio wraps her arms around her stomach, which she only does when she’s extremely distressed. “Just a feeling.”
My irritation at Duck finding his way into my clothes and chewing on them fades away. I move to pull my wife into my arms, letting her burrow into my chest.
She rests her head on my shoulder. “Lykos, we have only had her back for a few months… I’m just scared.”
I am too. I won’t say that out loud, because she needs me to be strong.
“I know.” I pull back, cradle her face in my hands, and make her look up at me, her magnificent eyes locking on mine. “Together, remember?”
We can do anything.
She stands on her tiptoes, kissing me gently. “Together.”
Linking my hand with hers, I pull us out of the closet and to our daughter’s room. Usually, she would be homeschooling with Clio at the moment, but Hedone was given the day off for this very reason.
Clio’s thumb is tracing frantic circles on the back of my hand, her lower lip caught between her teeth. “Thávma?”
Hedone arrives at the door, pulling her bright pink cat-eared headphones off her head at the sight of us. “Yes?”
Din and Las chuff at the sight of us and come to her side. Duck is curled into a ball, asleep on Las’s wide back.
“Your mother and I have something to tell you.”
Hedone immediately blanches, and I can feel her distress through the heart tie we share. I try to send her calming images to relax her, but they bounce off.
Hedone opens the door wider, gesturing us both in. “Okay…is something wrong?” she murmurs, watching as we move to sit on the bed, nibbling her lower lip, mimicking her mother exactly.
Looking down at Hedone’s bed, I let out an audible sigh when I pick up a large fluff of white fur. “They’re not supposed to sleep on the bed!”
Hedone giggles. Clio relaxes slightly, linking her arm with mine, and resting her head on my shoulder. “But Pater, how could I say no to that face?”
Hedone gets down on her knees, kissing Din’s face. The tiger shoots me a triumphant look when she’s done.
I wait for Clio to speak, but when she doesn’t, I blurt out, “How do you feel about being a big sister?”
Hedone stands slowly, tilting her head, and confusion pulses through our bond. “A big sister?”
Clio’s hand tightens on mine, her nails digging in. “Your Miteras is pregnant.”
The room is silent for a few agonizing minutes, punctuated only by the animal’s breathing. Tears spring to my daughter’s eyes, and I wish I could claw my heart out of my chest and offer it to her. “Was I…Was I not good enough?”
My brow furrows, and Clio’s grip tightens on my hand. “This is happy news.”
Hedone shakes her head. “Really? Because it seems like it is just good news for you.”
Clio finally speaks up, “Kori…”
I stand slowly, unfurling every inch of my height. “Understand this, thávma. This was not planned or done with any intention of hurting you, and this baby will be just as much yours as ours.”
Hedone’s anger snaps, and it locks me out of our bond, sealing her heart from me. Fuck, when did she learn that?
Clio stands slowly at my side, her hand gripping mine even tighter. “Kori, we love you.”
“Sure you do,” Hedone hisses, tears falling.
“You want someone to blame?” I say. “Blame me.”
“Eros…” Clio whispers, her hold on my hand loosening.
“It’s both of your faults!” Hedone cries, storming from the room. The slam of the front door echoing as she leaves the floor.
Clio and I race after her. I grip Hedone’s arm tightly, making her face me. “Think for a moment! Do you think we will love you any less?”
Hedone’s tears continue to fall from her eyes, but she doesn’t look at me. “You’re replacing me.”
“Never.” She doesn’t look at me, and I don’t need a heart tie to know that she doesn’t believe me. “I can prove it to you if you come with me somewhere.”
The elevator dings, and I gesture my wife and daughter inside, standing between them.
Even though Hedone is upset, she doesn’t fight me when I put my arm around her. She curls into me, wiping her tears on my shirt.
Outside the GC HQ, I release my wife and daughter, rolling my shoulders repeatedly, my wings slowly unfurling. Hedone follows my lead, her own wings shooting out, a beautiful iridescent mix of her mother’s and mine. Her wings were feathered like mine, but a kaleidoscope of colors like her mother’s.
“Lykos, you know I’m not good at this,” Clio murmurs.
She’s right. Her wings were more delicate, fairy-like. They were not built for long trips like mine and Hedone’s.
I sweep Clio into my arms. Looking back at my daughter, I wink. “Follow me.”
Clio lets out a short scream of surprise when I launch into the air, soaring high with only a couple beats of my wings.
Clio buries her face into my neck, gripping me tightly. My daughter’s delighted laugh makes me smile brightly.
The flight ends far too soon, Mount Olympus coming into view. Landing softly on the marble steps, I glance over as my daughter stands next to me, both of us pulling our wings back in.
Clio releases her grip on my neck and gains her feet. “Why are we here?”
I offer my hands to Clio and Hedone, waiting for them both before I lead them to our destination.
“This is Mount Olympus, where we all used to live.” The sprawling marble campus is empty, eerily so. The creeping ivy is crawling over the pillars, nature reclaiming its home.
“I grew up here,” guiding them to my private apartments, I push the door open with my shoulder, “Dinlas did not.”
“Why not?” Hedone murmurs.
Releasing my daughter and wife’s hands, I move forward, getting down on my knees, searching for something under my bed. “My Miteras, she was not like yours, thávma. She was not kind, gentle, and loving. Well, rather she wasn’t in anything but appearance.”
My hands grip the items I stashed under there so long ago, pulling out two small, child-sized training swords. I shake off the dust that lingers on them. “I was her firstborn, her angel.”
Holding out the hilt of one of the training swords, I wait for my daughter to take it. Clio leans against the doorway, watching us silently. My daughter takes the sword from me, twisting it in her hand.
Looking down at my own weapon, I smile wistfully at it. “I made these when I was six, with my father’s help. He was going to take me to see Dinlas in the Underworld. Where my twin brother grew up.”
Because I failed him, I never said anything. I never spoke up. I…I failed him.
I laugh sadly, twirling the sword around my wrist. “I thought it would be fun to play warriors with him.”
Hedone draws my attention, poking me lightly with her sword. “What happened?”
“My mother found out. She forbade me from ever going, forcing my father to promise never to do the same.” I look down at my sword again. “But I still went. I dragged these little swords all the way to the Underworld, back when it was easier to sneak in.” Before the Titans. I laugh hoarsely. “He punched me in the face.”
Hedone drops her arm and sword. “Oh.”
“He told me to go back to our mother and never return, that I didn’t belong there. I never forgot that, and I kept these swords to remind me.”
Hedone comes closer, resting her hand on my arm. “To remind you?”
My eyes connect with hers, and our bond starts to return again, the block she established slowly crumbling, “To remind me that I was too late. I failed him.” Whispering hoarsely to my daughter, “Is that what you want, thávma?”
Hedone shakes her head, looking back at Clio, her gaze dropping to her stomach. “No.”
“This baby will be yours as much as ours. I want you to succeed where I failed, my treasured daughter. Do you want to?”
Hedone’s gaze returns to me, her jaw tightening stubbornly. “I want to succeed.”
Leaning forward, I kiss her forehead softly. “You will protect and love your siblings? Unlike your father?”
Determination pulses through our bond from her. “Yes, Pater.”
Brushing some of her golden hair from her face, I tuck it behind her ear. “I love you, thávma, that will never change, no matter how many times your mother lets me knock her up.”
Clio’s face flames, and she immediately admonishes me, “Eros!”
Hedone giggles at us, and I wink at her before answering my wife, “What? I’m just being honest.” I whisper loudly to my daughter, “Your mother just can’t get enough of me.”
Clio stomps her foot, her face turning an even brighter red. Hedone whispers loudly back to me, “Ooh, you made her mad…”
Taking the small sword from my daughter, I tuck both under the bed. “I seem to have that gift. Why don’t you head home? I’ll let you get a head start. You’re going to need it.”
Hedone’s eyes spark with interest. “Do I get something if I win?”
“What kind of race would it be if you didn’t?”
I barely get the words out before she’s sprinting out of the apartment, her wings already out, launching into the air.
Clio turns to follow our daughter, but I murmur, “Aren.”
Her face is still a bright red. “Hm?”
“I won’t fail either. I promise you. Things will be different for us.”
She closes the distance between us, linking our hands. “I trust you.”
Tell her everything.
Guilt burns me, and I whisper, “I didn’t tell her the whole story.”
She places a hand on my cheek. “Tell me.”
Her touch lends me the strength I need to tell her everything, to give voice to my shame. “He hit me…and I lashed out.”
Clio’s brow furrows. “What do you mean…you lashed out?”
I close my eyes for a long moment before locking on hers again. “I told him that our mother was right to discard him. That I should have listened to her when she said he was nothing.”
Clio visibly winces. “Oh, Eros…”
She presses closer to me, wrapping her arms around me. “Did you ever apologize to him?”
“No. I never saw him again, I made every excuse to not go to the underworld again. I saw him once at our wedding.”
Her arms tighten around me slightly. “And? Did you speak to him?”
Shaking my head, my throat closing with shame. “I never told him I didn’t mean it, that I lashed out. That I’m sorry I failed him. I didn’t want Hedone to have the same regrets.”
She lifts her face to mine, our eyes locking. “I think you are an amazing father, and I know we won’t allow our children to dislike each other. Maybe you should apologize to your brother.”
My eyes dart away from hers. “It was a long time ago, I doubt he even remembers.”
“I think the gesture could mean a lot to him.”
Clearing my throat, I pull away from her. “We need to catch up to her.”
She nods, frowning slightly. “You go ahead. I’ll only slow you down.”
Scoffing, I swoop her into my arms, carrying her out of my apartment. I snap my wings out and launch into the sky, speed burning my limbs. “Oh, ye of little faith.”