“I told you I’m fine!” I yelled to my three older brothers, who were carrying me by the arms and the legs. Why they thought I would be more comfortable in this position, I’ll never know. Being suspended between the boys while they dashed down the dirt road back toward home was so uncomfortable. I felt like they were trying to shake my bones out of my body, especially since they were all completely out of step with each other. How long had Father been struggling to teach these jerks how to march in synchronicity with one another? I had no trouble catching on. Why did they?
The panic of the moment was probably making them forget all the basics. “Shut up, Tia! Mother will hear you!” Eros snapped. His eyes were only visible when his feet landed on the ground with each jog. Outside of that, his messy bangs obstructed those windows to his soul.
“Shut up, Eros!” Phobos roared.
“You shut up!” Eros snapped back.
“All of you need to shut up,” Deimos said with loud authority that still wasn’t yelling, bringing all of our attention back to the matter at hand. My bleeding leg.
“Why can’t you ever just stay home when we tell you to?” Phobos growled in frustration.
“I wanna have fun, too!” I pouted up at my eldest brother, who was already growing abnormally dense at this young age.
“You’re supposed to have fun staying home with Mama,” Deimos pointed out.
Yes, it was Mother’s job to be my teacher, but everything Father did just held so much more interest for me. And like any young immortal, I wasn’t interested in doing anything that bored me. For Tartarus’ sake, my brothers were no different. Eros was already showing his penchant for mischief and pranks. Not just for us and the other younger gods in the family, but sometimes he was even ballsy enough to play practical jokes on our elders. He didn’t have the guts to mess with Mom and Dad’s heads yet, but no one else was safe.
Phobos and Deimos were already strutting around, throwing around the weight of being Ares’ boys.
So why did the rules only apply to me? Why did I have to always behave?
“Have you ever tried to have fun with Mother teaching you?”
“I don’t have to try. I have fun,” Eros pointed out haughtily.
“Spoken like her favorite,” I mumbled under my breath.
We finally made it back to the house and my brothers came to a stop, allowing my organs to settle back into my torso. They still didn’t put me down, though. “How do we get her inside?” Deimos whispered to Eros.
“I can fly her back up to her room,” Eros offered.
“What about the blood?” Phobos spit.
“Do I look like a healer?” Eros shrugged.
“Does anyone care what I think?”
“No,” my brothers all said in unison, shutting me down completely. I scowled to myself, becoming angrier at them, constantly ignoring me and shutting me down. Why did I have to be born into a family with four older boys who thought they knew everything already?
“Okay, who do we know that’s a healer?” Oh, we knew plenty. Which one of them would help us without telling Mother was going to be the big question. The older generation of gods was out of the question. They were all so tight-knit with their bonds. The only ones who wouldn’t have told on us would have been those who couldn’t help us, like Eris. They wouldn’t have told anyone, but healing wasn’t their strong suit.
Anyone older than us wasn’t an option. So that left our cousins, most of whom were around our age and about as clueless as we were.“Maybe we can go to one of the muses?” Eros offered.
“We’re trying to heal Adrestia, not find you another girlfriend,” Phobos spit again.
“Hey, it’s not my fault the ladies already like me while thinking you’re just an ugly brute,” Eros teased.
The veins in Phobos’s neck popped out as he roared, “I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU!”
“Phobos! Shut up,” Deimos hissed. “You’re gonna get us caught.” Phobos huffed and puffed as he pushed his anger down.
I really didn’t understand why they were all so afraid of Mother. Father was the scary one. He was the God of War, for Tartarus’s sake. I was terrified of making him angry, or worse, disappointing him.
Maybe that’s why they weren’t afraid. Phobos and Deimos barely had to do a thing, and Father would praise them. But then why was Eros afraid of Mother? He was her favorite, after all. Maybe that was why he was afraid. He didn’t want to lose her favor.
I didn’t understand all of this at the young age that I was. All I knew was Father was terrifying, and Mom was…well, she was nice. That’s about all I thought of her. She was nice. I didn’t share her interests, so creating a bond with her was nearly impossible, and it always felt like she had something else on her mind. All I knew was that she didn’t really seem present except on certain occasions, most of which seemed to revolve around Eros.
“Okay, which muses would be the most helpful?” Deimos asked Eros.
“Terpsichore.” The Muse of Dance. “She has to know how to fix a hurt leg. Surely one of her dancers has gotten an injury like this before and survived?”
“I do not think a muse will help you here.” We all froze at the new voice. My brothers slowly turned to find our mother, standing by the corner of the house, nearly blocking the sun with how she towered over our adolescent figures.
Without skipping a beat, Eros turned on the charm that had cemented him as Mother’s favorite. “Why, Mother. Has anyone told you that you’re looking radiant today? I mean, when are you not, but today especially. Have you done something new with your hair?”
“That will not work on me, Eros. Remember, I am the one who taught you everything you know about charming others.” Mother turned her gaze to me, still hanging from my brother’s arms. “Did you all have to carry your sister like she is a sack of flour?” Instead of answering, all my brothers hung their heads. In shame or fear, I couldn’t tell. Maybe it was both. With a sigh and a shake of the head, Mom approached us. She knelt next to me and scooped me into her arms as she had since the day I was born. “What happened?”
“She started it!” Phobos shrieked, pointing at me.
“Did not!” I snapped back, trying to crawl out of Mother’s embrace.
“Tia,” Mom’s stern voice paused my squirming. The look on her face shut my mouth, though I crossed my arms and pouted to show my displeasure at everyone ignoring me. “I will ask again. What happened?”
“Tia followed us for training today and tried to start a fight. With all of us. At the same time,” Deimos explained in matter-of-fact, choppy sentences.
“So you decided to cut her knee open for that?”
“It was an accident!” Phobos yelled again. “If she’d just left when we told her to or given up, we wouldn’t have tripped.” Phobos had gotten my shorter form into a full nelson hold, but just because I was in what others would call a helpless position didn’t mean I was going to give up. One minute I was kicking like my life depended on it. The next, my face was in the dirt, and Phobos’s thick form was crushing me.
“I see.” We could tell Mom was upset, but with who was the question. “Well, since your play plans for the day seem to have ended, I think your time would be best spent helping Auntie Hestia collect firewood for the locals.” Mom had this skill to make an order sound like a suggestion. Or maybe it was a suggestion that sounded like an order. Either way, my brothers knew there was no way she was going to take no for an answer.
“Yes, Mother,” my brothers all said in dejected unison.
“Good. Now be careful. I do not want any more casualties for the day.” With that, Mother turned on her heel and carried me inside the house.
“Why does she always have to ruin everything?” I heard Phobos mumble. If I heard it, there was no way Mother didn’t, and yet she said nothing about it.
“At least we don’t have to deal with her anymore for the rest of the day,” Deimos offered.
“Come on. Let’s go get the stupid firewood,” Eros pouted. With that, my brother’s left me behind again. For the first time that day, hot tears welled in my eyes.
Mom carried me up the stairs, but instead of going to my room, she took me to the master bedroom where she and Dad slept. After we had all reached a certain age where we could sleep alone, we weren’t allowed to enter Mom and Dad’s room without their express permission, and one of them was there to monitor us. Eros had snuck in at some point. I could tell that by the way he smiled like a dork every time we all talked about what they were hiding. But he wouldn’t tell us what secrets hid in there. “I’ll tell you all when you’re older,” he’d always said.
Mom set me on her bed but didn’t say a word as she started collecting some ointments and healing supplies. I was no stranger to this ritual. None of us were. We had all had our fair share of skinned knees and cut elbows, and mom was our healer. There were those of us she had to care for more than others. Phobos and Deimos had fresh injuries daily, and they got progressively more severe as time went on. But Eros and I didn’t have as many bumps and bruises. Eros was spared because he often enjoyed activities with Mom more than Dad. I didn’t because they forced me to spend more time with her than with Dad and my brothers.
“Usually, the tears didn’t start until after I have applied the ointment,” Mom said. I pushed the back of my hand across my face, wiping away the tears and snot while trying to keep looking tough. “You know your brothers love you, do you not, Tia?”
I nodded, but it was a lie. I never felt like they liked me. They seemed to avoid me whenever they could. When they weren’t avoiding me, they were teasing me, making fun of me, messing with my head.
Mom’s gentle hand slid beneath my chin and tipped my face up. Against my will, my red eyes connected with hers. Even though I knew I was in trouble with her, there was still loving kindness in her eyes. She didn’t look angry or disappointed. She looked more worried than anything. “Tia. Your brothers love you very much, just as I love you. Just as your father loves you.” That last one was even harder to believe than the idea of my brothers loving me. “They just want to protect you. We all do.”
“But no one likes those who need to be protected.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Everyone always talks about how the stupid mortals are constantly praying for attention and protection and how stupid they are.”
“Who talks about that?”
Mother let out a mirthless laugh, showing that she wasn’t surprised. “Eris has a unique way of looking at the world. Not everyone agrees with them. Some of us like protecting people, especially those we care about.”
“So why are there no stories about those who need to be protected?” I asked. “All Dad does is talk about the protectors. All those people who fight with him by his side and in his name. He never talks about those who need his protection.”
“Is that why you always want to play with your brothers?” Mom asked. “Because you want people to remember you as a great warrior?”
I hesitated before I nodded. With the smile that I knew made Dad fall in love with her, Mom rested her hand on my cheek.
“Sweetheart. Even if it does not matter whether or not this world knows your name, I already know that you are someone that people are going to talk about for generations to come. You know why?” I shook my head. “Because you love just as hard as you fight. And you fight hard for those you love. And those are the people who go down in history.”
Mom kept smiling at me and held my face so that I wouldn’t break her eye contact until I smiled through my tears. Only then did she press the rag that was dampened with the stinging ointment to my skinned knee, causing me to cry out.
My eyes cracked open. My head felt heavy in a way that felt like I had pulled another all-nighter. I had. It just wasn’t my typical all night.
It took an eternal moment before I registered I wasn’t sleeping in my bedroom at the God Complex. So, where was I?