I was finally free. But what did that mean? I gripped my arms tighter around his neck and buried my face against his chest. I was afraid he would take me back. I couldn’t breathe. After what seemed like an eternity, he set me down onto a soft carpet. He kept his arms around me and took a moment to breathe in my hair.
“I’m sorry, Hera. I’m sorry I took so long. We’ll find a way to fix you.”
I took a deep breath and stepped away from him. Turning my face to his, we locked eyes, and all I could see was his pain….and it hurt.
He cleared his throat. “I’ll, um, sleep in the other room until you’re feeling better.” His hand reached to my face, but halfway there, he stopped himself. He stared at me for a long moment, and then walked out, shutting the door behind him. I fell to the floor, exhausted, and wondering what would happen next.
I woke up what I assumed to be several hours later. The room was lowly lit, and as soft as the carpet was, I was chilled. I sat up slowly, bending and stretching all my kinks out. When my stomach rumbled, I wondered who I had to kill to get some food. Just as I was standing up to see about getting some sustenance, there was a timid knock on the door. I ignored it and looked around the room. Whoever it was, obviously, wasn’t very important with that kind of knock. There were some voices on the other side of the door. It sounded like arguing or a heated discussion. Then there was a firmer knock, this time with purpose.
“Lady Hera? Can we come in?”
Ugh. I don’t want to deal with anyone right now, and I almost ignored them as I climbed into the magnificent work of art that was a bed. Just as I got comfortable, I realized whoever was on the other side of the door probably could get me food. I situated myself against the satin pillows and took a deep breath.
The door opened, revealing not just one, but three figures, silhouetted in the hallway. One I recognized, the other two I didn’t.
A slender woman with long black hair entered first. Ripped jeans and biker boots, a black leather jacket, and an expression like a hellcat with its tail pulled. I immediately wanted to know her. She stalked into the room, eyes burning bright with flames in the near-darkness, looking at me like I was a stranger.
A younger woman followed her like a timid shadow. Her brown hair hung in loose waves about her shoulders, as casual as the pink t-shirt and sweatpants she wore. She chewed her lip as she came toward me, thinking. Or maybe not sure what to think.
And behind her, a face I recognized. He looked at me and shut the door behind him.
I looked at the three of them, my senses on high alert. “What do you want?”
The bitchy looking one looked at Zeus. “You could have prepared her, you know.”
He returned her look with fire behind his eyes. “I was more concerned about fixing her. I can hold her hand later.”
“If this goes the way we hope it does, pretty sure that won’t be necessary.” She stepped toward me and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Hera. I’m Hekate. I’m…Zeus’ daughter. Well, one of them.”
I raised an eyebrow in question, not sure I wanted her to elaborate. “So?”
Hekate nodded at the other woman, who continued to chew her bottom lip. “This is Clio. She is also his daughter. She is the Muse of History.”
I held a hand up to stop her. “Please don’t tell me we are all long-lost sisters, and you want to be besties. I have enough sisters. I don’t want or need anymore.”
Hekate’s lips twisted. “Oh, don’t worry. I have no intention of…being besties. That’s not really our thing, you and me. I’m here because magic is my thing, and I was asked to help.”
Clio took a step forward, tilting her head. “What is the last thing you remember?”
“I remember being brought here by him.” I jerked my chin towards my savior, hoping the heat in my face didn’t show.
“That question isn’t going to work, Clio. She’s just going to tell you what she remembers now.” Hekate reached in the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a small bottle. The liquid inside glowed green, swirling with something darker. She held the bottle out to me. “Here. You need to drink this.”
I laughed so hard I snorted. “Not happening, lady. I’m not about to be poisoned or blown up from the inside.”
Hekate smirked and threw a look back at Zeus. “You sure she doesn’t remember?” She took a deep breath and held the bottle out again. “Listen, if I were going to poison you, I would have slipped it in the food being prepped in the kitchen for you to eat. I certainly wouldn’t hand it to you in front of my father and a witness. Think.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and locked my jaw. I didn’t care who she thought she was. I didn’t know her, didn’t want to know her, and just wanted her to go away.
Clio looked at Hekate, whispering, “Perhaps returning her memories first would work?”
“No, she needs to drink this first,” Hekate explained. “I took the powder that we know was responsible for her transformation and made…an inverted form of it, like anti-venom. Then, I added a few other things, including water from the Mnemosyne. If she drinks this, it will undo the physical transformation. But I can’t bring back erased memories. Best I could work out was how to reset her mind to zero. You’ll have to help her fill it back up again.”
I grumbled, “Sounds like poison to me.”
Clio turned her gaze to me. “It will help you.”
Hekate huffed and bounced the glowing bottle on her palm. “Well, this is a nice little impasse. I mean, we could hold her down. That’d make a nice memory for me. I can’t believe she wouldn’t want to take it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be her?”
Zeus ran his fingers through his hair and took a ragged breath. “Let me.” He walked over to the bed and looked down at me. He looked like death warmed over and definitely old enough to be my great grandfather, but there was something about him that made my entire body shiver.
“Hera, please. I know this is all new to you, and you don’t understand what’s going on, but I need you.” He cleared his throat. “I need you to trust me. Please?” He looked at me as if his entire life hinged on whether I took Hekate’s poison…potion. My palms itched to reach out for him, but I just curled them into fists.
“You trusted me to get you out of that place. I need you to trust me now. This,” he waved his hand in my direction, “is not who you are. You are my wife. My Queen. My life. Please don’t leave me again.”
The emotion in his voice and the wetness of his eyes surprised me. He was right, though. I trusted him to free me from my personal hell, and so far, nothing bad had happened. I searched his eyes one more time. “Fine.” I held my hand out for the potion. “But if this kills me, I’m coming back to haunt all of you for the rest of your miserable lives. Deal?”
He nodded and offered a weak smile. “Give it to her, Hekate.”
Hekate dashed a hand across her cheek and held the bottle out to me. Her voice was thick with emotion. “Honey, I don’t just deal with magic, I deal with ghosts. If I poison you, I’m stuck with you forever. Bottoms up.”
I took the bottle and uncapped it, bringing it to my nose to see how bad it would taste. “Good. Then you know I’m serious.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, hoping it wouldn’t be my last. Then threw back the liquid, waiting to see if I died.
I looked around. “I don’t feel any—” I groaned and clutched my stomach. They lied to me. I was dying. Bitch. I felt the pain as my stomach tightened. I curled into a ball, trying to ease the pain, eventually feeling a familiar tingling feeling spread throughout my body. I looked up at Zeus to yell at him for hurting me, but as I opened my mouth, my mind went blank. I felt my body grow longer and a little wider. I felt years attach themselves to my skin. I felt every heartbreak and every laugh. I felt these things, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know where they came from.
Clio stepped towards me, her rainbow-colored eyes changing to yellow. Blackness surrounded us, isolating us. Suddenly, there is a flicker of blue light as a memory pulls forward.
I was younger…not the teen I had been, but still young. I hadn’t been free of my father’s dimension for long, and I was still getting used to no longer being surrounded by my darkness. I sat in my room, staring out the window, watching the gods as they went about their lives. How much they took for granted. My throat got tight as I wondered what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been captive all of my years. I barely spoke to anyone, having not used my voice much for conversation after I stopped visiting my siblings in their realms.
I yearned to know how to be at ease around the other gods. I felt my throat close with loneliness and was about to turn away from the window lest someone see my tears when I heard my name.
I looked out into the yard my window opened up into and saw my brothers talking. Hades was so serious, but you could still feel his capacity for love. Poseidon was loud and laughing. I don’t think he would be uncomfortable anywhere. My eyes were drawn to the other god sitting with them. Zeus. The brother we didn’t know about. The youngest. Our savior. He saw me looking and smiled so big I could see his blue eyes sparkle even this far away.
“My fair lady, Hera. Won’t you join us today? Your face would surely brighten the darkest of days, and my heart yearns for your smile.” He winked and bowed low.
I snorted. “I have no doubt that your…heart does not lack for willing smiles. You do not need mine.”
“Come now, Hera. Surely you wouldn’t want me to waste away to a wisp of nothing.” He stood and placed his hand on his heart. “You are my life, and I cannot live without you!” He placed the back of his other hand against his forehead in false sorrow. “Your smile is sustenance for my soul.”
He was so ridiculously dramatic. I couldn’t stop the short laugh that rushed past my lips. “If my smile is all your soul requires, I know many goddesses who would be disappointed. Take your frivolousness away. I’m saving my smiles for a god who only needs to see my face and doesn’t look for it in others.”
His hands clutched at his heart, and he gasped. “You wound me, my lady. Your face is all my eyes look for.”
“And yet you look for it everywhere else but where it is. Go away, Zeus. I have better things to do with my time than listen to your romantic drivel.”
As I was closing my shutters, I heard him laugh and say, “I will marry you one day!”
I just shook my head and waited until my shutters were completely closed before I allowed myself the smile he begged for that I so wanted to give. I knew what he was about, but my heart didn’t care. Thankfully, I ruled my heart better than he ruled his godhood. But sometimes….My heart hoped.
The darkness faded, and the room reappeared in front of me. Clio took a few steps backward. Her face was slightly pale. She placed a hand on her stomach.
“Bathroom?” she asked.
Zeus motioned in the direction of the bathroom and fell to his knees beside the bed, gripping my hands as if they were a lifeboat and he were lost at sea. “Hera? Is it you again?” His eyes searched mine for recognition.
Hekate followed Clio to the bathroom and murmured words of concern. I heard Clio’s softer voice between bouts of vomiting. Hekate reluctantly stepped away from the bathroom and headed for the door. She paused on the threshold and said, “Send word to Hades if you need me further.” And she was gone.
Clio exited the bathroom a few moments later, scurrying out of the room.
I rubbed my aching forehead for a moment, trying to get my bearings. As I rubbed, more memories flooded in. I groaned in pain as several thousand years of memories rushed back in. I felt nauseous and struggled to put everything into perspective. I felt Zeus kiss my hands, and I opened my eyes, immediately remembering every argument, every laugh, every moment with him.
“Z—” I cleared my throat, its timbre deeper than it had been. “Zeus? What happened? Why am I in bed? Why do you look so lost, my love?” My eyes got bigger, and I remembered him lying on the floor covered in blood. “You’re okay?” I pulled my hands from his and caressed his face and shoulders and every inch of skin I could reach. “You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.”
He leaned forward and pressed his mouth desperately against mine. My nails dug into his shoulders, trying to anchor myself, us, in this moment. A moment I didn’t think I’d have again. His fingers dug into my waist with the same desperation, and we sat there, breathing each other in between kisses. I pulled him onto the bed with me, tugging at his clothing, finding there to be too much of it.
“You are never allowed to leave me like that again.”
He growled and tore at my clothing. “Never. I will never give you cause to leave me again.”
I pulled back and looked at him, my hands framing his face. “I will never leave you. You are my life, and without you, I cannot breathe.”
He laid his forehead against mine and closed his eyes. I rested my hand on his chest, feeling the beating of his heart, knowing my home was wherever he was.