The sun climbed above the horizon and stole through a gap in the curtains, a ray of light blinding me for a surprising moment. I paused to enjoy the delicious irony of the sun sneaking in only minutes after Apollo slipped out. He’d left before I got out of bed, and I had no idea where he’d gone. He didn’t seem to realize that each time he disappeared without warning, I worried.

So I paced. There were noticeable footpaths traced throughout my apartment. I would need new floors if the Titan crisis didn’t come to an end soon.

It wasn’t just Apollo. Everyone was under pressure and fighting their own demons. Family members were grappling with Titans as well as clashing with ghosts from the past.

In the middle of my pacing, it dawned on me. Maybe that was what I needed: a bigger piece of my universe. Something to distract my mind and get me out of the house…my family. I’d avoided the GC as much as possible for weeks but suddenly felt the pull. I showered and headed out, leaving Dugo and Frank to keep watch over the apartment.

Standing outside the GC lounge, I felt a stir of excitement when I heard a familiar voice.

“The world is DEFINITELY ending,” Hekate declared.

“Because I agreed with you?” Hades countered, glancing over his shoulder at Cerberus sunning himself by the window.

“You’ve been reading the news too, Hekate?” I asked as I stepped into the lounge.

She didn’t miss a beat in responding to Hades. “At this point, I’ve got Eros being moral and you agreeing with me…I’m pretty sure the world is ending.”

She looked at me and gave a small nod of her head. “Been living the news, more like it, Urania.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Hekate,” I replied.

A voice floated across the room, “Ooooo another muse…yummy.”

I turned and saw a flash of brilliant blue eyes as Eros tossed his head.

“I doubt I’m considered yummy to you, Eros,” I said, rolling my eyes.

He gave me a wicked smile. “You might be…we’ve never tried.”

I smiled as his comment missed its mark.

“Where is your boy toy, Starlight?” he asked, this time hitting the soft target of my heart.

I smiled and leaned against the counter, ignoring his question. “It’s good to see you all.”

“Good to see you, too. Wish it were under better circumstances. My current body count is up to nine. Which means I’m going to have to ask Dinlas to heal up the motherfucker that did it at least nine times, so I can repay the debt properly.” Hekate’s voice held a lot of unsettled rage.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied. “Is there anything I can do to help?” I scanned her face, but she remained stoic.

Hekate continued. “And somewhere in the midst of all the mayhem, Eros has found Jesus.”

A chuckle escaped my throat. I had to have heard that wrong. “What??” I asked. “How did I miss that?”

“Bite your tongue, Katie,” Eros said with a smirk on his face.

Hekate mimed biting her tongue.

Eros stuck his own tongue out, wagging it at Hekate. “I do offer pearls of wisdom, sometimes.” He crossed to me and kissed my head. “Don’t I, Shadow?”

“Wisdom?” Hekate chuckled. “You sound like a New Age talk show. Or an Oprah Book Club selection of the month.”

Eros snickered, pointing dramatically at Hekate, “AND YOU GET SOME TITANS! AND YOU AND YOU!”

Pleased with himself, Eros turned his attention back to me. “You didn’t answer before. How’s Apollo?”

I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, not quite comfortable answering. I played with several potential answers in my head, but none of them seemed right. I didn’t want to violate Apollo’s trust by saying too much, but at the same time, I knew he needed the family to care about him.

The fight with Astraios left Apollo suffering, and in a darker place than he’d been before. While his physical wounds healed, the mental and emotional ones grew worse. The PTSD held him in its grips and caused what felt like an insurmountable obstacle.

He asked me to help him, but then kept me at a distance. With his drinking, I didn’t know what to think or trust. We went to look for wedding dresses at one point, and he’d been drinking so much, he thought I actually punched the salesgirl in the face. He’d become an unreliable narrator of his own life. If I left him for any period of time, I couldn’t believe what he said once I returned. So I stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

I loved him so much. It hurt me to watch him unravel, but there wasn’t much I could do other than to keep him as safe as possible, if possible.

I finally answered Eros. “Apollo has been better, but he’s trying.”

Eros glanced down at the phone in his hands. “He needs to stop drinking.”

“Yes. He does,” I answered honestly.

Eros smirked, a whiff of mischief settling over his features. “Katie? Could you cast a little spell for me?”

Hekate raised her eyebrows and waited.

Eros’ smile turned evil. “How about making every alcohol that touches Apollo’s lips turn into water? No matter what.”

Hekate joined Eros with her own slow grin.

Eros nodded. “You mischievous God. I’m so proud.”

Hekate gave a thoughtful response. “This…this I can do. Come here, Urania.”

I squinted at her as I stepped closer. “Can you really do that?”

I heard Eros whisper to Hades, “This is kind of hot.”

Hekate took my face in her hands. I felt the energy humming from her skin and could feel the beat of her pulse. She whispered something unintelligible and moved her head toward me. Instinctively, I closed my eyes a nanosecond before she kissed me on the lips.

“Yep. Hot. Called it,” Eros said.

I stumbled backward a step and fought a wave of dizziness.

Eros waved at Hekate and said, “Wait. My turn.”

I didn’t know whether he was joking about wanting to kiss me or Hekate. My head was still reeling.

Hekate stepped back and watched my reaction. I wondered if she could see the magic she left in my lips. They tingled, and I imagined them with a sparkling magenta glow.

Eros smirked and rhetorically asked Hades, “What else can she do with her lips?”

“Make sure that the next person you kiss is Apollo,” Hekate warned. “It will transfer the spell.

Until you kiss him, I’m afraid it’s water for you.”

I put my hands to my lips and felt warmth radiating from them.

Hades and Eros looked at me like I’d grown another head. “You sure you don’t want a turn, Eros?” I asked.

Hekate ignored Eros and smiled warmly. “Try it out.”

“Anyone have a flask handy?” I asked.

Eros tossed his flask in my direction. “It’s my flask from Dion. If it works on that, it will work on anything.”

I caught the flask and uncapped it. I took a small, hesitant sip. My eyes widened. “It’s water!”

Hekate stepped back, crossed her arms, and smirked.

“I mean…it shouldn’t surprise me. I know your power, Hekate.” The power of the ritual she held for us still gave me goosebumps every time I thought about it.

Eros put his hand out and wiggled his fingers. “Flask, please.”

I handed it back to him, feeling the etched design in the metal as it left my fingers.

“All of you. Just remember, you asked. Apollo isn’t going to be happy, even if it’s for his own good.”

Eros gave Hekate an appreciative glance. “The Witch Queen has skills.”

“Now, a caveat. I won’t have Apollo spelled against his will. You can tell him I’m the one that did it. No need to bring Eros into it at all. But if he wants me to remove it, then he has to come and ask me. He needs to answer why his drinking is more important than his family. And I will put him to the question.”

Hekate’s words gave me pause. Apollo would be furious. Then again, maybe he needed something jarring to make him realize that he wasn’t the only one impacted by what he was going through. I pressed my fingers against my tingling lips. I didn’t even know where he was. “Is there a window of time?”

“It stays until you transfer it. How long do you want to be on a water diet?” she answered.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said, trying to figure out how I would find Apollo.

“What other tricks do you have up those gorgeous sleeves?” Eros asked, twirling one of his arrows between his fingers.

Hekate shot him a look. “I’d say use your imagination, but that never ends well.”

“Thank you, Hekate. I wish I could do something to help you. You’re always helping me,” I said.

Hekate raised her hand to my cheek. “I don’t need anything, my dear.” She blew her bangs away from her face. “Maybe some fashion advice.”

“Any time you do…I’ll be there. Just say the word. Also, I think you’ve got great style,” I tried to assure her.

She ignored my comment. “Let me know how it goes with Sunny Boy, and remember — you blame me and tell him to come see me, and I’ll take off the spell. The rest of you bring popcorn, because him trying to convince us he needs alcohol and that he isn’t worth anything is going to be a show.”

Eros piped up, “I can take the heat, Katie. It was my idea.” He shrugged.

“Alright, then you can tell him it was Eros, but Eros ain’t gonna be able to do a damn thing to fix it.”

“I’ll let you know.  Either it will work, or I’ll be back to kiss Eros.” I smiled.

“Wait, without the spell, right?” Eros teased.

“Maybe with,” I shrugged and gave him a wink. “I know how much you enjoy your flask, Eros.”

Artemis arrived at that point and had questions for Hekate, so I took that as an opportunity to slip out and find Apollo. I stepped out of the building and the cool air rushed my face, causing the tingling in my lips to stir up again. I pulled my jacket around me and rubbed my hand across my mouth. Would that limit the effect? What if he wouldn’t let me kiss him? He’d been so distant lately.

That’s the whole point, stupid.

I slipped my phone out of my pocket and dialed Apollo. He didn’t answer. Of course. On the way back to the apartment, I spent far too much time overthinking. I didn’t want to make things worse, but at the same time, I didn’t think that was possible.

Frustration plucked at my nerves. I called him a couple of times before giving up. He’d turned his phone off, so I went with the assumption that he was okay. It wasn’t going to help anything to fret and worry about things that were out of my control. If he wanted to be an ass, so be it.

Over the course of hours, the tingling on my lips had worn off, so it was easy to ignore what had happened earlier in the day and shift my focus to other things.

The cats and I went into the study, and I unrolled the blueprints for the new art therapy center that would be constructed on my floor at the GC. Dugo settled down for a nap on the papers, becoming only mildly annoyed when I moved him from one side to the other. Frank circled my feet before chasing something imaginary out of the room. Dugo soon followed out of curiosity.

I jotted several notes for the builder and started a new list of to-do items. The positive energy drowned out any dark thoughts that resided. Ideas flowed and caught me up in the excitement of a new project.

Even thinking about art therapy is helpful.

I was so deep in thought that when I heard a thud from the other room, I jumped. Then I heard a yell.

“Starshine, I’m home!”

I could have sworn I heard a strange laugh as I made my way into the living room to inspect.

He stood in the center of the room, a box at his feet. Dugo watched, the fur along his spine standing on end.

A fleeting feeling of panic shook me. The vibe felt completely different, even electric. It didn’t feel like him…at least not the Apollo that left the apartment earlier.

It took several moments for my heart to calm down and for me to figure it out.

“Apollo?”

I ran to him and he held me. After several minutes, he turned my face up to his and kissed me, long and deep.

He was different. The darkness and angst were gone. He was back and my heart felt full.

“What..how…?

“Everything’s okay. I had…a breakthrough so to speak. But we’ve got plenty of time to talk about it later. Now we should celebrate.” He reached down and pulled a bottle of champagne out of the box at his feet.

“I’ll get the glasses,” I said and headed toward the kitchen.

I heard the cork pop and then a rush of bubbles. I turned to see him putting the bottle to his mouth to catch the flow as it erupted.

“What the actual fuck!?!?” he exclaimed.

I cringed.

Oops.

“KARDIA?!?!”

Urania (Kimberlee Gerstmann)
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