I can’t see the murderous shade of rage staining my cheeks, but it must be spectacular. All around me mortals, satyrs, nymphs are hurling themselves out of my way as I approach The Tower. Live as long as I have, do the things I can do, and you get used to crowds parting before you.
But this is different. The God Complex is frenzied. Feverish. Either way, it’s not a good sign. Things are worse than I expected.
I make the mistake of checking my reflection in the glass as I approach the doors. The black tails of my leather trench coat whip behind me like angry wings that have been pinned down. A gust of wind screams down the side of The Tower, unseen hands tangling my hair around my face. I rake my fingers across my forehead, drawing the strands away from my eyes.
No wonder they’re running.
The fire of my amber eyes has gone out, irises dark as the Void. Hungry. Inhuman. It pleases me.
The door swings open suddenly, spitting out a young man holding a glowing scroll. He stumbles into me full-force and starts to apologize. The words wither in his throat as he fumbles the message in his hand. It floats on the breeze, airborne for a moment, before I snatch it from mid-air and slowly hand it back to the messenger boy.
“If you aren’t going to use your eyes, I’ll be glad to remove them,” I say with a smile. I can tell by the look on his face that I’m showing far too many teeth. I smile wider.
“I’m s-sorry, M-m-mistress.” His New York accent is smog-thick. He scrambles to his feet, takes the missive with an equally wavering hand, and stands there. He just fucking stands there.
Between me and the goddamn door.
“Move it, American Express!” I bark at him. “You’re everywhere I want to be!”
I’m past the entrance and headed for the elevators before I realize I probably just walked through the poor boy. As I pass the welcome desk, the receptionist gives me a nervous smile and waits until she thinks I’m far enough past to grab the phone and punch an extension.
I don’t know who she’s calling, and I don’t care. But if someone needed a warning that badly, fine. That’s five more minutes of fear in my favor.
I step into the lift with a nymph smart enough to hold her tongue. That alone is enough to tell me she’s from the Underworld, though her pallor confirms it. I punch the button that will take us to Lounge Level and the doors slide closed.
“Have you seen Nyx?” I ask the nymph as we go up. “Dinlas?”
The nymph shakes her head. Her silver hair wavers like moonlight on calm waters. “No, but I know Clio’s here. And Eros.”
The nymph doesn’t even flinch at the sarcasm in my voice. It’s not like it’s a big secret. Eros and I get along about as well as oil and water. Provided the water is really gasoline, and both are on fire.
The elevator chimes and I step out. As I do, I can hear the nymph let out the breath she’s been holding since leaving lobby level. A moment later, Eros’ voice drifts down the hallway, heavy by comparison to the quiet counterpoint of Clio’s responses. I listen for a moment at the door.
We all do it — around here, a few moments of eavesdropping is not only polite, but a form of self-preservation. I don’t know the context of the conversation, but Clio and Eros seem to be arguing. Again. And it’s not even real arguing. Just more angst. After everything that’s happened to Eros, all the drama with Psyche, you’d think he’d have had enough of that for a hundred lifetimes.
Well, you’d be wrong.
The God of Love likes his suffering. He hasn’t been right since he lost his wings. That’s where shit really went off the rails. Baggage everywhere. And everyone that’s not Eros and Clio has been tripping over it for weeks.
I can feel the frown carving its way across my face as I throw open the door. Eros is standing there, facing Clio. His head snaps up when I walk in.
The sound of his nickname for me sets my teeth on edge. Makes me sound like a cheerleader. Makes me want to ram my pom-poms down his — I’ll admit — rather attractive throat.
I flash a fake smile. I don’t even care who sees. “Where is everyone?”
“Nice to see you, too.”
Eros crosses his arms and turns toward me. Everything said about Eros is true to the tenth power. Zeus had to up the liability insurance to cover the whiplash claims that rolled in every time Eros crossed the compound shirtless. And the kid could probably flash-melt butter at twenty paces just by smiling. The only reason I seem to be immune is because Love and I have never really been on speaking terms.
Oh — and because I fucking despise everything Eros stands for.
“You really don’t like me, do you, Katie?”
Give the kid a cookie, I think, taking a seat on the sofa.
“I’m not sure like’s the right word.”
I stare him down. Punk. He wants to know? Fine. What’s a little honesty? I got honesty for days.
“You’re dangerous. The most dangerous God on Olympus. The Titans are loose and all of Olympus is in a tizzy, while the biggest threat we’ll ever face is right here under our roof.”
I watch the color begin to creep up his neck as my words sink in. His upper lip curls in a silent snarl. Just what I need. A fight. Something to blow off some steam.
“You go too far,” he growls at me.
“Do I?” I give him the sweetest smile, all honey and thorns. “You with your arrows, hurling them at people. Making them fall in love.”
“Love is a gift!”
“Not like that it’s not. Everything I am is about choice, Eros. About the balance needed to choose from a position of strength and wisdom. But you…you make people weak, pull them off center. Those arrows of yours take choice away. You are the opposite of everything I stand for. Everything. That’s my problem with you.”
Eros walks toward me, twirling one of his arrows. Clio grabs his arm to stop him, but he disentangles himself from her hands.
“Well, somebody’s a little bitter.” *twirl*
“Choose your next words carefully, Flyboy. I’m not in the mood.”
“You don’t scare me, Katie,” he says with an infuriating smile. “I am curious, though. Someone must have broken your heart awfully bad for you to be taking it out on me. I mean, I’ve heard of holding a grudge, but…”
Eros’ low whistle sounds like a bomb dropping. He has no idea how good his aim is. Or maybe he does. Which means he’s not as dangerous as I thought he was. He’s far, far worse.
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
“Because I’ve never been in love.”
“You…” His jaw works for a moment, trying to gather whatever words he’s going to spit out. “You’ve never been in love?!”
I open my mouth to say something when he dissolves into peals of laughter. I can feel my temper straining at its leash. He wipes tears from his eyes and looks at me, still giggling.
“Why, Katie, I never took you for a hypocrite. Or a coward.”
Cold rage wells up inside my bones. “Me? Why don’t you take a look in the mirror? You say you’re the God of Love and yet, you’re still pushing Clio away from you, refusing to let yourself love her, even though you can see she loves you. You’re nothing but a fake. You don’t even deserve to call yourself the God of Love! Matter of fact, I don’t ever want to hear those words come out of your mouth again. Seeing as they’re all lies.”
Eros stops laughing. “How dare you!”
“Oh-ho! I thought you said I was a coward?” I fire back with a smile, punching every bright and flashy button I can find.
The world is falling down around us but right now, I just want to make Eros burn. I press my finger into the center of his chest.
“Tell you what, Eros. I’ll make you a deal. You open yourself up to loving Clio, to really loving Clio. Get over whatever this shit is with Psyche and be the God you’re supposed to be and…”
He glares at me, waiting. I’m going to have to make this good.
“And I’ll take one of your arrows. Willingly.”
That’s right, Loverboy. Boom. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
“Wait. If I open my heart to Clio, you’ll let me shoot you with one of my arrows, and you’ll fall in love. For the first time?”
I nod. “That’s right. Deal?”
I hold out my hand to Eros. A good old-fashioned shake-on-it. I can see him checking for traps. He doesn’t trust me. Hell, right now I don’t trust me.
He reaches out and shakes my hand. I smile.
“About damn time you manned up and started doing your job.”
Eros snatches his hand out of mine and hisses, “That’s it! Forget it! Deal’s off! Who the fuck do you think you are, coming in here, acting all high and mighty, lecturing me about love? You admitted it yourself — you’ve never been in love. What the hell do you know?”
I watch his fist close around the golden arrow as Eros pivots, takes two steps, and vanishes into thin air. Clio’s eyes are wide as she turns to me.
“What…what just happened?” she says. Her voice is feather soft. Each word falls like lead.
I sink down into a chair, stunned myself. Strung out over the destruction that’s arisen from the Tartarus breach, I’ve been spoiling for a fight. And I found one. By all that’s sacred in the Three Realms, I bloody found one.
“I didn’t mean to push him that far, Clio,” I say. My voice sounds numb. Too bad my conscience isn’t following suit. “There’s a reason I don’t…want to fall in love, Clio. This is who I am. Who I’ve always been. My job is to hold the center. Love’s purpose is to dissolve it.”
Clio looks at me, innocence glowing in the dim evening light. “Maybe you’re meant to learn how.”
I shake my head. “I don’t think so. We all have our jobs. My job is to stand apart, remain neutral, to be the axis upon which choice revolves. Eros’ job is to…be the God of Love. And for whatever reason, he’s decided he’s not worth loving, or he’s incapable of it.” I shake my head and swallow the lump in my throat. “It’s wrong. He has to—“
Out of thin air, Eros storms back into the room and hurls the arrow at my feet. It bounces and lands on the bridge of my foot, teetering there, as precariously balanced as the control in Eros’ eyes.
“You say you’re all about choices, Katie?” Eros snarls. “Well, if choice is soooo important to you, if you want me to open myself up to Clio and make the choice to take the risk, there’s the arrow. Prick your own damned self and leave me out of it!”
I reach down to grab the arrow and then step towards him. If he wants to play like that, fine. Game on.
“So how does this work?” I ask, feigning ignorance to cover up my anger. “Do I have to be looking at the person when the arrow nicks me? A love at first sight thing?”
“Fine. If I’m only going to subject myself to this insanity one time, it might as well be with the one who understands it the best.”
I march up to Eros and look him dead in the eye.
“I choose you.”
With a sudden, sure movement, I draw the sharp tip of the arrow across my palm. I feel the blood well in the cup of my hand, hot and wet. Without thinking, my hands slip up around Eros’ neck, drawing his head down, bringing his mouth to mine.
I try to focus on the throbbing in my palm, on the glint of the arrowhead still clutched in my hand. Anything to distract me from the heat of his mouth, the taste of cinnamon on his tongue, the way his arms tighten around me and the next minute, let me go.
He pushes me away, startled. There’s something else there, too, but I couldn’t name it if I tried.
“It doesn’t work on me, Katie,” he says, grinning. Then his smile falls away. “Trust me, if it did, we wouldn’t be standing here.”
“Wait,” Clio interrupts, staring at me. “You…you just…kissed…Eros. You were trying to fall in love with…with Eros?”
“Does it matter?” I say to her, pushing the arrow into Eros’ hands. “He’s already decided he’s not going to love anybody. The God of Love has left the building.”
“Katie, it’s not like that…”
I round on him. “It’s not? I think that’s exactly how it is.”
“But why did you kiss him?” Clio presses. She turns her eyes up to Eros. “Does this mean she’s in love with you now? Does this mean that you…that you love her?”
“Clio, no…” Eros hisses at me. “This is your fault. You just made everything worse. What were you thinking?”
“What was I thinking?” My voice rises with my anger. Everything in the room begins to shake. “I was thinking that maybe all you needed was for someone to tell you that you were worthy of love. That if I was going to fall in love and — out of everyone I could have — I chose you, that maybe you would get it through your head that you weren’t broken! And maybe you would let Clio love you.”
“Katie, I’m sorry.” Eros holds out his hand. “I…I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I don’t care how you meant it, Eros. We’re done.”
I step away from him. I’m trembling. The room is trembling. I’d rather take on a Titan than deal with this.
I flick my fingers through the air and throw the door open. Standing on the threshold, I take a deep breath, re-centering myself in the Between.
Between two points of understanding that will never meet.
I look back over my shoulder and see Clio in Eros’ arms. It’s what I wanted — the two of them, together. Then it occurs to me that I have still never been in love and yet, love has made a fool of me.
No, the God of Love has made a fool of me.
“You’ve made an enemy today, Eros.” I hear the keen edge in my voice, the one hardened by the Ages I’ve spent alone.
As I step out the door, he speaks again.
I turn to see Eros, arm lovingly around Clio, twirling my arrow in his hand.
“Whenever you’re ready…I’ll be waiting.”
“I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
His smile is dazzling. I want to knock it off his face.
“It’s just a little prick, Katie.”
I look him up and down and storm off toward the Archives, muttering. “Precisely. Just. A little. Prick.”