Michel was standing behind his new desk as I entered his office, hanging some pictures on the wall. He saw me reflected in one of them and smiled. “Mel was kind enough to go and swipe these from my apartment for me, along with a few other trinkets I couldn’t stomach the idea of being parted from.” He climbed down from the step ladder he was using and straightened one of the framed diplomas. “Silly, isn’t it? I mean, I’m dead…aren’t the dead supposed to let go of material possessions?”
I shrugged. “You’re asking the wrong person, I’m afraid.” I smiled. “Hey, I guess this means that you can take it with you, eh?”
He smiled, came around the desk and hugged me. “Thank you.”
I returned the embrace, smiling. “You’re welcome.” I looked to where Eos lay in her little curtained alcove, fiddling with the television remote and trying to look like she wasn’t watching us. “How’s she doing?”
Michel stepped back from me. “She’s restless. But she’s healing well, and she’ll be back on her feet in two or three days, assuming she rests and lets her body repair itself. It might be a couple of days beyond that before she’s really 100% again, but that’s understandable, considering. She’s definitely going to have a couple of scars from those bullets.”
It took a lot to leave a scar on an Avatar. I guess even a small amount of Orichalcum was sufficient.
I watched her for a long moment, shocked by the absence of her usual glowing health and vitality. She looked…smaller, somehow. Vulnerable. She’d always seemed so invincible.
“It’s kind of arrogant, isn’t it?” I asked quietly. “We call ourselves immortals, but we can be killed just like anyone else.”
“Even the gods,” Michel agreed, “given enough effort. Yeah, it is kind of arrogant. But that’s okay.”
He smiled. “It’s okay. When you’re responsible for the smooth functioning of the world’s cosmology, a little arrogance helps keep you sane. That’s how I see it, anyway.”
I laughed softly. “That makes a weird sort of sense. So, doctor, can I have a few words with your patient?”
He smiled a bit more and gestured in her direction. “Take all the time you need. It might keep her from throwing that remote at the TV for a little while.”
To my amusement, Eos actually dropped the remote and tried to smooth her hair into place when she saw me approaching. Unbraided, it was draped over both shoulders and down her back in heavy golden waves. She valiantly tried to get it to look tidy and finally gave up, blushing a little. “Hey you,” she said.
“Hey yourself,” I replied, pulling a chair over and sitting down beside her bed. I reached out and took her hand in mine, twining our fingers together and squeezing gently. “You scared the hell out of me.”
She squeezed my hand in return. “I like your friend Michel. He’s a hell of a doctor.” She raised her voice teasingly. “He rather reminds me of Doctor McCoy, from Star Trek, only not quite as acerbic.”
“I heard that,” Michel called from across the room. “I’m a doctor, not a stand-up comedian!”
Eos grinned and I rolled my eyes, but I was relieved to hear her joking. I looked at her closely and held onto her hand. She almost looked like she might fade away at any moment. “You look tired. Feel up to answering a question or two?”
She gestured to the TV with her free hand. “I’m tired, all right. Tired of this crap.” Her channel surfing had come to rest on an infomercial of some sort. “Almost a thousand channels, and zip. I might go back to the History Channel though…that guy with the crazy stand-up hair is on talking about ancient aliens again – “
“Eos,” I said softly.
“One of the movie channels was showing an old Robin Williams stand-up routine,” Eos continued, not quite looking at me. “Maybe I should go back to that. They say laughter is the best medicine,” she added, raising her voice so Michel would hear.
“Not when you’re recovering from abdominal wounds,” Michel obligingly fired back.
“Eos,” I said again, squeezing her hand and giving it a little tug. “Look at me, please?”
She did. A bit reluctantly, I thought. Or maybe shyly, which was out of character for her. She was, I decided, worried about what she’d said.
I smiled. “I think we need to talk about what you said earlier.”
“Is now really the right time?” She asked. “I mean, you’re in the middle of – “
“I can’t think of a better time,” I interrupted, pulling out my new pocket watch and flipping it open. “I still have 40 minutes before Daedalus will be done collecting a good blood sample from Cerberus, and you can’t escape from me right now.” I clicked the watch shut and put it away.
Eos blushed more deeply and whispered. “Why would I want to?”
I breathed a little sigh of relief. “So…it wasn’t just…you know, something you felt while you were bleeding out on my desk?”
She shook her head. “No,” she said slowly. “I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now how to tell you, since you never seemed to notice.” She said the last teasingly, then added, “It seemed like a now-or-never sort of moment, you know?”
I nodded, a little embarrassed myself. “I’m sorry I didn’t notice.”
She shrugged. “You’ve been really wrapped up in trying to get used to one of the worst and most difficult jobs in all of creation,” she said with obvious understanding. “Nobody gets it better than me. Except maybe Mel, but I have doubts about her ability to…to comprehend the weirdness of it…”
“I still should’ve realized,” I said. “You were always getting me out of my office, making me take breaks, taking me places…” I gave her my best sheepish smile. “I figured you were just trying to keep me from cracking under the pressure.”
“I was, at first,” she agreed. “Dad asked me to keep an eye on you and make sure you got settled in okay. But you’re so damn smart, and charming, and pretty…and you were so lost and alone, except for Mel…”
“You make me sound like a stray puppy,” I laughed.
“You kinda looked like one sometimes,” she laughed with me, then smiled gently. “I’d hoped I’d find a friend here, or better, a sister. Instead…” She trailed off and looked down at our entwined hands.
“Instead?” I prompted.
She looked up again, her eyes shining. “Instead, I found someone who understood me. Who got my weird jokes, and tolerated my occasionally too-jovial response to stress…”
“You got that from your dad,” I said, smiling.
She laughed again. “I got it all from my dad.” She grew serious again. “You have no idea how hard I fell for you.”
“How long?” I asked, curious.
“Not more than a year…or two…maybe three…”
I chuckled softly and shook my head. “I’m sorry I didn’t notice.”
She smiled. “It’s cool. I mean, I could’ve said something before I was dying, too…”
I nodded. “This changes things.”
She winced a little. “Yeah, look…if you’re not – “
I cut her off by lifting her hand to my lips and kissing her fingers lightly. “Shush. Once this is over, we’ll figure it out. For now, all I’ll says it that I am definitely attracted to you. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been trying pretty hard to be more like you.”
She grinned and gently drew my hand to her lips to return the gesture. Her kiss left my fingers tingling pleasantly, and I swear I felt it all the way down to my toes. “I noticed. So…we’re okay?”
I nodded. “I think we’re going to be better than okay. Just promise me one thing.”
“Anything,” she replied without hesitation.
“If it doesn’t work out, promise you won’t stop being my friend.”
I was pretty sure I’d hidden my uncertainty well enough that it wasn’t audible in my voice, but I could tell from her expression that she’d recognized it anyway. I’ve never had many close friends, and I’ve always clung to the few I have and tried to keep them. It was what I’d just done with Michel.
She smiled gently. “I can’t promise that, because who knows what might happen. But I can promise that no matter what happens, I’ll always be there when you need me.”
“Well,” I blinked rapidly, to keep my eyes from tearing up, “I guess we’ll just have to find a way to make sure it works out, won’t we.”
She flashed me a brief grin that made my stomach flutter pleasantly. “Sounds like a plan. Now, come on, you must have something more pressing to talk to me about, or you wouldn’t have had an excuse to stop and see me.”
I sighed a little, not wanting to break the mood.
“Come on,” she squeezed my hand. “Business before pleasure.” She winked.
I felt my cheeks flush, wondering just what she had in mind when she said that.
She grinned. “I like that reaction. But come on, let’s talk shop. What’s the real reason you came to visit?”
“You getting shot,” I admitted. “Eos, can you think of anyone, any enemies you’ve made, who might want you dead badly enough to go to this much trouble to do it?”
She pursed her lips…lovely, kissable lips…I shook myself slightly. Now was not the time for that sort of thought. She must’ve noticed, because she flashed me that quick grin again before shaking her head. “Not really, no. I mean…every Avatar who spends any length of time in the field will make enemies. But…some are mortals. Unless they act quickly, they tend to forget, or let it go because they have more pressing things to do. Or, even more often, they don’t even know I exist and their animosity is aimed at Zeus. Assuming they know what happened at all.”
“Most of the ones that aren’t mortals are monsters, and probably wouldn’t go in for this sort of thing. They’re more of the fangs and claws persuasion. Although,” she added, eyes twinkling with mischief, “Juno and I have never gotten along well. She still holds Hera’s old grudge against Zeus for his…shall we say, free way with women.”
I snorted. Zeus was notorious for seducing and sleeping with pretty women, and most of the stories about his trysts were actually true. They might be a bit embellished, but not much. But something about Juno’s animosity towards Eos struck a chord in my mind somewhere.
“What is it?” Eos asked.
I looked up and smiled at her. “You can read me like a book.”
She nodded. “It’s fun. You’re an interesting read. I saw something connect there…what was it?”
I shook my head. “I’m not sure. Something about Juno disliking you.”
Eos grunted. “She doesn’t seem to like anyone lately. She’s been grumpy and distant ever since I took my post two hundred years ago.”
“Do you think our age difference will be a problem?” I asked in a fit of whimsy.
“Are you kidding?” Eos laughed. “You’re more of a grown up than I’ve ever been.” She tugged my hand gently. “Stay on target, Red Five.”
“Sorry.” I was pretty sure I didn’t sound any more repentant than I felt. She had a lovely laugh. “So she doesn’t get along with anyone?”
“Not really,” Eos said slowly. “I’ve seen her talking with some of the older Avatars…but she’s been around practically since the beginning. I’ve never heard anyone call her anything other than Juno. I’m pretty sure it’s actually her name, like Vulcan.”
“Do you think she could…” I trailed off, not wanting to accuse one of my sister avatars of anything.
Eos shook her head. “No. One Avatar would never intentionally hurt another. We’re practically family.”
“Families don’t always get along.”
We were both silent for a moment, and it wasn’t a comfortable silence. Finally, Eos said, “It can’t be. Anyway, didn’t that guy say he was specifically there to shoot me. The way he said it sounded pretty personal.”
“And how’d he know I was there, anyway?” she asked. “The only person I told about my plan to take you to the Halloween Bash in New Orleans was Dad.”
“You told Zeus how you feel about me?” I asked, somewhere between horrified and amused.
She laughed. “Oh, the look on your face! I didn’t have to, he spotted it just by watching us together. He approves of my taste in women, incidentally.”
“Thank goodness!” The idea of Zeus disapproving of our nascent relationship had given me a bad moment of absolute terror. Zeus had a history of showing his disapproval with bolts of lightning, after all.
Eos chuckled softly and kissed my knuckles. “Sounds like you have an angle to investigate, anyway.”
I nodded. “How did he find out where you were, and why is it personal?”
“Nicely summarized, Pluto.”
“Thank you, Jupiter. First, I need to see if Daedalus has that blood sample for me, then catch up with Mother and Minerva.”
“Have you tried asking Hades about it?” Eos asked gently.
I winced. “No…we have a professional distance thing going on.” But he had said the transition had been tough for both of us, and that he was just getting used to me…
“Mmhm,” Eos said, reading me again. “Try talking to him. Just ask for his advice. Zeus was really stand-offish with me at first, after I took over the post. He told me later he’d been afraid of influencing me too much and affecting my performance. I doubt that’s what’s in Hades’s mind…but you never know. Don’t forget, he has a lot of pain to overcome to accept having an Avatar again. Also…I have a sneaking suspicion that what happened in New Orleans was a setup. Hades can help you wring information out of that punk Thanatos took out.”
I nodded slowly. “That makes sense. You know, you give good advice. I thought I was supposed to be the daughter of the goddess of wisdom.”
Eos grinned lopsidedly. “Give it time. You’re still young. You’ll grow into it, I’m sure.” Her grin grew, eyes sparkling. “I’m going to have so much fun watching it happen.”
My cheeks warmed again and I rose. “Thanks, Eos.”
Instead of responding, she used her hold on my hand to drag me in close so she could kiss me on the lips. When she eased up, I almost stumbled, feeling a bit dazed and a little light-headed. She’d left my whole body tingling with that one.
Eos grinned. “Oh yes, I like that expression.”