A week later found me lying in the sun on a white-sanded tropical beach, wearing just a bright gold bikini. It wasn’t my usual style, but I’d let Eos talk me into wearing it because she’d promised to wear a matching suit, and I’d been unable to resist the idea of seeing her in it.
Upon release from Michel’s clinic, we’d packed a couple of bags, some towels, and taken ourselves off to the little island she knew in the South Pacific. It was, as promised, completely uninhabited, and barely large enough for the strip of tall grass and palm tress that grew in the middle. The water was a crystalline shade of blue-green and delightfully warm.
I had protested about needing sunblock, only to be informed by Eos that I was – as an Avatar – no longer subject to sunburn. Sadly, that also meant that I wasn’t going to tan, though my skin hardly needed it.
So we lay on the beach, side-by-side, soaking up the warmth of the sun and the pleasant sea breezes that drifted across us. We listened to the small waves lapping at the sand, and talked a lot about our lives before we’d met. She had a lot more stories to tell than I did, so I did more listening than talking, learning bits and pieces about her past. The weather, somehow, remained perfect, with just a few fluffy white clouds in the sky. No storms darkened our horizon.
I suspected Zeus had a hand in that.
Mel appeared briefly three times a day like clockwork to deliver meals, and had been given the ability to bring Michel with her once the day before to check up on us. Our respective wounds were completely healed now, but were still sometimes a bit tender to the touch. The Orichalcum had disrupted our natural healing enough that even with the bullets gone, the wounds had been slower to heal than normal, and had left scars.
That thought made me roll onto my side and look at the two scars to the left of Eos’s navel. I reached over and touched them lightly, which made her open her eyes and smile at me. “Don’t worry,” she said gently, “I’m still here.”
I picked out a few other old scars that I reached out and touched lightly. A thin line on her left thigh. What looked like a faint burn scar on her right shoulder.
“We lead rough lives,” I noted.
“We do,” she nodded, “but good ones. Even better now, eh?”
I smiled and rested my head on her shoulder, closing my eyes. “Much better. Can’t we just stay here, though?”
She laughed softly, and I felt her fingers caress the slim metal choker around my neck. “We have responsibilities,” she said. “And it’d be really boring after a while. You’re as much of an adrenaline junkie as I am, admit it.”
I smiled ruefully. “Not quite as much, maybe, but guilty as charged. Even if most of what I do is paperwork.”
“I’m sure Zeus and Hades wouldn’t mind if I swung by once in a while to give you a hand with that,” she said thoughtfully. “It’d eat up some of my down-time, but give you more. The net result would be more time we could spend on other things.”
I liked that idea, both because a shared workload is easier to bear, and because it would give us more time together. “That sounds like a plan.”
“Do you think Mel would mind?”
I smiled. “Not if you call her Mel and mean it,” I said. “She’s never had friends before, and I think she’d enjoy having another. Besides, did you see her and Michel giggling together as they came up the beach yesterday? I doubt they’ll mind having extra time to do whatever a chthonic nymph and a deceased demigod do in their spare time.”
Eos laughed. “Probably the same thing we’ve been doing,” she purred teasingly.
“I’m trying to be serious here!” But I laughed as I said it. “You’re probably right.”
“I usually am,” she agreed comfortably.
I swatted her hip lightly, and she laughed. “Okay, okay,” she said, “that was a bit arrogant.”
“Did Mel tell you about Juno yesterday while I was being examined?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Eos sighed. “Handed over to Hades for punishment. Ouch. I wonder what he’ll come up with for her.”
I shivered, thinking of the poetic punishments my patron was known for inflicting upon the guilty. “I don’t think I want to know.”
“Me neither,” Eos agreed. “I was kind of glad to hear that Gregor’s going to get some therapy though,” she said, “and serving at Daedalus’s menagerie isn’t too onerous a punishment.”
“Says she who’s never had to feed the wyverns,” I said grimly. “Believe me, it’ll be hard enough.”
“True.” She sighed. “Still, he is my half-brother, and even if our introduction was a bit…brutal…I feel bad for him.”
My fingers brushed over her new bullet scars again. “He was as much a victim of Juno’s madness as you and Michel were.”
“Yup,” Eos agreed. “I think it turned out for the best all around, don’t you?”
“Kind of weird to think that someone dying was a good thing for them,” I said, referring to Michel, “but he’s settled in nicely and seems content enough.”
“Probably because he doesn’t look or feel dead to us,” Eos observed. “And I imagine he thinks getting to court Mel sweetens the deal quite a bit.”
“He’s being a fanboy,” I said wryly. “I hope it lasts once he really gets to know her.”
“Oh, he’s a huge horror literature fan,” I said. “Since Mel played muse for many of the most famous horror authors, Michel’s gone all fanboy on her.”
“Ahh,” Eos chuckled softly. “I think it’ll last anyway. They’re cute together.”
“They are,” I agreed.
“So are we,” she said, and I could hear the grin in her voice.
“We are,” I agreed again. “There is one thing I feel I should bring up, though…”
“Hm? What’s that?”
“Well,” I said, just a little uneasy, “you are kind of my aunt. I mean, Zeus is technically my grandfather on Mom’s side, even if we’ve never really acknowledged it because of…reasons…”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Don’t go there,” Eos said firmly.
“Nope, just don’t. That way lies madness. Just be thankful we’re not part of the Egyptian pantheon.”
I snorted a little laugh.
“Remember,” she said softly, “they’re not Human, and we aren’t really anymore either. We’re immortals. That changes the rules a bit.”
I was silent for a moment, digesting that, before finally saying, “Is that why being Hades’s Avatar – having it forced on me, without any choice – didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would? Why I was never really upset with Mother about it?”
Eos made a thoughtful sound. “You know, I wondered about that myself. When I asked Father about it, he said something about the Fates, and how you’re where you were always meant to be.” I felt her shrug a little. “Does it bother you that it doesn’t bother you?”
“It did, a little,” I admitted. “A little nagging feeling in the back of my mind, at first, like I should’ve been more upset than I was. It went silent after the first couple of weeks, and I’ve hardly given it two thoughts since. It’s just kind of odd, that’s all.”
“Hmm,” Eos said. Then, with a teasing tone to her voice, asked, “How do you feel about my big brother?”
“Heracles?” I practically growled his name, anger welling up in my stomach a bit. “I’m going to smash his face in the next time I see him.”
She laughed. “In that case, I’d say that this…” She idly stroked my collar, with its golden symbol of Pluto floating in the obsidian oval at the hollow of my throat, “…influenced your emotions enough to keep you calm so you could focus on the work and adjusting to your new situation. And it probably kept you from being angry at Hades, who wasn’t given any choice either, or at Athena, who – in my opinion – had little choice in the matter either.”
The anger I felt faded as I considered her words, then nodded. “You’re probably right, again.” I sighed. “Anyway, now I feel like I’m where I belong. Hades and Melinoë need me, and…if I hadn’t been where I was, I never would’ve met you, and you’d probably be dead right now.” I felt a little cold at the thought, even under the tropical sun. “And Michel would’ve been lost to the greater mass of the dead, instead of working with us.
Part of me still doesn’t like that my choices were taken away,” I continued quietly, “but at the same time, looking back from where I am now, I wouldn’t change any of it. We’d all be worse off if Mother hadn’t put me on this path.”
“I doubt this is the end of it,” Eos said quietly. “There has to be more at stake than just this.”
I nodded a little, then smiled, feeling the warmth and vitality of her against me. “We’ll deal with it together, when it arrives.”
“Damn right we will.” She shifted, and I felt her fingers caress my cheek and jaw, tipping my face up so she could kiss me tenderly. As before, I felt it all the way down to my toes, and fervently hoped that I always would.
There was a soft pop from nearby, and a startled “Oops!” that sounded like Mel. She cleared her throat. “Um…sorry to interrupt…”
I broke the kiss with a sigh and opened my eyes, propping myself up on one arm to look at her. “What is it, Mel?”
“Um,” she dug her bare toes into the sand and looked embarrassed. “Daedalus just called…a cyclops went missing and needs to be brought back.”
My head thumped back down onto Eos’s shoulder. “You have got to be joking.”
Eos laughed. “Coming full circle, are we?”
“At least it’s not another minotaur,” I said.
“Hades said you could go back to your vacation right after you collect it,” Mel offered hesitantly. “He…didn’t think it’d take very long if both of you went.”
“He’s right,” Eos said, still chuckling as she pushed me into a sitting position and rose smoothly to her feet. “Come on, partner. Let’s go kick some ass. Then we can come back and play in the surf for a while.” She held out a hand to me.
I took it and let her pull me to my feet and brush sand off of me. My left leg didn’t so much as twinge, so I nodded. “All right, partner,” I said with a smile. “Let’s.”