When I got back to my office I was feeling depressed. I sat down behind my desk, absently signed several requisition forms that Mel silently put in front of me, initialed a report (in triplicate) about having witnessed Eli’s end, then sat back in my chair and stared at the marble ceiling.
I might understand and appreciate the importance of that part of my job. I might even have begun to see past the sadness of death to accept it as a natural part of life. But none of that made witnessing even the peaceful, easy death of a good man any less difficult for me.
I’d discussed the matter at length with Charon a couple of years earlier, at a time when I’d been feeling particularly low and had decided that the whole thing was a bit of a pantomime. Charon was an excellent listener.
“I suppose it is,” Charon had said thoughtfully. “I don’t know what the point of it all is. I don’t think even Zeus knows that, and thousands of human philosophers have talked the subject to death, if you’ll pardon the pun. I think the meaning of life is to live it in a way of your own choosing.”
“And the end?”
Charon had shrugged. “I collect coins. I’m not exactly one to cast aspersions on the way anybody spends their eternity.”
I folded my arms on my desk and put my head down on them. I felt Mel caress my hair lightly for a moment, then heard a soft pop as she left me alone. She’d long since learned that when I was in this sort of mood, I just needed a little time to come out of it.
Eos, on the other hand…
Sometime later, my office door slammed open, bounced off the wall and rebounded into Eos’s outstretched palm. “Good grief, you’re a sight. Imagine what the poets would say if they knew the god of death’s Avatar wallowed in misery every time she witnessed the collection of a soul.”
She laid the back of her hand on her forehead in a dramatic swooning gesture. “The delicate flower of the Underworld wilts under the weight of an existential crisis she’s too sensitive to handle…”
I was giggling in spite of myself before she trailed off and glared at me. “You’re laughing at me.”
“Yes,” I said, my voice muffled by my arms as I hid my face, “I am.”
I heard her walk across the room and the shift of fabric told me she’d perched on the edge of my desk. “I’m offended.”
I snorted and sat up to find myself almost face to face with her as she leaned over and propped herself up on an elbow.
“Hi,” she said softly, wiping a couple of errant tears from my cheeks with her free hand. “You get all blotchy when you cry, you know.”
I gave her hand a gentle swat, and she leaned the rest of the way over to kiss me.
Eos’s kisses were to be enjoyed whenever possible, so I turned all of my attention to that. By the time she leaned back a little again, I was not only thoroughly distracted from my miniature existential crisis – how accurately she’d pinpointed that one – I was also a bit breathless.
“Wow,” I said. “Did you come down here just to do that?”
She considered the question seriously for a moment, looking at me closely. “No, but it’s definitely a bonus.” She sat up and turned, crossing her legs and looking down at me. “Mel called and said you were miserable after a soul collection, so I came to cheer you up. Was it somebody important?”
“Not to me, but somebody Apollo, Hermes and Hades all felt was important enough to show up for in person.”
Eos whistled softly. “Hades too? Wow. I thought he might’ve set down roots in that throne of his.”
I smiled a little and sat back in my chair so I could see her better. “Sometimes I think he might be. But this really surprised me. He was as warm with this guy as he is with Mel. Heck, he mentioned Persephone.”
Eos blinked. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. I guess this poet wrote some basically true and not overly embellished tales about the Greek gods, and got it right that Hades and Persephone were in love, rather than it being a forced marriage.”
“Wow.” Eos fell silent.
I felt my mood start to dip again – something about the old poet’s death had touched me deeply. Eos seemed to notice, hopping lightly off my desk and turning to face me. She spread her arms and grinned. “Come on! You need cheering up, love. Let’s go do something different.”
“Different how?” I asked warily. The last time she’d said ‘something different’ we’d spent an evening at a seedy little pub in Galway that had ended with an epic bar brawl.
(I am deeply ashamed to admit that it was kind of fun. Even the brawl. Maybe especially the brawl. Apparently, I have issues.)
“Not like last time, I promise,” Eos said, putting a hand over her heart. “No bruises required this time. Honest.”
I rose slowly. “Uh huh. That makes me even more nervous for some reason.”
She laughed, came around the desk and took my hands in hers. She gave a tug, pretending she was straining to get me moving. “Come on! It’ll be relaxing, I promise!”
I sighed dramatically and surrendered myself to the inevitable, allowing myself to be pulled along. “All right, all right. Civilian clothes?”
“Nope!” She turned and towed me towards the door, twining her fingers together with mine. “We’re going to a spa!”
Eos nodded eagerly. “For gods and demigods. Took me ages to get us a reservation, but I did it!”
A spa. She wasn’t kidding.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered having heard about a very, very exclusive day spa run by members of Aphrodite’s staff. It served a very limited number of people, only a few at any given time, and was only open for equally limited amounts of time.
I’d never been to a real spa before – not counting the regular massages, sauna and hot tub soaks my fellow demigods and I had enjoyed during our training. As I let Eos tow me towards the door, I found myself looking forward to the experience.
I wasn’t disappointed. I’d never been to Aphrodite’s palace before, and it was every bit as grand and overblown as I’d expected. If Zeus’s palace was a monument to an enormous ego, Aphrodite’s was a monument to shallow, vapid pretentiousness. It was a three-story…thing…that showed traits of several different architectural styles without actually embracing any of them. Most of it was painted white that faded to a very pale gold at the foundation.
Predominant was a long front porch that ran the entire length of the building and felt like it had been lifted from an Antebellum southern plantation manor, complete with Ionic columns. The roof was a blinding thing, made of what appeared to be overlapping sheets of gold and silver. Instead of gutters, the roof was edged with enormous precious gemstones that had to be the size of my head. Diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, all of them exquisitely cut to catch the light and glitter beautifully.
Off to one side was a swimming pool that had been designed to look like some sort of natural rock grotto/beach setting, with a couple of rather heavily tended-looking palm trees and neatly smoothed sand around the edges. There were a few gorgeous young women lounging there in very brief bikinis, and a couple of equally handsome young men in equally brief swimwear.
As I said, I wasn’t disappointed…just vaguely disgusted.
I leaned over, nudged Eos gently and whispered, “Is this a god’s palace, or a high-class whorehouse?”
She gave me a highly amused look. “It can’t be both?”
I laughed. “It’s so…gaudy.”
Eos nodded. “Yes it is. Come on, the spa’s around back.”
We spent the next four hours being scrubbed, oiled, massaged, trimmed, filed and generally pampered in a way that went beyond anything I’d ever experienced. In my honest opinion, it was an overblown experience, and not something I would do on a regular basis. I had no idea what it had cost Eos to get us in the door, but I imagined the fee was exorbitant. She probably owed Aphrodite a favor now or something, and all of the attendants’ hard work would go down the drain as soon as we went back to work and had to do anything even vaguely strenuous.
Which is not to say I didn’t feel enormously better when we left again. I was certain I’d never felt as relaxed and well as I did when we walked down the front steps on our way out. Heck, I was probably glowing. Eos certainly looked like she was, her tanned skin almost literally shone with health and her golden hair flowed gracefully down her back in a long, elegant braid.
She gave me an amused look. “You’re drooling.”
“You look amazing,” I replied, blushing.
“So do you. It’s almost time for dinner…I know a little place in Tokyo with food that’s to die for. Shall we?” She held out her hand to me.
“There’s plenty of places in Tokyo with food that’s to die for,” I smiled. “You’ve taken me to several.”
“I have,” she agreed. “But I just found this one recently, and you’re not going to believe it.”
She was right, I didn’t. It was indeed a little place, wedged into a space previously taken up by two very small offices in a corporate high-rise. From the outside, it looked like just another little office, with a plain door and a tiny sign on it. Inside, there was barely enough room for a half-dozen two-person tables, a wet bar, and a small kitchen. It was kept dimly lit, with floor lights behind the bar to light it, candles on the tables, and some recessed lights that were set very low.
It was cozy, very charming, and very peaceful. And, as Eos had said, the food was exquisite.
Afterwards, we wandered the streets of downtown Tokyo for a little while, like any normal couple. It’s a fascinating city, with main streets that look like a corporate and commercial bomb went off and sprayed businesses every which way without regard for what was beside or above them. The side-streets are home to dozens – if not hundreds – of fascinating little bars and restaurants, each with its own unique theme.
Since it takes an awful lot of alcohol to have an effect on us, we stopped in several of them and enjoyed a drink here and there. The walls of one were lined with license plates from what looked like every country in the world. Another was cowboy-themed, complete with saddle-topped stools at the bar. A third – one of the largest – was anime-robot themed and opened into an underground bar with a floor show that was half psychedelic robot disco, half faux-gladiatorial display.
We returned home in the very early hours of the morning, mildly buzzed from a combination of the alcohol and completely shedding our responsibilities for an evening, and more relaxed than I’d felt in ages. The living room of the suite of rooms Mel and I shared was dark as Eos and I slipped through the door, closing it behind us almost silently.
I was a little startled when Eos pressed me up against the door to kiss me, then giggled. “Round two?” she asked teasingly.
“Oh yeah,” I said, wrapping my arms around her and feeling pleasantly light-headed after her kiss. “Round two.”
Later, as we lay in bed together, I rolled onto my side and rested my head on her shoulder. “How did you know I needed to get out and relax so badly? I wasn’t even aware of it myself.”
“Mel called and said you looked like you were ready to snap,” Eos murmured drowsily, curling her arm around me. “We have high-stress jobs. You more so than most of us. I know when I was filling the position, before you were…um…drafted…”
I giggled. “Drafted. That’s a polite way of putting it.”
“Uh huh. Anyway, I know a little of what you go through every day, and the last few days have been worse than usual. It’d been a couple of weeks since you and I had time to go out together, so I put two and two together and here we are.”
“That is amazingly insightful,” I kissed her shoulder lightly. “Sometimes I forget how old you are.”
“I’m not the most mature person,” she agreed, sounding amused. “It’s easy to forget how old I am. I like to think I’m a healthier, happier person because of it.”
“More than I am, anyway. Thank you for reminding me to relax.”
She laughed softly. “It was a pleasure. Now, don’t you think we should get some sleep?”
I rolled on top of her, making her laugh again. “It’s going to be morning soon anyway. I’m sure our jobs can get by without us for a few more hours, for the sake of our mental health.”
Her eyes caught the little bit of light in the room, glittering up at me. “Oh, I agree. No question.”
Amazingly enough, I didn’t feel even a little tired or hung over when I finally made it to my office a few hours later.