ARCHIVE (Awakening – Chapter Two)

**All finished chapters will be updated on the Awakening page, in Writing Projects, if you want to read the full work to date**

Chapter Two

Kali was already moving before she had made up her mind. Eavesdropping had always felt dishonest to her, but Kali knew that she would never hear the whole story from her mother. And she knew that man. Something was going on, and it involved her. She justified her actions right up to the doors of the changing rooms behind the pool. She crossed her fingers and took a deep breath before pushing open the door and slipping quietly inside. She winced as her boots squelched but she was lucky; her mother and the man with gold eyes hadn’t noticed her yet.

Creeping away from the door and into the shadows behind some lockers, Kali pressed herself into the wall. Holding her breath, she edged closer to where the voices were coming from until she could hear what was being said. The first thing she heard clearly was her mother insisting “She didn’t need to know!”

“Of course she did.” The reply was soft, the man’s tone far calmer than Lynette’s had been. “Did you truly believe that if she did not know who she is, who I am, she could live a normal life?”

Kali frowned, confused but needing to know more, to understand, and crept slowly closer. She needn’t have bothered; her mother was almost shouting as she replied “I thought she had been spared all of this! She is almost never attacked, she stays under the radar, and she hasn’t had any episodes! She hasn’t been getting any of the usual symptoms and…she’s almost eighteen. If something was going to happen then it would have done a long time ago.”

“You foolish woman.” The man sounded tired. “Lynette, she may have managed to keep hold of herself, but only barely, and the effort is tearing her apart. You say she has had no symptoms, so you must be blind to the pain she feels.”

“Don’t you lecture me about my own daughter!” Lynette snapped fiercely, and Kali almost shivered just at the thought of the look that she knew would be on her mother’s face.

“She is our daughter.” The man’s voice was soft and calm but there was an edge to it that had not been there before, like a warning.

Lynette ignored the darkness that had crept into his voice and retorted “You didn’t raise her! I did!”

There was a silence and Kali considered moving closer again, but she was still reeling from the knowledge that this man was her father. She had known, of course, when she saw his eyes but…she had been told that her father had died when she was very young. Locked up in her own thoughts, she almost missed his quiet reply. “You knew my reasons for leaving, for staying out of her life for so many years, and I have never been far away.” Another pause, and then the man, Kali’s father, sighed softly and stated, “You had no right to keep this from her.”

“I wanted to keep her safe.” Lynette’s voice was weaker now too but stubborn and somehow immature, like a child having a tantrum.

“She is the most powerful being outside of Camelot. Did you honestly think that you could hide her from the gods? They are already searching for her and it is only a matter of time before they stumble across something.” Kali frowned and held her breath, wanting, needing, to hear more.

Lynette’s voice was dark as she asked, “They want to hurt her?”

“They want to court her. You know that we are drawn to power; it is not something we can control. It just rolls from Kali in waves. I should not be surprised but…” He sighed for a moment and then continued “Thankfully, Hades has always been immune to such things, so he has been helping me keep things under control. But it has not been easy. The older she gets, the harder it is to hide her scent, and her power is still growing rapidly. The only thing we can do now is send her to Camelot where she will be protected from their advances. The rules are far stricter there than they are out here. I had hoped to avoid it but…even I can see no other way out.”

Lynette hesitated and then slowly asked “Is there something that you aren’t telling me?”

“She shines like the sun. I can see her burning up from the intensity of the power that is inside of her.” He sighed and then admitted “I am afraid.”

“But if she goes to Camelot? If they teach her, train her?” Lynette sounded worried, but Kali’s ears heard something she thought she recognised as relief.

“It will help. But you must not go with her.”

Lynette made a noise of disbelief and exclaimed “She can’t go all the way there alone! What if something happened?” Though she sounded insistent, Kali wondered if there wasn’t something almost hopeful in her mother’s tone. The tiniest hint that she wanted to be free of the burden that was her daughter.

“Lynette, my dear, think about this.” He said patiently and then reasoned “If they see you, realise that you are her mother when she is so obviously a daughter of Apollo, they will kill her on sight.”

Kali sagged slightly against the wall and stared blankly ahead of her; what world had she suddenly shifted into? Everyone was going mad, and the worst part was that it all fit so perfectly together in her mind. Her father was Apollo, a god, and other gods wanted to find her and ‘court’ her just because she was powerful in some way? She was to be going to a school to be trained somehow even though they would kill her immediately if they knew who she was? And somehow all that craziness made perfect sense.

She was going completely insane, Kali decided. Strangely, the part that bothered her most was her mother’s reaction. Lynette seemed to be almost glad to be rid of her and have her life back. Kali hoped that she was imagining it but…

Considering whether she should be fighting her sudden urge to flee, Kali looked at the door across the room. She wondered absently if her parents – that word felt strange in her mind – would notice if she bolted for it. She took a slow step away from her hiding place and felt a hand softly close around her wrist as a voice murmured “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Kali almost jumped out of her skin, but she managed to contain her reaction to a small jerk. Her head smacked against the wall and she winced but held back her cry. She looked at the man touching her wrist and saw that he literally melted into the shadows. His grip was tight on her, and she wondered if he thought she would run from him.

For some reason, she didn’t really mind that he was still touching her. His hand had loosened somewhat when she had relaxed against the wall and now it was almost comforting, like an anchor. Without the contact, Kali might have wondered if he was even real. Watching the shadows clinging to him, a chill ran through her and seeped into her bones. But it was nothing new to her.

A long moment passed between them in silence, and Kali realised that she had been gazing at him. She blushed, and dropped her eyes, but the voice came again. Soft and deep, the man murmured “You are calmer than I would have expected.” At her silence, a tinge of amusement trickled into the man’s tone and he sighed “Tut, tut, little dove. Eavesdropping hardly suits you.”

“Says the man skulking in the shadows.” She muttered, flashing him a smile. She was met by silence and felt that the man was weighing her up. “How long have you been listening and watching without anyone knowing that you’re there?” She continued quietly, her voice barely a whisper.

“Ah.” He replied, the hint of amusement growing in his gentle voice. “Touché.”

Kali smirked slightly, pleased with herself, but her smugness was short-lived. The man in the shadows suddenly gripped her wrist tighter and pulled her into the darkness with him. She heard him breathe an apology in her ear, and he covered her mouth. “I know this is difficult, but it would be better if you remained silent.”

Her breath caught in her throat as he pressed her gently against the wall. His lips brushed her ear at his quiet warning, and Kali took a deep breath to steady herself. She had never been in such close proximity to a man and, even if he was practically invisible, he was a stranger. So why was her face was flushed, and why was her heart racing? She didn’t feel uncomfortable even so close to him. Even in the darkness.

Kali could only look at him and she could feel his hesitation. “You…are not afraid.” He stated, curiously. Kali didn’t know why she wasn’t; this situation should be unnerving in the least. But, with a small sigh, the man put something small in her hands and crushed them around it. A chill crept over her body and the first hint of fear gripped her. But the sensation evened out soon enough into something that felt like a cool breeze against her skin. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was almost refreshing.

While the feeling took hold, the man was silent. Kali could feel his eyes on her and opened her mouth to ask what he was doing but he pressed a finger to her lips. Lightning crackled across her skin at his touch, and she gasped softly. He froze, looking down at her. Her eyes found his even though she could not see him. In that instant, time stopped.

“Don’t move until I come back over to you.” He suddenly whispered, and the moment was broken.

The man stepped out of the shadows towards Apollo, who had just rounded the corner, and they embraced like brothers. But Kali just took another deep breath and tried to control her trembling. What was the matter with her? She looked down at her hands and saw that they were shadowy. Even as she looked down at them, her eyes wouldn’t quite focus.

Kali came back to her senses as Apollo fixed his glittering eyes on the man. Even in the middle of the room, the darkness would not release him. She couldn’t get any kind of idea what he looked like. Not even his height was discernible. “When did you get here, Hades?”

“A few minutes ago, perhaps. Not long. I didn’t think it wise to…interrupt.” Hades said calmly, the shadows still masking his expression.

“You’re getting sloppy, old friend.” Apollo’s eyes narrowed, and his voice took on a decidedly suspicious note. He was clearly testing the waters when he continued “When I heard a noise back here, I thought I would have to deal with some pesky mortal.”

Kali stiffened when his eyes floated over the place she stood, but Hades merely chuckled softly, admitting “It has been a while since I have walked on such slick tiles.”

“Are you telling me that you slipped?” Apollo froze in place, a boyish grin tugging at his mouth.

With a formal tone, Hades replied “I am saying nothing of the sort. Draw whatever conclusions you see fit.”

Apollo laughed, a full belly laugh, and Hades chuckled quietly in response. Kali watched them, frowning, and wondered if Hades was always this evasive. Mostly, though, she reeled at the revelation of the other man’s identity. “In any case, thank you for coming.”

Kali felt eyes flicker back over her hiding place and fought the urge to move further away. Her leg twitched, and she bit her lip. Before she could decide whether or not to leave, Hades’ silky voice washed over her. “I take it your demigod did not see things your way?”

“Does she ever?” A dark note had crept into his voice, and Apollo scowled.

Hades waited patiently, letting the time drag on. Kali thought that he sounded agitated when he prompted “And you would like me to…?”

“I need to know how far she’s come. Lynette told me that she doesn’t know what she is.” Apollo shook himself out of his inner grumblings and ran his hand through his dark hair, flicking it off his face. He sighed and his voice was softer, sadder, when he murmured “I saw her, and she didn’t recognise me.”

“Her mother kept it from her?” Kali could tell from the slight inflections in Hades’ deep voice, even as quietly as he was speaking, that he was frowning.

“Yes. She would have been killed today by her actions, and she had no idea that her blood would protect her. Her birth right.” Apollo paused, and Kali held her breath. “But she still risked her life for that child.”

Quietly but firmly, Hades stated, “She will make a fine Hero.”

“If that is the path she chooses.” A proud smile was playing about his lips and Kali fought the tears that were welling in her eyes as she realised that her father was proud of her. It shouldn’t matter, and she told herself that she didn’t need his approval; he had left her. His next words were more ominous, and his face fell back into a dark scowl. “If the others do not get to her first.”

Casually, Hades asked “Hermes is still intent on finding her?”

“He is the best in all the realms at finding people. I have managed to mask her presence so far but…I fear today’s events would have been a beacon for him.” Apollo hesitated for a moment, weighing up the question he wanted to ask, before proceeding. “The girl…did she…?”

“She had reached the ferryman. Kali could have died, dragging her back the way she did.” Hades’ voice held the same touch of humour she had heard earlier on, and it did strange things to her. “Charon is not best pleased that his flawless record has been tarnished.”

“I was afraid of that.” His voice was decidedly ominous, and Kali frowned, wondering what was going on. Charon was the ferryman of the dead? So, if she bought into any of this, that meant she had brought the little girl back from the edge of the Underworld? And Hermes was ‘after’ her? “I’ve tried to dissuade him but…you know what he’s like. As soon as he caught wind of her, he was hooked. Then I put obstacles in his way and it just made him want to find her more. Hermes has always loved the chase.”

“No more than you do, old friend.” Hades teased, though his voice was quiet again. “And Ares?”

Apollo grimaced. “Worse. But at least he isn’t very good when it comes to tracking her.”

“That will change now.” Kali shook her head and tried to focus on her breathing. This didn’t make any sense. Even if the gods they were talking about were real, and she was growing more and more willing to believe that they were, she was nobody. She was nothing. She slid as silently as she could into a sitting position, just so she wouldn’t pass out. She hardly heard the rest of the exchange until Hades said, “Are you taking her with you?”

“Not tonight. Lynette said she wanted time to explain things.” His tone implied that wasn’t an obligation he shared or agreed with. If anything, it sounded like he had let it go for an easy life. Knowing that her mother was where she got her stubborn nature, Kali wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. “If I’m taking Kali away from her mother, she at least deserves to know why.” Apollo added, sounding grim.

Knowingly, Hades said “You want me to watch over her.”

“Not tonight.” He sighed wearily and ran his fingers through his brown hair one more time. “But if you can check in on her in the morning, I would be in your debt.”

“I do like open ended favours…” Hades stopped for a moment, clearly thinking. Finally, he stated “As you wish. Now, go and talk some sense into your woman.”

Apollo nodded restlessly, muttering “Wish me luck.”

With a weary sigh, he turned from Hades’ shadowy figure and strode away. Kali was vaguely aware of her mother’s voice, but it sounded much further away. There was a kind of roaring in her ears that she couldn’t quite get past and her head was suddenly swimming. If she hadn’t already been on the floor, she was sure she would have fallen then. 

A finger brushed her forehead gently, and a weight lifted from her shoulders. Kali could feel her breathing even out slightly, and warmth eased back into her limbs. She hadn’t realised that she had been trembling until the shivers ceased. Hades’ voice felt like a caress when he murmured “Well…you are not a quivering wreck, so that went better than expected.”

“Oh please. It takes more than my dad coming back from the dead and turning out to be a god to unsettle me.” Keeping her voice low, she aimed for bravado but fell dangerously short. She noticed her hands shaking again and grimaced, “No, wait, I was wrong. That might be just on the level.”

“Breathe, Kali.” He was still standing over her, a hand touching a strand of her damp hair. She could feel him towering over her, but she didn’t feel threatened. If anything, she felt almost secure. Hades sounded almost apologetic when he added “The Skotádi can be unpleasant.”

“Skotádi?” She repeated the word curiously, letting her tongue curl around the pronunciation. It was strangely familiar, but she couldn’t quite place where she had heard it before. Like an echo of a dream she’d once had.

“Darkness.” He replied. After another short pause, he confessed “Even the gods find it difficult to subdue the effects. You are surprising resilient.”

Kali wasn’t sure how to take that, so she filed it away in her mind. Instead, she muttered “Gods.” It was real, then? Or she was even crazier than she thought. All of a sudden, she remembered that the man who was so close to her, leaning over her, was one of them. A god. She bit her lip but quickly shot Hades a sly smile, asking “So…am I supposed to bow?”

A genuine laugh escaped him, surprising her. When he cleared his throat, she wondered if it had startled him as well. After a moment, he said “That depends entirely on what you want, Kali. I certainly don’t expect your deference.”

“What do you expect?” She asked quietly, looking back over her shoulder and into the shadows.

“You’re starting to sound afraid of me.” He said quietly, his even tone sounding almost troubled. With a small laugh, he admitted “That took longer than usual.”

“I am not afraid.” Kali stated absolutely, turning fully to face him. The tiniest hesitation showed on her face when she clarified “Not of you, at least.”

Silence followed her words, until he finally changed the subject, offering “You must have questions.”

Relieved as she was, Kali hesitated. “Is that really okay? I mean…don’t you have somewhere better to be?”

“Good point.” Kali’s heart dropped into her stomach; of course he had somewhere better to be. But before she could respond, his hand curled around hers. “Hold on tight.”

At his whisper, Kali felt a tug in the pit of her stomach. She squeezed her eyes shut and found herself clutching at the front of Hades’ shirt when her feet seemed to leave the ground. It was barely a moment, but his chuckle washed over her, and she blushed. When he released her, she could feel a cool breeze on her face. Curiously, she opened her eyes and gasped.

Kali backed up a few steps into the wall behind her, looking out over the roof of the main building of the safari park. The height didn’t bother her, but she was dizzy from whatever Hades had done to bring them there. She braced herself against the wall but took a deep breath of the crisp evening air.

From the shadows, Hades watched her. When she seemed to have regained her balance, he murmured “I thought you might like some air.”

Her heart fluttered as he softly brushed his fingertips against her hair. When she finally found her voice, she murmured softly “He called you Hades. I was always interested in mythology growing up…my mother didn’t approve, but…you’re the Lord of the Underworld? God of the Dead?”

“I am.” His answer was quiet, but Kali was sure there was a hint of amusement in his low voice.

She just nodded and then said, “And my father is Apollo.”

“He is.” Again, that same even answer with a tinge of something she couldn’t quite place.

Kali bit her lip, keeping her voice low even though they were alone. “And you mentioned Ares and Hermes…” She sighed and shook her head, breathing “This is impossible, right? I’ve lost my mind?”

“I wouldn’t say so. You know that you have never been like other girls. When you were a child, before you thought that you should hide who you were, things used to happen. To you, and around you. Things your adult mind cannot explain, and reasons away. Your natural talent with a bow. The fact that you heal much more quickly than you should. Your uncanny ability to know when someone is lying to you.” He almost seemed to hesitate for a moment, but his voice was still even when he added “The freak tidal wave that destroyed your school after your teacher struck you.”

“How did you…” Kali swallowed the lump in her throat. That was another memory she had tucked away. “I never told anyone that.” She said, her voice small.

Again, Hades’ fingers found a lock of hair curling at her shoulder. “Apollo found out from the man when he looked into what happened there. He has a way of getting the truth out of people.”

To distract herself, Kali asked “So…I’m a demigod? Like Heracles, from the myths?”

“Not exactly.” He chuckled again, and Kali got the sense that he was laughing at her comparison.

Despite his amusement, Kali frowned. “But, I thought-”

“Your mother is a demigod. One of Poseidon’s children. You are…” His eyes caught her, though she couldn’t see them, and she held her breath while he searched for the right word. “More.”

Her mind flickered back to what Apollo had said; if anyone knew Lynette was her mother, they would kill her on sight. It was like a bucket of cold water over her head compared to the warmth that had been blossoming in her chest. “And that means that people will want to kill me?”

“Yes.”

A strangled laugh left her. “You don’t sugar coat it, do you.”

She could feel his smile. A shadow of it formed in her mind. His soft voice seemed tender and caring when he murmured “From the little I have observed about you, I wouldn’t have thought you would appreciate veiled lies or half-truths. Even for the sake of comfort.”

“If Hermes and Ares want to find me…court me?” She glanced his way to see his reaction but, unsurprisingly, he was still cloaked in darkness. If anything, the shadows around him were only deepening in the waning sunlight. “They would at least think I’m a demigod. If it’s so forbidden, then why would they risk it?”

“The relationship is not taboo in the slightest.” Hades said carefully, weighing his words. “What is feared is the offspring of such trysts. Demigods are not meant to be able to conceive with a god, but it is not unheard of. And it never ends well for either side. Zeus passed a decree a few centuries ago, prohibiting reproduction in these partnerships. In the few times it has happened, the gods have taken measures.”

“Oh.” She stated quietly, sagging slightly against the wall and staring determinedly at the floor. Her head was reeling from everything that had already happened that day and she knew that the day wasn’t even over yet.

Hades brushed a strand of hair from Kali’s face and murmured “How are you feeling?”

She trembled at his touch but valiantly said “Well, I’m re-evaluating my stance on brutal honesty.” She took a deep breath before trying for a smile. “Otherwise…could be worse? Is there anything else I should know?”

“The rest can wait.” Hades watched her for a long moment, his indistinct form still hidden from her. “Are you ready to go back?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think I can move.” Her hands were pressed hard against the wall like she was trying to hold onto it to keep from falling.

Hades slipped his arm around Kali’s waist and held her protectively to him. In that position, her head was resting on his chest and she could hear his steady heartbeat. It was a strange sensation to feel the hard muscles of his chest but see only darkness. Her eyes told her he couldn’t be there, but she could feel him shifting under her fingers. He sighed shakily, muttering something she couldn’t make out, and his arms tightened around her.

With another light tug in the pit of her stomach, they were in the reptile house. Kali didn’t ask how they had gotten there and she didn’t let herself dwell on the feel of his arms around her. She didn’t even try to right herself. She just smiled shakily and muttered “You’re taller than I thought.”

Hades chuckled, surprised, and Kali could tell that he was smiling again when he murmured “You are an interesting young woman, Kali.” He took her hand gently and slowly moved it to his lips. He kissed it lightly and she could feel his grin. “Do try to stay out of trouble long enough for us to meet again.”

Kali blushed, looking down with a smile, and murmured that she would do her best. Hades grew more serious as he lowered her hand again. He sighed, “Be careful of the gods. All of them have their own agendas.”

“And what is yours?” She asked softly.

He just chuckled softly again and replied “You shall probably find out soon enough. Until we meet again, Kali.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

With that, he was gone. Kali still had not managed to see more of him than just a faint outline but too much else had happened for her to really mind. Her head was spinning with what she had heard, but everything inside her felt numb. She knew from experience that whatever she was feeling would hit her soon enough. For now, she let her mind hum over things and determinedly ignored them.

Just as Kali approached Gloria’s cage and started to whisper softly to the snake, Lynette strode into the room and told her daughter that they were leaving. Kali just stared at her blankly for a moment, but she was already at the door. She started and rushed after her mother, following her through the park to the car. Lynette didn’t look back.

Kali had been feeling dazed, but still she couldn’t help but be angry with her mother. Searching her feelings, it wasn’t quite anger. She felt betrayed. Lynette had lied to her about everything, and she was still acting as though nothing had changed. The only reason that Kali knew anything at all was because she had listened in. She should still be freaking out, in the dark, and Lynette had left her alone.

The ride home in the car passed in strained silence. The air was thick between them. Lynette barely noticed how quiet Kali was being, so preoccupied with her own uneasiness. When she did, she thought it was just because of the incident in the pool. By the time they got home, after the longest fifteen minutes of Kali’s life, Kali wasn’t even sure if she could speak at all anymore.

When they got into the house, Kali curled up in her usual chair in the living room and Lynette sat stiffly in the one opposite. Kali waited for a few moments for her mother to speak until she realised that she wouldn’t. She decided to force the conversation to start and muttered “Am I going crazy?”

Lynette looked at her sharply, her eyes demanding an explanation, and Kali continued slowly “The things that have happened today aren’t possible in the world that I know. The only explanation is that I’m losing my mind…right? I mean, I spoke to a killer whale, I could breathe underwater, and…that kid’s heart wasn’t beating when I pulled her out. I…it was like I brought her back to life somehow. Tell me how any of that is possible.”

“You said you did CPR.” Lynette offered weakly.

Kali clenched her teeth, literally biting down on her anger, and insisted “And you said I didn’t.”

Kali just looked at her, waiting, and when Lynette realised she wasn’t going to get to stall any longer she sighed. Her face relaxed but it looked as though something inside of her broke when she said, “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say something! Anything that will make my life make some kind of sense again. Because this isn’t even the first time!” Now that she had started, Kali’s voice wouldn’t stop shaking. But she was getting angrier with everything that her mother said, and the anger gave her strength even though tears were streaming from her eyes. She desperately wanted to hear the truth from her mother, just once, so she persevered. “There are so many things that I’ve just pushed aside and figured I’d imagined them. But I didn’t imagine this!”

“Kali…” She hesitated on the verge of revealing something she didn’t want to and then shook her head. “Sometimes life just throws something at you that you can’t explain. Some people would call them miracles.”

“Miracles? That’s your answer?” Kali took a moment to breathe, trying to calm down and stop shaking, and then growled “That thing that attacked me when I was with Jade in August was no miracle.”

Lynette’s eyes drifted, as they always did, to the scar on Kali’s face. And then they dropped. She sighed wearily, tired of the conversation. If she guessed that Kali knew what she was holding back she didn’t show it. She was ashamed, but she couldn’t bring herself to talk about Camelot, so she muttered “We’ve been over this, Kali. What do you want me to tell you?”

“Tell me how any of this could make sense! Tell me that there is some kind of explanation for what happened today!” Kali brushed tears from her eyes angrily and yelled “Tell me!”

“I can’t.” Lynette said calmly, her voice almost cold, and Kali froze. Tears were still wet on her cheeks, but she couldn’t make herself move to wipe them away. A few seconds passed in silence, but it was an eternity to Kali. Eventually Lynette stood up slowly and murmured “I have to get ready for my date.”

“Can’t you cancel?” Kali asked quietly, hoping that her mother would turn around and make her feel like she mattered more than her boyfriend.

Once again, she was disappointed. “I can’t. It’s our anniversary.”

“Already?” Kali frowned; her mother hadn’t even mentioned that she was seeing anyone until last month. “Fine.” She muttered bitterly; why would she confide in her daughter anyway? Kali took a breath and then said as casually as she could manage “Oh, I forgot. A man came to see me in the reptile house when I was waiting for you. Did he find you?”

Lynette paled visibly, and her voice was quiet as she asked, “What man?”

Kali shrugged quite convincingly, stating “He never told me his name. He had weird eyes though; they were gold. He seemed to know who I was.”

“I don’t know of anyone with eyes like that.” Lynette insisted.

“So, he didn’t speak to you?” Kali pressed the matter subtly, acting confused. “He asked after you and went to the pool.”

“I must have missed him.” She muttered through gritted teeth and then insisted “I need to get ready now. I’ll see you when I get home and we can…talk.”

“Yeah.” Kali’s voice was empty then and she just stared at the floor, unable to look her mother in the eye.

When Lynette left the room, Kali didn’t move. She couldn’t remember how to. Her mind was too busy trying to process what had happened. Time seemed to be moving so slowly; she couldn’t believe that she had been at school only a few hours ago.

Her mother came downstairs after a little while in a pale blue dress that matched her eyes. Normally Kali would have complimented her, but she barely saw her. It wasn’t until long after Lynette had left, her ‘goodnight’ still echoing in Kali’s ears, that Kali managed to look up.

Kali sank back into her chair for a moment with her eyes closed, employing every single relaxation technique she had ever learnt until she could breathe again. None of it worked, so she put her earphones in and turned up her music so she couldn’t hear anything else. But every song that came on seemed to pull her with it. Eventually, the heavy beats were too much for her to ignore.

With a man singing about revolution over some heavy guitar riffs, Kali pushed herself up. The feeling that something was out of place still lingered, and she was restless. Now that she knew she wasn’t just paranoid, it only made things worse. She had to move. She needed to be doing something. Anything. She had to get out of her head or she would make herself crazy.

She grabbed a band hoodie on her way out and locked the door behind her. She couldn’t just sit there anymore. The sun had set but Kali didn’t have room for fear anymore. She hardly noticed the darkness around her or the chill in the air. The cross rhythms and steady bass of the music in her ears drove her on until her walk turned into a run. Picking up speed, she ran until she couldn’t spare the energy to think anymore.

When her mind was finally silent, and the music changed to something calmer, Kali dropped. On her hands and knees, she shook under the crushing weight of reality crashing back into her. Sweat covered her and the chill of the air almost stung now that she was still.

Muttering a curse under her breath, Kali rocked back onto her knees and took out her earphones. Her limbs were trembling and her breathing was heavy, but her mind was blissfully empty. For the first time, she took in her surroundings with a frown. The park? It was mostly empty now, but it wasn’t a good place to be. All the lads that fancied themselves as thugs frequented it, and that was trouble that she didn’t need.

After a moment, Kali noticed that she wasn’t as alone as she had initially thought. A little way off, leaning back on one of the benches, was a man. She couldn’t get a clear look at him, mostly because her vision was blurring from the exertion of her run, but he didn’t look like a wannabe ‘gangsta’.

“Rough night?” He called over to her in a slightly gravelly voice.

Kali started, embarrassed; he must have noticed her looking at him. But it also struck her that he could definitely take her in a fight. His tight t-shirt just highlighted the fact that he was made of muscle. That much, at least, she could see from where she knelt on the grass. Not wanting to be rude, she replied “Something like that.” But she slowly got to her feet without taking her eyes off him.

Before she started backing up, the man said “Easy, sunflower. I’m not gonna hurt you.”

Kali felt some of the tension leave her body, and she relaxed slightly. She had always been able to tell when someone was lying to her. He didn’t mean her any harm. Her legs were still shaking a little, and her head was swimming. Even if this man wasn’t a threat, it was still immensely stupid to be there. She scowled inwardly; what had gotten into her? Now that she wasn’t worried that the man on the bench would pounce on her, she muttered an awkward goodbye and turned to leave.

Seeming surprised, he called “You’re leaving? Just like that?”

“I know that must be strange for you, but not every girl is slain by your muscles.” She grinned, though her eyes roamed over his frame again curiously. He really was toned to perfection. It was just a shame that guys like that seemed to love themselves more than anyone else.

“That’s true. Most of them fall for my good looks and charm. They just stay for my body.”

His confident, slightly arrogant, tone sent a thrill through her, but she forced a laugh. Definitely loved himself too much for her taste. She would be willing to bet that he oiled his biceps daily. Luckily for her, he was way out of her league. “I wouldn’t want to intrude on your alone time.”

“Please, intrude away.” He indicated at the space on the bench next to him and Kali hesitated for a moment.

She was almost relieved when a pungent smell reached her from across the park. She managed to hold back urge to gag, but her expression soured. She could smell the drugs clinging to the idiots walking their way from a mile off. With another glance at the stranger, Kali suggested “Maybe you should think about moving along as well.”

He looked over towards the kids and raised an eyebrow at her. “Don’t insult me, little one.”

“Little?” Kali felt a blush creep onto her cheeks and just blinked at him. She had always been tall for her age, and her frame was anything but petite. She couldn’t remember anyone ever calling her little. But, she thought, looking at him…now that her eyes had accustomed to the dim light and she wasn’t so tired…he was well over six feet tall, and his muscular build was impressive. She probably was little next to him.

Her eyes moved back to him despite her best intentions. Brown hair in an undercut style, and a strong jaw. Good looks, indeed. And that wolfish grin, which had only widened at her awkward response. Damn, why did he have to be so attractive? No wonder guys like him were so egotistical; he had literally no flaws.

Before Kali could get too distracted by the unfair balance of beauty in the world, she was dragged back out of her head by shouts. She closed her eyes and groaned another curse, but it was too late. Taking a deep breath, Kali turned towards the whooping idiots making their way over.

“Hey, sweet thing. Here for a good time?” One of them called out, swaggering over to her.

Grumbling inwardly, Kali turned to him and raised an eyebrow, retorting “If I were, why would I waste my time with you?”

“Aww, don’t be like that, babe.” The nearest guy reached out his hand to touch her and she snapped. Without thinking, she grabbed his wrist and twisted it painfully until he cried out. Holding him in place, Kali said “I have had a really bad day. How about you leave?”

It sounded reasonable enough to her, but the boy swore at her and flailed until she let him go. She was more worried about breaking his arm, but he clearly didn’t appreciate her consideration. Still swearing, the bratty kid swung his fist at her, but she was already moving. It had been a long time since she had been in a fight, but apparently her body still knew what to do. It didn’t take any kind of conscious thought for her to block his wide swing and move into his space. Her swift, sharp kick sent all the colour out of his body and he hit the floor with a wheeze.

She glanced at the others, expecting trouble, and saw that they were all unconscious near the bench. The man she had spoken to before had sat back down and was just watching her. Kali took a long minute to process how quickly he had dealt with them. A hint of concern touched her, and she asked, “They all alive down there?”

He raised an eyebrow at her, but shrugged, “They’ll wake up in a couple of hours with a hell of a headache, and a cracked rib or two.”

Keeping her eyes on him, she moved closer to check on the guys on the floor. They may have been punks but there were five of them. He hadn’t even broken a sweat. “Guess those muscles aren’t just for show, huh, big guy?”

“They have their uses.” He winked, unashamed, and Kali blushed again.

She took a deep breath and held out her hand, saying, “I’m Kali.”

“Ares.” He clasped her hand and she froze. Ares. The god of war. She was so stupid! Of course a hot guy in the park wasn’t going to give her the time of day!

Kali fixed her expression back into an easy grin, hoping that the unease hadn’t shown on her face. She raised an eyebrow, mocking his use of the gesture before, and teased “Like the star sign?”

“Like the god.” His eyes were fixed on hers and the smile dancing on his lips was enough for her to know that he had seen through her bluff. Ares’ hand was still around hers, despite her feeble attempt to pull it back, and he looked curiously down at their joined hands. With a tiny movement, he pulled her to him and she fell towards him. He still sat casually on the bench but now she was leaning over him, and his face was barely an inch away.

There was a hint of stubble on his otherwise perfect face, and it was sexier than she had expected. His brown eyes were surprisingly gentle. And close enough that she could lose herself in them. And his lips were still pulled up in an almost taunting smile. Ares had a hand on her arm and the other on her hip, holding her up. She was dangerously off balance. If he let go, she would be on top of him.

Realising that, Kali struggled slightly to right herself, but Ares’ hand tightened on her arm. She glanced at him, letting her uncertainty show in her eyes, and mumbled “You said you weren’t going to hurt me.”

“Am I hurting you, sunflower?” He asked, his grin taking on a decidedly smug quality. He let her drop slightly towards him and obviously breathed in her scent. Feeling her tension, he laughed and moved her closer, whispering “You’re always so in control, aren’t you? Maybe you should try letting someone else lead once in a while. You might like it.”

Kali hesitated, and trembled when Ares slowly moved his hand from her hip to her thigh. She bit her lip and looked helplessly down at him. After an agonizing second, she whispered “I have had a really bad day.”

“So, let me make it better.” He said simply, with the same infuriating smile. Kali hesitated; she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know what she wanted. Her eyes darted to Ares’ lips of their own accord, and he moved in with a smirk. His lips brushed hers once, then twice, and he slipped his hand around the back of her neck. She fell forward towards him and he laughed into the kiss.

Ares hadn’t expected her to be like this. He hadn’t been prepared for her. He wasn’t normally attracted to women he had to save, but her show of strength so suddenly replaced by her hesitation – the helpless way she looked up at him called to every predatory instinct to hunt her, and to protect her. To own her. Damn, he had it bad. But she tasted like salt and smoke and fire. She would be a wild one. And he would have fun taming her.

He lifted her up, still claiming her lips, and switched their positions on the bench. She moaned into the kiss and her teeth grazed his bottom lip. The tentative suggestion of the wilder nature he was sure she was hiding nearly shattered his control. Making up his mind, Ares deliberately tangled his hand in her hair and bit her lip, drawing blood. Kali drew back with a startled gasp, her eyes flying open, but he pulled her back to him and touched his tongue to her lip.

Though she still trembled at the contact, Ares could see that her expression was clearer now. Her sensible side was kicking back in. And the colour on her cheeks made it clear that she was mortified that she had just put herself in such a compromising position with a relative stranger. When he had lifted her, he had pulled her legs around his waist. Now, she tried to scramble back away from him.

Smirking, Ares hooked his hand under her thigh and pulled her back to him. Kali’s hands pressed against his chest in a futile attempt to keep him at a distance. “Enough. I’m…that’s enough.”

“You’re killing my ego. Enough? After just a kiss?” The laugh she might have considered sexy before now carried a sinister undertone. “I don’t think so, little one.”

She brought her knees up between them as an extra barrier and tried to squirm out of his grasp. “Stop.”

“Make me.” He taunted, wrapping his hand in her hair and tilting her head back. Fear distorted her features for a heartbeat and Ares wondered if he had misjudged her. But anger suddenly burned in her eyes and only grew when his grin returned.

Without hesitation, Kali rammed her knee as hard as she could into his stomach. She couldn’t muster much force because of the way he had wedged her in, and Ares didn’t flinch. He even laughed. Snarling, Kali gripped his wrist with both hands and scratched at the skin with her rough nails. If anything, his hand just tightened in her hair. Despite her struggling against him, Ares buried his face in her neck and nipped at her skin and murmured “You’re not even trying.”

Kali managed to get her arm in a position to jab her elbow against his jaw. That time, the contact seemed to at least affect him, and his head shot back slightly. Although, the pain that shot through her arm made Kali think she might have hurt herself more than him. Her thoughts stopped when Ares drew a small knife in one fluid movement.

“Well that got your attention.” He slowly moved the blade and the strange golden blade glinted in the dim streetlights. Kali was frozen in place when he touched the blade gently to her neck. Cold spread through her, but her eyes were locked on his. He chuckled softly and moved the blade back again. He tossed it carelessly and caught the blade, offering the handle to her.

It was a trick, of that Kali was certain. But if she had the knife then it meant he didn’t. So, she went for it anyway. Ares didn’t pull it back out of reach as she had expected, but she still didn’t trust him. The instant her hand closed around the hilt, she kicked out at his groin and punched him in the throat with her empty hand. His grip finally loosened on her hair and she struggled to slip out past him. She managed to get off the bench before his hand closed around her wrist, and she was yanked back.

In spite of her best efforts, Kali couldn’t help but cry out when she felt something tear in her shoulder. She barely noticed when she collided with the bench, or when she tumbled back onto the ground. Seeing Ares’ face looming over her, Kali slashed out with the knife still gripped in her left hand. There was a shadow of concern in his eyes, but it was quickly replaced by surprise when he looked down at the gash in his wrist. “I wasn’t sure you’d actually do it. Deeper than I expected…I thought you’d be more squeamish, little one.”

Kali didn’t know what she expected, but Ares didn’t seem at all fazed. He brought both her hands together, earning him a strangled cry, and pinned them over her head. The dagger was still in her hand, but it was beyond useless now. When he moved closer, Kali spat blood in his face. Pain had coloured her tone to something she hardly recognised when she grunted, “You said you wouldn’t hurt me.”

“I’ll make it up to you.” He winked with an almost charming smile, before bringing his bleeding wrist to her mouth.

Panic flooded through Kali and she twisted and writhed, ignoring the pain that was screaming at each jerky movement. She squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her jaw. But she knew that he was too strong. His hand was like a vice around her wrists and he was an immovable weight on top of her.

Until, suddenly, that weight was strangely absent. Kali opened her eyes and saw Ares brushing dirt from his blue jeans, about a hundred metres away. A silky voice that sent shivers down Kali’s spine said “A blood tie, Ares? Feeling threatened already?”

“Hades?” Kali croaked, rolling onto her knees.

He was at her side in a heartbeat, and his fingers tangled around a strand of hair by her collar. “Can you stand, Kali?” He asked gently.

“Hands off. That one’s mine.” Ares snarled, and charged towards them.

Kali was shaking but his words gave new life to the rage she had felt before. Fire spread from her hands and blazed in a line towards the god, burning its way through the gravel path. Ares stopped in his tracks and Kali fell back, scrambling away from the flames. She felt an arm around her waist, and Hades lifted her to her feet and whispered “You’re safe, Kali. But you should leave.”

Without looking back, Kali took his advice and ran. When she finally ground to a halt, she had no idea where she was or how to get home. The silence crashed over her like thunder and she stumbled to the floor. Her scraped knees were the least of her worries. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, there wasn’t a single part of her that didn’t hurt. Her right arm in particular felt like it had been wrenched out of its socket and searing pain engulfed her when she twitched her fingers. Aside from that, she had probably cracked a couple of ribs and she was battered and bruised all over.

There was a short garden wall not too far from where Kali was slumped, so she dragged herself over to it. Once there, she wasn’t sure it had been worth the effort, but she propped herself against it nonetheless. Hot tears streaked down her cheeks now that she was alone. It wasn’t so much the pain as the humiliation that had brought them. Closing her eyes, Kali tried every meditation technique she had ever read online but her cheeks still burned. She hadn’t been thinking straight. She was vulnerable. He had taken advantage of her. But she had let him.

By the time Hades approached her, the flow of tears had ebbed and her shame had faded somewhat. She wasn’t surprised that he was the one that came for her; the energy he kept on a leash felt so different to Ares’ obvious strength. Even so, she hadn’t fully relaxed until he murmured her name.

She buried her head on her knees and whispered, “Thank you.”

“I see you met Ares.” Hades said, casually. “I assume he was a little more persistent than you expected.”

Kali bit her lip and looked at her trembling hands. “I…it was my fault.”

“No means no, regardless of when you say it.” He was standing beside her, she could feel how close he was, and his voice was harder.

“It was still stupid.” She mumbled, pushing away a traitorous tear that had tracked down her cheek.

Hades sighed, and she felt him slide down the wall to sit by her side. “You cannot blame yourself for the occasional moment of weakness, Kali. Even the gods make poor decisions from time to time.”

“Would it be so bad to feel wanted…just for once?” Her voice was smaller than Hades had ever heard it. He slowly put his arm around her shoulders and tucked her against him.

His words came slowly. “Whatever you decide you want, you would do well to remember that Ares does not think like you. None of the gods do. They may blend in with mortals, but their ideals and their laws are not the same.”

“You talk about them like you’re not the same. What do you get out of helping me?” She asked quietly, carefully resting her head on his shoulder.

Again, Hades seemed to hesitate before he answered. “I offered Apollo a favour. He seems to trust that my nature is more restrained than his other options, and that I will be able to control myself around you. It gives me leverage if I need something in return.”

“I don’t understand. I’m not…special. Guys don’t notice me, let alone like me. And, to be honest, I prefer it that way.” And she did; the idea of giving up a part of herself to be with someone felt wrong. Especially after watching her mother jump from guy to guy, trying to find someone to fix all her problems. “Now, I get approached by a god. A literal god. None of this makes any sense.”

Kali felt Hades shrug beside her. “Power calls to power. You happen to be bursting with it, and Ares cannot help but take notice.”

Kali noted his words and found something like disappointment rush over her. She bit her lip. “But not you?”

His quiet chuckle made her think he could see right through her. With a sigh, he said “As I said, I have more control. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel the pull towards you.”

“Because of my blood. Who I am doesn’t seem to matter here. Just what I am.” She moved her head back onto her knees, putting a little distance between them. She didn’t know what she wanted or what to do. But everything had changed, and she couldn’t even be a person anymore.

“Your light calls to the darkness in me.” Hades whispered so quietly that Kali wasn’t certain she had heard it. “But I don’t know you well enough for anything else, Kali. Not yet.” His arm was still around her and he pulled her gently back to him. She noticed then that everything he did was slow and precise, always giving her plenty of time to stop him. As if she could think straight over the sound of her heart pounding in her ears when he was this close. She dared to glance up at him and could feel his gaze on her when he continued thoughtfully, “But, I wonder, is it not often the same for mortals? The concept of love at first sight is not so different. No one ever seems to know exactly what draws them to their soulmate. Perhaps it is not so important what grabs your attention, but what keeps you coming back.”

Hades’ hand stroked her hair gently and she blushed, casting her gaze back down. Even though she couldn’t see him, just the feeling of his gaze made her tremble. Eventually, she mumbled “I guess I never thought of it like that.”

“With gods, or mortals?” He chuckled, still letting his fingers brush and curl through her hair.

Closing her eyes, Kali muttered “Either.”

Hades made a thoughtful sound beside her and he sounded almost pleased, though she didn’t know why. With a deep sigh, Kali found herself leaning into his chest. “Why am I so tired?” She mumbled wearily.

“You overdid it rather a lot today.” Kali could hear the smile in his voice and it warmed her.

Her eyes struggled open and she pleaded “Don’t tell Apollo.”

“Easy, love.” He whispered, and she felt his lips brush her temple. “Rest. I’ll keep you safe.”

Truth. Reassured, she let herself sink into his arms and stopped fighting the urge to fall asleep. It would overpower her soon enough anyway, so she gave in. The last thing Kali was aware of was Hades’ steady heartbeat and his hand in her hair.

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