Chapter Twenty Two
Kali sat up quickly, clutching her head. The remnants of restless dreams fled from her, leaving her with faint sense of dread. The memory escaped her, as it often did. The harder she tried to grasp them, the faster they flew out of reach.
She took in her surroundings groggily, and realised she was on the sofa in her living room. It took her a moment to realise that someone must have moved her there. A sickly butterscotch taste lingered in the back of her throat and her stomach clenched.
Kali sat up slowly, clamping a hand over her mouth as bile swelled in her throat. Shaking hands reached for the glass of water perched on the table, and she risked a small sip. Cool liquid soothed her, washing the taste away. She noted the hint of peppermint and a sharp pang of ginger as she put the glass down.
After a few seconds, the churning in her gut settled. Her pounding head convinced her to lay back down and she curled around herself. Sleep took her, and she did not wake again until the sun rose. She struggled out of the room, her fatigue clinging to her like a second skin. She ended up partnering Eliza during their joint Unarmed Combat but her friend was not the type to go easy on her. She didn’t even have the energy to argue with Ares when he pulled her aside and assigned Eliza a different partner.
By the time she stumbled into Hades’ classroom, she couldn’t pretend that forcing herself outside wasn’t a mistake. She couldn’t bear the thought of seeming weak. But who was she kidding? She was a wreck. If anyone tried to prove a point by challenging her today, she wouldn’t stand a chance.
She sat in her usual seat. The cadence of Hades’ voice washed over her, and Kali let her mind go blissfully blank. She felt his eyes drift over her and smiled to herself, remembering that they were blue. She wondered what shade they were. She could imagine them being deep and fathomless, or vibrant like sapphires.
A quiet, sarcastic voice to her left startled her. “Dreaming about that kiss?”
“What?” She turned to her friend, eyes wide. Her heart stuttered and her stomach twisted.
Jem wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were on the paper on the desk in front of him, and his jaw was clenched. “Hermes. He kissed you, right?”
“How did you…” She looked down at the desk, shame burning her cheeks. She had no idea how Jem even knew that Hermes had kissed her; she thought they were alone. But it didn’t matter.
She hated that she had let Hermes kiss her. Most of all, she hated the feeling that she was betraying Hades. Part of her wondered if that was the reason for the visceral reaction she’d had afterwards. Kissing him had felt inherently wrong. Even if her body had responded, despite everything inside of her rejecting his attention. The pages on the table started smoking slightly and the pen in Kali’s hand melted around her fingers.
Suddenly, Kali felt cool lips brushing her neck through her hair. A hand on her lower back soothed her, and a soft whisper reminded her to breathe. His warmth eased her rigid shoulders, but she felt fragile. Hesitantly, she reached for that shining silver cord that led her to him. I’m sorry.
She could feel his sorrow, and a sting of anger. But not directed at her. He was angry for her. For whatever had caused her this pain. The bell cut into the silence between them and Kali jumped as she remembered where they were. Hades silently slipped away from her side as the demigods darted for the exit.
Jem sighed, finally turning to look at her as he packed away his things. “Did you even sleep last night?”
“Of course I slept.” She mumbled. She hadn’t moved.
Jem put his notebook carefully into his organised back and stood slowly. “You look like shit. Go lie down. I’ll tell everyone where you are.”
Without another word, he walked to the door; Kali assumed he didn’t want to deal with another stubborn argument from her. Carl grimaced at Jem’s lack of tact, but it was clear he agreed with the sentiment. He shrugged awkwardly and muttered to Kali that he’d see her later. With half a glance back at her, he followed Jem out of the room, leaving her alone with Hades.
“You look beautiful, Kali.” He murmured quietly, moving closer once they were gone. He interpreted her silence as disbelief and smiled to himself, murmuring “You of all people would know if I were lying.”
A reluctant smile tugged at her lips. She giggled, warmth easing her coiled muscles. For a moment, the pressure on her chest lifted and she could breathe again. But hot tears prickled the corners of her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“For what happened yesterday? Even if you choose Ares or Hermes, you never have to apologise to me. Even if I…” He trailed off, leaving her longing for the words he couldn’t bring himself to say. After a moment, he finished “I will always respect your choices.”
The edge to his voice sent an ache through her chest. Throwing caution to the wind, she whispered “What if I chose you.”
“Kali…” He cautioned softly.
“I can’t keep pretending I’m not in love with you.” As the words snuck past her guard, she knew they were the truest words she had spoken. She laughed inwardly at the absurdity of it. She loved him. Before she could remind herself of all the reasons he would never be hers, she moved to kiss him.
Her heart stopped when cool fingers, feather-light, touched her cheek. Shadows curled around them. Formless as they were, their pull drew her closer to Hades. But as the shadows pulled her in, Hades broke away. His fingers still lay on her cheek and she felt the tremor go through him before he dropped his hand.
Bereft at the loss of contact, Kali curled in on herself. What was she thinking? She of all people should know better than to force her affections on someone. She shuddered, standing from the chair and turning away. Her hand flew over her mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“I can’t let this happen when you’re still not completely yourself.” He murmured quietly, looking anywhere but at her.
Kali picked up on his words, even through the numb fog threatening her senses. Not myself? Tentatively, she asked “What do you mean?”
“I should not be telling you this.” He muttered, but he pressed on nonetheless, standing beside her. He spoke slowly, as though he were scared of startling her. “There is a substance…epithym root. It’s a minor aphrodisiac to humans but to gods it borders on toxic. Demigods, somewhere between.” He paused; there were only so many rules he could break. Hermes had reminded him of that. He couldn’t tell her explicitly, so instead he prompted “It tastes like salted treacle.”
She knew. Every fibre of her rebelled, rejected it, but she knew. “So…when he kissed me…” Palpitations threatened to consume her. But she clenched her fists, forcing the panic into her fire. How dare he? She screamed it from the depths of her mind, and smoke curled around her trembling hands.
She focused everything she had on that feeling. Pride was easier. Pride felt less like giving up. Gritting her teeth, Kali dared a look at Hades. Usually, she could get a sense of his feelings. Like an aura, echoing across the chasm between them. Yet he was silent.
“If this-” A lump in her throat stopped her in her tracks. Working around it, she choked out “Drug?” The trickle of regret confirmed it, as did a hard sigh. Breathing heavily, she channelled the unnameable emotion into her pride again. Bolstering her resolve best she could, she found the strength to continue “If the root he used works differently on demigods…I mean…he wouldn’t have bothered unless it would be a pleasant sensation?”
“He knows your parentage. In part, due to the extent of your reaction to the root.” He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear to ground her. “However, Hermes doesn’t give information away unless it is to his advantage. Your secret will be safe.” For now. The words hung silent in the air between them.
“Do you care?” She asked, desperate. Did he also see her as less? Beneath them? Not worthy of even granting a semblance of consent or respect? She didn’t want to hear the answer, but the words tore themselves from her regardless. “How they treat me, do you care?”
With a shuddering sigh, Hades leant forward and rested his head against hers. “I care.”
“Why?” She pleaded, pressing her eyes closed.
It took Kali a moment to realise that the trembling she felt was not her own. Hades’ voice was ragged, catching her off guard. “Ask me tomorrow. If you still want to know, ask me tomorrow.” He took her hands, his grip firmer than usual, and pressed her knuckles to his lips. The shadows caressed her one more time before he slipped out of her grasp.
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