Chapter Thirty Two
Waking up in Hades’ arms was surreal, somehow. Skin on skin. His hand was lazily trailing through her hair, and every caress sent electricity humming through her. She had never truly realised how empty she had been before he made her whole.
His hair was wild and untamed on the pillow and Kali could not resist the urge to brush a long strand from his face. When she tucked it behind his ear, his hand circled her wrist and he brushed his lips across her knuckles. The tiniest gesture, but her heart melted all over again.
“I’m already late, aren’t I?” She mumbled, burying her face in his chest sleepily.
“For training?” His voice had a husky tone she had never heard from him. She sighed; how could he get sexier? Thoughtfully, he said “If you get dressed quickly, we can afford another minute.”
Kali snuggled into his side and Hades tightened his arms around her in an embrace. “I’ll take what I can get.”
“You could stay.” He replied quietly as he kissed the top of her head. His hands were weaving distracting patterns on her sides.
Kali sighed and mumbled “I need to get stronger.” She had made herself a promise. A promise she was sincerely starting to regret at the thought of leaving the warm bed. Kali struggled with herself for a moment until she found the words. “I won’t be helpless anymore. I just…I have so much further to go.”
“You’re wonderful the way you are. But if you want to get stronger, I won’t stand in your way.” Hades replied sincerely. He purred as she dragged her lips across his collarbone, muttering “Though I wouldn’t object to keeping you to myself a little longer.”
Kali giggled breathlessly. “Nor would I.”
A long lingering kiss was his only reply. His hands were cool and soothing against her burning skin, and she forgot for a moment why she needed to leave. Reluctantly, Hades broke the kiss to murmur “Alright, now you’re going to be late for Weapons Training.”
Kali groaned. She had been very close to making a deliciously bad decision. “Why would you tell me that? Now I feel obligated to get out of bed.” She started to push herself up but a strong arm snaked its way around her waist. She could feel Hades’ lips in her hair, and she sunk back against his chest with a smile.
He chuckled quietly, the way she reacted to him making him smug, and whispered “What if I won’t let you?”
“You said you wouldn’t stand in my way.” She murmured, but she turned towards him and his lips claimed hers. They slowly sank back into the pillows and when they parted, Hades smoothly reasoned “I’m still lying down.”
Kali laughed and rested her head against his shoulder, sighing “I love you.”
“And I love you.” He moved back to kiss her forehead.
“But I really need to go.” She added miserably.
Hades sighed, but his grin remained in place, warming her. “I know. Your things are on top of the dresser.”
Kali saw the bundle of clothes and her smile widened, her jaw aching as the unfamiliar muscles worked overtime to keep up. She kissed him quickly and rushed to get changed, all the while wishing that he would convince her to stay. She was glad that he respected her choice, but her stubbornness was getting in the way of a beautiful morning.
Just as Kali’s fingers hesitated at the doorknob, Hades appeared at her side. He had dressed while she had been rushing around and he put his hand over hers and wrapped an arm around her waist, whispering “I don’t like watching you leave.”
In a heartbeat, they were outside the Colosseum, in the shade of the trees. A cold wind bit at her, the sudden change in temperature startling her. Shaking it off, Kali kissed Hades one more time. “I’ll see you soon.”
A cocky smile lifted the corner of his lips. “Try not to be too distracted.”
“I won’t make promises I can’t keep.” She kissed him again with a smile and he grinned as he told her to get going. Before they both changed their minds. With a quiet giggle, Kali managed to pull herself away and jogged into the arena, keeping her eyes fixed firmly ahead so that she wouldn’t turn back. She knew that her face must be glowing, and not even the glare Ares shot her was enough to dampen her spirits.
Once again, Kali aimed to keep up with Hannah. When she pulled alongside, the girl shot her a suspicious look but eventually it softened into an awkward smile. Kali returned it, however strange it was, and said, “Don’t slow down on my account.”
Hannah’s smile widened and she picked up the pace. Kali fell behind but she kept her eyes up and forced herself onward. She could feel Ares seething, so she kept her head down and refused to look his way. Nothing was going to stop her being happy today. Eventually, Ares called out for them to partner up and grabbed Kali’s arm when she was looking around for Jem.
A spark stung them both where his large hand encircled her arm. Ares immediately released her, confused. After another moment, his confusion changed to shock as his eyes fell on the necklace at her throat. “What…is that?” He muttered, his gaze still fixed on her throat.
Kali’s heart stuttered with fear at the foreign expression in his eyes. “Are…are you alright?”
His eyes flickered up to hers and lingered a bit too long, but he chuckled. “Worried about me?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She muttered, looking away. After a second, she glanced back at him and tried for a smile, stating “Worried what you’re thinking, and what you might do.”
At that, he laughed. But his eyes were strained somehow. “You’re safe from me now, sunflower. At least until he realises the mistake he’s made in binding you to his side.” He started to reach to touch her face, but his hand froze, barely an inch from her skin. His face was thoughtful and his eyes unwavering when he said “You should just hope that he’ll release you someday. The dark is no place for you.”
Ares dropped his hand and walked purposely away, pausing only to call “You’re with Hannah today. Try not to die.”
On the other side of the arena, Kali spotted Jem sparring with Carl. Kali started to raise a hand to wave but Carl’s eyes moved away immediately, and his face was hard. A knot formed in her chest. Jem hadn’t seemed to notice her, but she dropped her hand. She refused to let anything get to her when her heart felt as light as it did.
Instead, Kali forced herself to think of happier things. With a lump in her throat, she moved over to where Hannah was running her own personal drills with her sword. She touched Hannah’s shoulder and threw herself to the side as Hannah instinctively swung at her. Kali drew her own weapon and the resounding strike clattered through the arena. Kali felt her arms shake as Hannah pushed the bound weapons towards her, but she darted back out of reach to catch her breath. She should have known better than to surprise her.
They had sparred only a couple of times during the extra sessions, but Kali was already getting a grip on the way Hannah fought. The difference in their levels was massive. Hannah had technique, strength, and practice on her side. Kali only had her tenacity. But defeating Hannah was a more attainable goal than keeping up with Achilles, or Ares. And Kali could see that the gap was already narrowing with each passing day.
The fight was exactly what she needed to shake off her irritation at her friend’s jealousy. Jem had told her how Carl felt about her. She just had to hope that he would work through it in his own time. If he didn’t…Kali would do her best to believe that it was his loss.
As Kali walked through Camelot to the next lesson, her head was high. She spotted flyers pinned up on some of the buildings. Adverts for band members, requests for market stalls, volunteers for the cafes and bars. Even appeals for demigods to donate their time to help set up. All for the upcoming festival.
It would be nice, she thought, to get involved. If the festival was as important as Tom and Sage had said, she wanted to have some part in it. To be part of a larger something. She would rather avoid playing music, but she could at least help set up. As the rest of her class moved on, she paused to scribble her name on one of the application posters. She hurriedly scrawled the meeting information on her arm, in the hopes that she would remember it later, and jogged to catch up with her class.
At the stables, they were met by the commanding presence of the God of the Sea. Kali had not seen Poseidon since that first meeting, but his image had burned itself into her. Golden brown skin, too weathered to belong to a divine entity, and eyes that reflected a stormy sea. Kali had thought she got her dark hair from her father, but Poseidon’s was almost the exact same shade and even more unruly.
His welcoming expression warmed knowingly as she scanned him for similarities. At his side stood Kai, the demigod usually covering for him, and he embraced him briefly before beckoning to Kali. She faltered, anxiety rooting her in place, but he waited with a patient, reassuring smile.
When she finally joined him, she was hit by the scent of salt and wind and freedom. Her hands trembled at her sides with the overwhelming essence of him. Breaking off from the rest of the group as subtly as his commanding presence would allow, he walked with Kali through the stables. Poseidon seemed completely at ease, but Kali wasn’t sure what to think. He was barely contained, in a form designed to suppress the absolute chaos of the sea. If he noticed her scrutiny, he did not show it.
Jovially, he asked “Do you have a favourite horse?”
“I…don’t spend much time with them.” She admitted quietly. She had always loved horses, but she didn’t know if their responses to her were ‘normal’ enough. So she tried to keep her distance.
Poseidon stilled for a moment. “Of course. Your father would not approve if you showed your heritage, would he.”
“He’s just trying to keep me safe.” She mumbled, ashamed that she hadn’t embraced Poseidon’s legacy. The coiling red burns tattooed on her arms prickled and she grumbled inwardly at Apollo’s idea of safety. She knew she wasn’t always the one he was trying to protect.
“So you can lie.” His voice boomed like thunder, but it was full of mirth. Kali didn’t know how to take him. “I have had some strong words with Apollo about his recent conduct. I know I haven’t been around, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. I wanted to check on the situation for myself instead of relying on silly rumours.”
“You…care?” Apollo had told her that Poseidon cared more for family than rules, but he had disappeared as soon as they met. It was difficult to associate that behaviour with affection.
“Current events have made it difficult to arrange my lessons. Normally, you would be spending more time outside Camelot, on the sea, with me. Spending time here, grounded, would make my brother ask too many questions. You draw far too much attention to yourself as it is, so I chose to keep my distance. But do not think I do so without regret.” His mirth had dissipated as quickly as it had appeared; his moods were as deep and tumultuous as the sea, it seemed.
It wasn’t the first time Kali had heard tell that events were troubling, but she had no idea what was going on. She made a note to talk to Tom about it, but the rest of his words were not lost on her. Biting her lip, she let her curiosity get the better of her. “So why are you here now?”
“I wanted to make sure you were happy.” Poseidon replied simply.
Of all the things she might have expected him to say, that wasn’t on the list. There was a silent question in his voice, so Kali searched herself for an honest answer. Happy had never been something she could say. It was a simply pure emotion, and she was always too complicated. But, to her surprise, she whispered “I am happy.”
The currents in his eyes swirled and pulsed hypnotically as he studied her. “It is good to see that Hades has finally met his match.”
Kali was taken aback by his words, sure than she had misheard. “You’re not going to tell me it’s a mistake?”
“Why would I?” He asked, genuinely puzzled. Comprehension dawned on his face like a sunrise on the horizon. “Ah. Apollo doesn’t often think before he speaks.” That was an understatement, but it was bad form to speak ill of his fellows. From what he had observed, Kali had never had much in the way of support from either of her parents. A sting of regret nipped at him, but he pushed it aside. Instead of pity, he offered a challenge. “Do you think it’s a mistake?”
“No.” She answered immediately. Kali had never been more sure of anything.
“Then why would my opinion matter?” He asked kindly, his serene smile growing with relief at the certainty in her voice. “Either way, I know Hades better than most. He deserves some joy in his life, and you clearly bring that to him. If he brings you the same, nothing could make me happier.”
Kali didn’t realise she was crying until Poseidon wiped a tear gently from her cheek. She stared at him numbly, shaken. He spoke as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. He spoke like he respected her decisions. Like her choice mattered to him.
“Tornado.” She whispered suddenly. At the slight furrow creasing his brow, she cleared her throat and explained “My favourite horse is Tornado.”
“Wild and free. Just like you.” He smiled fondly, looking out towards the stormy grey stallion. Quietly, he added “He also does not deserve to be cooped up here.”
By the time lunch came around, Kali was restless to be in Hades’ arms. She was surprised she didn’t bump into doorframes wherever she went; she had been distracted all day. Her new baseline had her grinning like a lovesick idiot. But she knew she would have to function just a little longer. She could manage, reluctantly. She needed to be sure that she didn’t become too reliant on him; she wanted a partner, not a crutch.
Even so, she found herself frequently reaching out through their bond. Featherlight contact, to remind herself that he was there. When he knew she was comfortable with it, he began to do the same. Her heart ached, and she longed for his touch, but the gentle brush of contact was enough to soothe her.
The stares that followed her were more hostile than usual. When she mentioned the girls glaring daggers at her to her friends, Tom couldn’t contain his laughed. “You’re just breaking hearts all over the place.” He finally spluttered. “Hermes and Ares had quite extensive fan clubs. Turning them down has probably earned you a lot of spiteful little enemies.”
“Girls can be so pathetic. Fan clubs?” Eliza looked disgusted at the concept, though Kali knew she had once harboured a crush on Hermes herself.
Kali laughed at her friend’s sour expression and shrugged “Forgive me if I don’t seem worried.”
A timid voice drew her attention away from Eliza’s grimace and Tom’s laughter. “Kali? Can I have a sec?”
“Talking to me again, then?” She asked tartly, turning towards Jem. She was surprised to see him looking sheepish; he had never been anything but confident before. His bowed head took the wind out of her sails. “I’m sorry about this morning.” He spoke with sincerity, keeping eye contact with her. “Carl isn’t doing well, and I figured he needed me more than you did. But it was wrong of me to avoid you without explanation.”
Kali sighed, running her hand through her hair. How could she be angry when he made such an honest apology? “I understand. Thank you for telling me.”
“I know what I said before made things awkward. And, in retrospect, that probably made this worse. I just don’t like seeing him get his hopes up. Carl’s never been good with people, and you’re always so nice. He thinks it means more than it does.” He looked ashamed, fiddling uncertainly with his hands. Awkwardly, he explained “With his eye and limp, he was never exactly popular with girls.”
Kali looked at him strangely, wondering what he meant. She’d never noticed a limp. And why would anyone have a problem with his eyes? They weren’t as boring a brown as hers. But she said nothing as Jem struggled with himself. He settled on vaguely mumbling “I’ve known Carl my whole life. We grew up together. We even came here together. He’ll come around. He’s just gonna need a bit of time.”
Rubbing her brow, Kali sighed “Jem…you don’t need to explain yourself to me. Just make sure he’s okay and we’ll hang when you’re both feeling up to it, yeah?”
Relieved, he launched at her with a hug. Kali chuckled quietly, patting his back. He told her that he would insist on having all the gossip, every detail, when things calmed down. But he hurried away instead of sitting with them, presumably to find Carl.
Sage bleated nervously at their exchange, but all he said was: “You seem happy.”
“I am happy.” She replied simply. The fact that she could barely wipe the radiant smile off her face was evidence enough of that. Her heart was lighter than ever when Sage put a strong arm around her shoulders.
Delicate as ever, Eliza loudly interrupted “Have you had sex yet?”
“I don’t want to hear this!” Tom exclaimed, holding hands up. “No thank you!”
Kali laughed, she had known Tom since she was a kid so it didn’t surprise her that he still saw her that way. But her flushed cheeks said enough, and Eliza’s knowing smirk had her giggling. “I knew it! So? How was it?”
Tom choked on his mouthful of pasta and spluttered “Eliza.”
“He’s a God. How do you think it was?” Sage laughed, his eyes sparkling with mirth at Kali’s flaming cheeks and Tom’s coughing.
“Do we really need to have this conversation?” Tom scowled, but he never could resist Sage’s laugh and he was soon joining in. “Children, the lot of you. But you do seem happy.”
“I am.” Kali smiled; she loved saying it. Her spirits were higher than she could ever remember them being. She was surrounded by friends. She had a man who loved her as much as she loved him. Poseidon seemed to actually care and support her. She had a family. A family she found for herself. And that was worth more than anything her father could have given her.
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