Chapter Thirty Six
Ares was, as expected, training in the Colosseum. Kali couldn’t remember ever seeing him anywhere else. But she had never seen him train on his own before. He was always teaching students, or watching the demigods practice. That morning, he was alone, and he was either ignoring her or hadn’t noticed her arrival. Kali knew that she shouldn’t have been surprised by the strength in his swings, or the ease with which he moved his enormous sword, but she was. Impressed would have been the more accurate word.
“Keep staring at me like that, and I might decide to make something of it.” Kali started at his sudden words. That might have made her blush once, but his voice was lacking its usual warmth. She hadn’t even realised it was normally there until it was gone. He turned to her with disinterest and raised an eyebrow. “Why are you here?”
“I came to apologise.” She mumbled.
He turned away from her again and stated “There is no need. I should have known that your newfound determination would ebb. It was foolish of me to believe you wanted to get stronger.”
Her shiver had nothing to do with the chill in the winter air. His empty tone was laced with a rage that she had never heard before. He had a bad temper; she had been on the receiving end of it before. But this was different. She should be angry at his assumption, but she hung her head; she knew that she had let him down. Tears burned in her eyes. She was sick of feeling fragile and useless. And she would not let the god of war see how weak she really was.
She turned to leave, her head still low so that her hair would cover her face, but stopped when Ares barked, “Why did you come here?”
Kali did not turn to face him again and she clenched her fists to keep the tremor out of her reply. “I told you…I wanted to apologise. For missing yesterday’s sessions.”
“And your excuse?”
“I…” She surreptitiously wiped her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat before turning back to him. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” He snapped, impatiently. But Kali didn’t miss the way his eyes swept over her, when before he had avoided looking at her directly.
“My fire got away from me a little…that’s all. I’m not quite as fireproof as I thought, apparently. It did a number on me.” She clenched her jaw before adding “And destroyed pretty much everything I own.”
Ares watched her silently for several moments before moving closer. He was close enough to touch her, but he didn’t. He saw her bowed head, and the tears sparkling in her eyes, and he frowned. She glanced up to look at him and he raised a hand to her cheek, stopping just an inch away from her skin. He hesitated there too long and murmured “One more chance, little one.”
“Why?” Kali’s eyes were wide as she looked up at him, and if not for the talisman at her throat he would not have been able to keep from kissing her. As it was, it was a struggle.
“You know why.” And she did. Ares sighed and finally dropped his hand. “Now I’m sure you have better things to do than waste your time with me.”
It would be dangerous to correct him. Kali hated seeing anyone look vulnerable or lost…but anything she said would just encourage him. She wondered for a moment if she really had been stringing him or Hermes along before Hades had admitted his feelings for her. She wouldn’t have known how to effectively reject them anyway, but she wasn’t sure she had ever really tried.
Forcing herself to stay silent, Kali nodded in an attempt at showing respect and hurried away. She had preferred Ares when he had been brash and arrogant. The more of his vulnerabilities he exposed to her, the harder it was to remember all the reasons she had never wanted him. She loved Hades, more than she had even thought possible. But she didn’t know how to handle Ares’ feelings for her. Hermes at least brushed everything off with humour. Ares was so intense, and she didn’t like the idea that she was hurting him.
Kali was so lost in her thoughts that she nearly walked past Demeter’s greenhouses. Catching herself, she knocked tentatively before entering. All the flowers in the greenhouse curved towards her and Demeter matched their motion with a smile. “You have grown stronger.” She said, simply.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, my lady.” Kali forced her lips into a polite smile and then bowed her head humbly. “I apologise for missing another class yesterday. I had something of an accident.”
“I assume your fire is under control again?” A stern, motherly frown was on her face.
Kali nodded deeply. “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of endangering your work.”
“Then I shall see you tomorrow afternoon. One of your classmates can give you their notes to catch up, I am sure. And Kali?” The goddess called her back as she turned to leave. Kali waited patiently with the strained smile still fixed in place as Demeter examined her meticulously. Kali stiffened as Demeter’s eyes passed over her neck, but the mark seemed to escape the scrutiny of her earthy green eyes. “There is a box of herbal tea by the entrance for you. It should help with any nightmares you may or may not be having. Brew a cup before bed.”
“Thank you, my lady.” Kali murmured sincerely. Demeter waved a hand to dismiss her and went back to tending the plants around her as Kali retreated. She found the box of tea waiting, as the goddess had said. She took it reverently and threw another look over her shoulder, but Demeter was already hidden somewhere deeper among the plants.
Her last stop was the forge. Even on a Sunday morning, it was a buzzing hub of activity. Kali spotted the god in his usual place, in the furthest corner. It was the hottest area of the forge, and the most out of the way. Even during classes, Hephaestus never looked up or paused his work. He probably hadn’t even noticed who was or wasn’t in the class at all, Kali grumbled to herself. But it was safer to apologise nonetheless.
Sure enough, he didn’t even glance her way when she spoke. He just said, “Who are you?”
“I’m one of your students. In Carl’s class.” She figured that the only ones he might keep track of would be his own children, and she was rewarded with half a glance.
“You’re the one he’s all messed up over. Hades’ girl.” It wasn’t a question, but Kali automatically nodded. Hephaestus turned back to the sheet of metal he was hammering, and she was sure that was a dismissal until he added quietly, “You are burning up. Hotter than my forge.”
She froze, staring at his massive hunched back. He didn’t seem inclined to speak any more and Kali was almost afraid of what he would say if she waited any longer. Instead, she murmured another brief apology and started to back away towards the busier area of the forge. The hammer strikes did not pause, pounding the same steady pulse. But a gravelly voice told her to take the bundle on the workbench.
Kali started, looking back at Hephaestus again. She shuffled forward and reached for the parcel that had appeared with shaky hands. The heat of his corner was starting to get to her, and she wondered absently just how hot it had to be for her to be sweating. Another half glance from him seemed to be appraising her, and she could only guess it was for the same reason. Kali froze in place while he assessed her and only moved again when Hephaestus barked “Leave.”
Relieved, Kali struggled to keep her pace measured until she was back outside. The cold hit her like a bucket of ice and she trembled. Suddenly, a coat wrapped itself around her shoulders and Hermes stepped out from behind her. His usual sly grin was on his face and he winked, pulling a reluctant giggle out of her. “That’s more like it!” He exclaimed. “You looked shaken when you came out of the armoury. Everything alright?”
“What could be wrong?” She lied with a smile.
Hermes raised an eyebrow. “Riiiight. So, I hear you’re going shopping. What happened? Hades a bit over eager and ruined your clothes?”
Kali laughed out loud at that, though part of her was almost disappointed that it wasn’t true. “Something like that.”
“Kali.” His tone was suddenly much more serious, and her smile faltered at the sound. Hermes didn’t do serious. Yet his hazel eyes were clear of mischief, and his playful grin was nowhere to be seen. “If you are going alone, you should be very careful.”
“What’s going on, Hermes?” Kali’s skin prickled with unease; she had never seen Hermes like that.
He seemed to hesitate for a moment before confessing, “Ben. He’s missing.”
Not again. Kali’s eyes widened, and she searched his face for any hint that this might be just another inappropriate joke. But, even without the truth she saw in his eyes, she thought she knew him well enough to be sure that this was something even Hermes wouldn’t laugh about. “What do you mean, missing?”
“My little rebel sneaks out a lot. He hasn’t come back this time.”
She itched to take his hand to comfort him, but she fought the urge. As with Ares, anything she did would just be seen as encouragement, regardless of her choice clearly hanging around her neck. Instead, she offered “Do you want me to look for him?”
“No, love. It’s too dangerous, though I appreciate the sentiment. I want my son safe, but not at your expense.” Hermes replied gently. Her balled fists did not escape his attention, but he didn’t comment. Instead, he continued “Just be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary, and make sure you come back in one piece. It would be awfully boring here without you. What would I have to wind Hades and Ares up about then?”
“I’m glad you’ve still got your priorities straight.” She threw a teasing smile over her left shoulder and was rewarded with a half-smile. The tension in her shoulders at his unusually serious expression faded somewhat. Kali continued a bit more solemnly, “Thank you for the warning. I’ll be careful.” She bit her lip, a frown creasing her forehead. Worry clawed at her; Ben was her friend. To hear that he had disappeared, and she hadn’t even known?
Her voice shook “I’m sorry to hear about Ben…I really hope that you find him soon.”
“He’s a tough kid. He’ll be fine.” Hermes ran a hand through his hair and glanced at her with a hint of mischief in his eyes. “So…Apollo spilled the beans on that fire of yours. Are those clunky boots the only shoes that got out?”
“My wardrobe was essentially incinerated. Along with everything else.” Irritation flickered across her face, a feeling she preferred to the tears that had been overwhelming her. She grumbled “Why did he tell you?”
Hermes gave her a victorious smirk and raised an eyebrow. “He didn’t. You just did.”
Kali’s eyes widened. She thumped Hermes’ chest lightly with feigned outrage, though as usual she was fighting a smile. “Prick.”
“You love it.” He winked. “Here, a little gift.” He conjured a shoebox with a click and thrust it into her arms.
“Hermes…” She frowned, a warning tone to her voice.
“No strings. No strings.” He held his hands up with a nervous laugh. They were past the fountain by that point and Kali was achingly close to her flat, but she stopped obediently when Hermes leant against another wall. His twinkling eyes fixed on her face and he admitted “Someone once told me that women love shoes and I can’t bear to see those horrible things on you for another minute.”
Kali tried to scowl but she couldn’t quite mask her giggle. “You’re incorrigible.”
“You love it.” He stated again. Another wink, and he pranced away, saying “See you later, trouble.”
A couple of minutes later, Kali was finally back in her room and trying to decide what she should take with her. Hades spotted the armful of gifts she was carrying as soon as she came into the room and buried his face in his hands. “I thought you were just going to apologise.”
Kali giggled, suggesting “I’m really good at sincere apologies…?”
“You have everyone here wrapped around your little finger, you know that?” Apollo scowled from the corner of the room. Kali hadn’t noticed that he was there, and she jumped at his accusing tone. She shrank automatically into Hades’ side; the last time she had seen him hadn’t been pleasant. But she relaxed when he muttered “You’re looking better, at least.”
“I’m assuming I have you to thank for that?” She asked quietly, not quite meeting his eyes.
Ignoring that, Apollo huffed “Show me your arm.”
Kali bristled at his tone, but she did as he said. Apollo’s scowl only deepened. Without another word, he glared at the mark that was visible on her neck and grumbled “I still don’t think it is a good idea to go off on your own.” He seemed to struggle with himself before finally admitting “I don’t know what either of those marks mean. But there is someone that might.”
A long silence followed that comment, until Kali remarked “We’re not all psychic, you know. Are you going to share, or just sit there being cryptic?”
That earned her another glare, but Apollo finally grumbled “When you’re done playing around, shopping, head here.” He handed her what looked like a business card. “This card will reveal the entrance to the club, and allow you access. Don’t lose it.”
“Who am I supposed to be talking to?”
“He’ll find you when you’re inside. Just don’t go in there looking like that; I don’t want you to embarrass me.” Apollo faltered for a moment before placing a recurve bow and a quiver full of arrows on the small table. “Don’t go anywhere without these. The quiver will refill so there will always be twelve in there at a time.”
Apollo hesitated and Kali wanted to ask him if he could help her, but her pride wouldn’t allow it. She was still stung by their last conversation. The serpentine burns had faded to a soft brown, but the echo of pain remained. Apollo glanced at Hades, who had been silent through their exchange, and sighed before leaving the room in silence. Kali wasn’t sure if she was relieved or upset, but Hades’ arms were around her before she could dwell for long.
“Only you would be able to turn an apology into a gift.” He kissed her temple and smiled when she leant back into him. There was a new trunk in the corner of the room which Hades told her was from Chiron. It had all her new uniform inside, and the chest itself was meant to be nigh indestructible. “Apollo wasn’t wrong when he said that you have all the gods wrapped around your finger. I would be willing to bet that seeing you looking vulnerable for the first time since you arrived threw them off guard.”
“I don’t look that bad.” She mumbled, awkwardly averting her gaze to hide the flush on her cheeks.
“Most of the gods are very protective by nature. You’re not very good at lying so I’m sure they would have noticed how shaken you are today.” He kissed her gently and murmured “Am I going to have to be worried about someone stealing you away?”
Her eyes snapped back to his face at that and she turned in his arms to face him fully. “You’re not really worried about that, are you?”
His eyes were shadowed, but he chuckled “I can protect what is mine, Kali.”
“Good.” She placed a lingering kiss on his lips and whispered, “You are the only man I want.”
He dipped his face to hers again in response. But time was getting on and they both knew they didn’t have the luxury of getting distracted. “Either way, I do have a couple of things for you.”
Kali blushed and insisted, “You didn’t have to.”
“I know. I very seldom do anything that I have to do.” He released her and stepped towards the table where she had piled the rest of her things. Hades casually indicated a leather duffle bag and a small pouch on the table, saying “Besides, these are more practical than frivolous.”
Her face was still pink when she mumbled “You’re already paying for everything today anyway. And I really don’t know how to feel about that.”
“I’ve already told you, what’s mine is yours.” His voice sent shivers through Kali’s body.
“It just seems like a very uneven trade, right now.”
“Kali…all the riches in all the worlds do not compare to your smile.” His sincere gaze set her heart racing, a fact that his smug smile proved he knew. He paused to watch her and shrugged. “And, not to brag, but there is nothing you could spend today that would even dent what is on the card I gave you earlier.”
“God of riches. I remember.” She rolled her eyes with a grin. “But I am, unfortunately, limited by how much I can carry today.”
A triumphant smirk spread across his face and he said, “What do you think the bag is for?”
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