As the sun set, Hades could feel a whisper of movement in the back of his mind. In an instant he was back at Kali’s side. Something shifted again, and he took her hand. His heart nearly shattered when her mind sought his out before her eyelids even fluttered. His name was on her lips, and her hand tightened painfully around his. But her eyes stayed shut.
“Are you really here?” Her voice was tiny, betraying her fear.
Hades tugged Kali’s hand until she was sitting up, wrapped tightly in his arms. I thought I had lost you.
I think you nearly did. She admitted, trembling. Her eyes opened slowly, and he realised that Kali was afraid that he wouldn’t be there when she did. What if this was just a dream, and she was still in Eris’ arena?
When Kali’s eyes took him in, his usually calm features tight with fear, a sob caught in her throat. She reached a shaking hand out to touch him and followed with her lips. It feels like weeks since I saw you last.
His silence, and the way he held her, gave her pause. Kali’s voice croaked as she murmured “How long was I out? What happened?”
“You used too much energy defeating Eris.” Hades explained slowly. His voice was calm and even once more, but Kali could feel the tremor through their bond. She reached to touch his chest, to comfort him, and he rested his forehead against hers before continuing. “Your power was out of control, burning you up. I…we weren’t sure you would survive.”
Kali closed her eyes for a moment, but she couldn’t remember anything after she had destroyed Eris. Even that, she was sure she must have imagined. She may have dropped Ares in training, but no demigod could kill a god. None of them could boast that much power. It couldn’t have happened the way her mind was telling her it had.
“The griffin! Where is she?” Kali said suddenly, gripping Hades’ arms. “Please tell me she got out.” Panic was fresh in her eyes and her voice cracked again when she added “I promised…”
“Easy, my love. She is free.” Hades lips tugged into a small smile, though it was almost bitter when he admitted “Hermes took her home.”
“Hermes?” Kali repeated with a frown. Who else knew what had happened? But his tone hadn’t been lost on her. Did you leave my side at all while I was out? Her voice in his mind was almost mocking, but her eyes were full of something he had no name for.
“Today. Only for a short time, to stop Zeus sending out his vanguard.” He admitted, and gently said, “Your friends are doing very well in the tournament.”
“Tournament?” Kali’s confusion ebbed, and her face fell into an empty mask as the realisation struck her. “I missed Christmas.” She whispered finally. Her eyes closed for a moment, blinking away tears, and she mumbled “I’m sorry. I know it’s silly but…I was looking forward to it.”
He touched her face. “It isn’t silly at all. But I swear to you, we will have many more. I will even let you pick out a ridiculous tree to decorate in the palace.”
That earned him a giggle that broke him. He hung his head, defeated, and murmured “You are so fragile, wildfire. How can someone so delicate have so much power inside of them?”
“Delicate?” A harsh laugh choked its way from her throat. Kali pushed down the memories before he could see them, but Hades kissed her eyelids.
“I saw what happened, Kali.” He ran a hand softly through her hair; he couldn’t help but want to touch her, if only to make sure she was real. “You don’t have to hide it from me.”
Kali’s hands dropped slowly from his chest and into her lap. “Then you saw what I did. And you saw that I’m a monster.”
“Look at me.” When she didn’t move, he lifted her chin and kissed her. Look at me, wildfire. I saw that you were resourceful, and stubborn. I saw you protecting every other prisoner in there by throwing yourself to the goddamn wolves. I saw you stand up to a god, and I saw you win.
There was no response, and her eyes were unseeing. She wanted to believe him, but she couldn’t shake it off so easily. I killed those creatures, Hades.
And they would not have hesitated to do the same. He replied slowly. His hand was stroking her hair, but he could feel her inner turmoil and knew there was little he could do for her. I know they were trapped, and I know you feel for them. Your compassion is a gift and a curse. But you did what you needed to do to save the people you set out to save.
I can’t get it out of my head. She had her hands in her hair, and her face was on her knees. She wanted it to stop.
“Would you really want to? To forget what brought you here?” Hades took her hands in his and made her look at him. “You made a choice that saved a lot of people. Not just the demigods that were there, but all the ones she would have taken after. It will take her a long time to regenerate, and that is time that will keep a great number of people safe.”
“But…I killed them.” Her voice shook, and tears streamed down her cheeks, but she made herself go on. “They were trapped, and I didn’t think twice about destroying them to survive. How does that make me any different to Eris?”
“I saw what it did to you, Kali. Most of the cretins you saved cheered you on, but some of them noticed. No monster would care about their opponents. Yes, you distanced yourself. It was easier to do that with creatures so different to you than with another demigod. But you didn’t want to hurt them. No matter how monstrous they seemed, you broke yourself apart at their pain.” Regret shone in his eyes and Kali could feel more than hear the echo of his thoughts.
What took you so long? She cried, flinging her arms around him and crushing him to her. The words tore themselves from her, and she sobbed into his chest.
He held her close to his heart. His strength meant that he almost crushed her against him, but she didn’t care. If anything, she wanted him to hold her tighter. I will never let anything happen to you, again.
How could she keep me from reaching you? Is that even possible?
Not for someone like Eris. His voice was dark with rage, but Kali was only afraid.
So, she wasn’t alone…?
No. He sighed when he felt her shifting to get up. “You are tired.” He reprimanded gently.
“I have slept long enough.” She muttered, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.
Hades moved aside to let her up and held her arm, warning her “Your muscles may be…weaker than you expect.”
She stood quickly, too quickly, and fell into his arms. When he caught her, Kali grumbled “You just want an excuse to hold me.”
“That may also be true.” He steadied her as she took a few tentative steps and slipped his arm around her waist. The part of him that wanted to give her the space she needed was still overwhelmed by his need to keep her safe.
Kali leaned on him, feeling safe at his side, but a tremor ran through her when her eyes fell on a black sword. She hadn’t noticed before, but the jagged edges were encrusted with green stones, and the pommel was made from a similar gem.
“Her sword…why is it here?” Her voice was weak, and her grip tightened slightly around his arm.
Hades sighed internally; this was the ‘memento’ he had approved of least. But he hadn’t wanted to keep it from her in case Hermes had been right. Instead of saying any of that, Hades reasoned “It’s your sword now. You earnt it.”
“I don’t want anything of hers.” Kali clenched her jaw, fixing her eyes on the acid green edges of the blade.
“There are many who would trade almost anything to own this sword.” Hades said quietly, not wanting the fire to fade from her eyes. “Unlike some, it isn’t a sentient weapon. But it is unique and quite valuable.”
“I don’t want it.” She glared at the sword a moment longer before glancing at him. Her jaw was still set stubbornly, and the gleam in her eyes had shifted from anger to determination.
Hades smiled at her expression but shrugged nonchalantly. “I doubt you could wield it anyway. But you could trade it for a sword that suits you.”
Kali stared at the sword for a moment longer. It was unfair to hate the weapon, and she had won it. She should be proud. But the thought of touching the blade that had no doubt been coated with centuries of blood…she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she looked past it and at the array of items on the dresser.
“You got these for me?” She asked, her hand shaking as it brushed the large griffin feather that lay there.
“Hermes.” Hades replied simply. “He said you would want the mementos of your achievements.”
“That…isn’t how I would put it.” Her expression tightened with pain and regret as she touched the hydra’s scales, and the minotaur’s horn. A blue harpy pinion lay an inch from her hand, remaining untouched. She felt sick looking at the items, but she knew she wanted them. Noticing Hades’ silence, Kali closed her fingers around his hand and whispered, “Thank you for saving me. And for staying with me. I am glad to have these but having you by my side means more.” She looked at him with a small smile and muttered “You were getting that little wrinkle that tells me you’re jealous.”
He kissed her, but tugged her hair softly and stated “I don’t have wrinkles…”
“Are you sure about that?” She teased weakly. Her eyes dropped back to the table and she opened the box had Hermes had once given her. The knives she had grown so used to having with her were inside, and they were twisted beyond recognition. Her hand shook as she closed the box, but she did not look away. Instead, she opened the small bundle to reveal the armguard and glove that Hephaestus had given her.
They had been fairly simple in design before, with just the scale pattern etched into the leather. But now there were gold inlaid runes decorating the length of the armguard, and around the wrist of the glove. Kali traced them with a frown; they seemed familiar to her, but she couldn’t place them. Hades explained quietly that they were an ancient language, older than most of the surviving gods. The runes were of binding, control, and protection.
“Hephaestus did this for me?” She stroked the markings with trembling hands, but a frown masked her features.
“Yes. As I mentioned before, you seem to have us all wrapped around your finger.” His smile didn’t reach his eyes, but he added “He is also responsible for the cuff on your arm.”
Kali looked down to see a band of gold twisted around her upper arm. She hadn’t even felt it or noticed it was there until Hades pointed it out. “This is…keeping me in check, isn’t it?”
“It is regulating your power, so that you can get it back under control. As a god of fire, I am sure that Hephaestus knows its consuming nature better than most. Apparently, he noticed it growing beyond your means to rein it in and decided, for reasons unknown, to act.”
Kali held up the armguard and glove. “And these?”
“An added safeguard, for when you are actively using your powers. Another layer, to help you keep them under control.” Hades slowly took them from her and placed them back on the dresser.
She shook her head, at a loss. “He didn’t even know who I was when I went to see him. Why would he give me these? And…the armour. It is the only reason I survived as long as I did.”
“I cannot say what he wants from you, Kali. He keeps to himself and I wouldn’t know where to begin to guess what goes on in his mind.” His voice was stronger as he continued “But you do not owe any of the gods anything. If they choose to help you, it is their choice. You did not ask for these things, and he cannot hold them over you.”
“I guess.” She said, uncertainly. She bit her lip. “But I should thank him.”
“You should rest.” He drew her hair off her face and kissed her forehead.
“I’ve been resting for too long.” How long was it? Days? Weeks? Everything seemed so distorted that it was hard to keep track. “I’m afraid that if I stay here any longer…I’ll never leave.”
“Remind me why that would be a bad thing?” Hades joked, but his voice was solemn and low. Kali knew that he was shaken by what happened, maybe as shaken as she was.
“I can’t let her win. I won’t be a prisoner in my own mind…” She stated, quiet but decisive.
Hades didn’t want to push her too far, but “You will be expected to compete now that you are back.”
He knew that she hadn’t considered that by the look on her face. But she took a breath and insisted “I will not be a prisoner in my own mind. I can fight.”
“Kali, you have nothing to prove to me.” He sighed, but he could never change her mind. If Kali was wrong, he would be there to help her put herself back together. But he wouldn’t try to take away her right to choose, even if he could. “I think you ought to rest tonight. Eat, and recuperate. Then, in the morning, I’ll do my best to let you out of my arms long enough to fight.”
“Hades…you know, I don’t expect you to protect me.” She hesitated at the hardness in his eyes and took his hands. “I know you could. That isn’t what I mean. I just…you didn’t let me down. You came for me.”
Hades let his mask of calm fall away and fell to his knees in front of her, begging Forgive me.
There is nothing to forgive. Kali could feel tears streaming down her cheeks, and she knelt with him. She kissed his face, her lips moving along his jaw hungrily before reaching his lips. She craved him, the distance between them was too much for her to take anymore.
Feeling her urgency, Hades lifted her into his arms and carried her towards their bed. Let me take care of you tonight.
A faint smile touched Kali’s lips and she met his eyes. Just tonight?
He sat on the bed, still holding her in his arms, and Kali smiled into his chest. He trembled when she breathed him in. After a moment, he composed himself enough to whisper “You have so much faith in me, wildfire. Too much.” A ragged sigh escaped him, and he buried his face in her hair. I beg you for your patience, if I am not strong enough to live up to your expectations.
I don’t expect anything. Kali drew back and looked deep into his eyes. She continued to use their bond because it was impossible to lie, and she wanted him to be certain of her words. I want you as you are. You don’t need to hide anything from me.
Kali, it is taking everything I have not to chain you to my side. I will not lose you again. I would tear my way through anything, and anyone, to keep you safe. His eyes were a shade darker than their usual silver-blue. Looking into them, Kali saw the echoes of what had happened while he was trying to find her. Her heart broke that she could have had such an effect on him.
You nearly did, she murmured, and she was right. His infinite control was not so boundless as she had thought. He loved her that much. Tears prickled in her eyes, but her lips found their way into a smile.
Hades tightened his arms around her as he lay slowly on the bed. Why are you still not afraid of me?
I can feel the heart of you. I have nothing to fear, from you or the rest of the world, while I am at your side. Kali hesitated, snuggling into him, before asking “What did you promise the Stargazer?”
Stargazer? Hades growled in her mind and she giggled, startling him.
It isn’t a pet name, oh prince of darkness. Kali prodded him in the ribs and felt a trickle of amusement through their bond. He just wouldn’t tell me what to call him.
“No, I don’t suppose he would.” He sighed wearily. “Did you give him your name?”
“I don’t think so? I don’t really remember, to be honest.” A lot had happened since then.
After an expectant pause, Kali knew that Hades wasn’t going to answer her question. Sure enough, he finally muttered “I would rather…not discuss it.”
Instead of pushing the matter, Kali nodded. Partners though they were, she had no right to try to demand an answer. He would tell her when he was ready, or he wouldn’t. She knew she had surprised him again when she whispered, “I’m happy that you didn’t lie to me.”
Hades sighed with a bone deep weariness, and Kali closed her eyes against his chest. The silver cord shone in her mind and he felt much closer than usual. She wondered if something had changed inside of her, or if he had been keeping his distance before. In his arms, she felt like they were one person. If she had wanted to, she could step into his mind and see everything laid bare. That level of openness and trust overwhelmed her.
Though she had slept for at least two weeks, Kali felt a wave of exhaustion wash over her. A glimmer of fear flickered in her mind, but Hades whispered that he would catch her. Always. Reassured, she relaxed into him and closed her eyes. Hades did the same, resting as he had not allowed himself in weeks. They finally fell asleep, tangled in each other’s arms, where they belonged.
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