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I’ll make you a crown with rubies of pomegranate

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I’ll make you a crown with rubies of pomegranate

 

7.

Hands on shoulders, cold skin, cold air, so cold, forehead to nape, cold, cold, cold, my love.

“Don’t,” Nicky begs, tears falling already. Erik complies, pulls back from every point of contact between their bodies and Nicky turns his back on him and the silent basket on the ground. His steps echo against the pebbles under him, even if he’s barefoot. He paces for a handful of disquieted seconds before he turns back to his lover. “The rules—”

“It won’t be the first time I change the rules for you,” Erik stops him. “I will do it again. Just ask me to.”

“You’re not supposed to be like this,” Nicky points out, passing a hand roughly on his cheeks to clean the tears away. They’re shaved. His hair prickles his shoulders and the night air that passes through the soft fog around them, a flimsy semblance of protection, chills the skin of his bare arms. His dark skin is too rich, too honeyed, too golden, for this place. Erik says, Nicky is the sun of his world, and he means it.

The river keeps on running and gurgling just behind their backs. No cry fills the air, for now.

“I don’t care.”

“You’re the reasonable one.”

“Not when it comes to you, I’m not.” Erik smiles, ever so gentle, and he outstretches a hand in invitation. Nicky has never been strong enough to resist the temptation, and he holds, lets himself be pulled back to curl in his lover’s embrace. There are chairs, benches, heck, even triclinia made of stone and moss and wood, grown as the lord approached, but they sit on the ground because here is where Nicky crumbled as soon as he felt the shift and thought, it’s time. Erik picks his chin, forces him to look up. “What do you want? Name it, and it’s yours.”

There’s power running like an electric current in those words. It makes the woods shiver and the sky tremble.

Nicky knows what he wants. He wants Erik, the life they have for as sacrificed as it is, the cold ground under his feet and the pulp of flower petals under his fingers, listening to the stories of untold dreams and tasting the sweetness of the most precious of fruits. He wants the children he cheated out of the Olympus’ hand, wants to change the rules and give them safety, he wants to go back in time and set the world aflame.

The irony.

He can’t have everything.

He’s already a Nicky, anyway. He always was and, at the same time, he was never.

“My dearest love,” Erik whispers, kissing his cheek so close to the ear Nicky feels his breath and shivers to the base of his spine. “I’m eternity.”

It’s quiet. A gentle wind lulls the basket beside Nicky’s ankle but he hears, loud as an avalanche, the heavy breath of sleep.

Nicky sobs. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, my love, my love, I’m sorry, I’m—”

But Erik smiles in the soft way that leads lost souls to safety, hugs him as if he’s welcoming him back already, and kisses him like the world turned the other way to give them a travesty of privacy.

When he lets go, he pulls Nicky to his feet and walks with him to the rocky shore.  He says, “You’ll find me waiting when you come back.”

Nicky kisses him on the lips, less solemnity and more life resurrecting, raising like waves under the breeze.

Erik holds his hand until his balance is completely lost and watches him sink in the water.

 

***

 

1.

He wakes up as Nicky Hemmick and not. He wakes up remembering as his heart shrivels.

The wasted time weighs him down in his bed, the lost chances are like barbed wire in his mouth and make his breaths stumble and cut on the pricks and bleed down his throat, his useless broken promise lays in fragments under his feet and gets deeper with every step he takes.

He pulls up and lets his eyes adjust to his surroundings. He knows where he is. Palmetto State dorm room, Matt sleeping in the bunk on the other side of the room and Aaron sleeping in the top above him.

Aaron.

Nicky jumps to his feet. He turns and stares at the blond tuffs sticking in every and all directions, he watches the night recede from his shoulders and he meets eyes with a shadow gently caressing his head.

It stops, jerking in surprise when it realizes Nicky saw it. I have no ill intentions!, it curls, frantic. I was protecting.

Nicky knows, he can feel it in the thrum of energy around them. He nods.  When he outstretches his hand, the shadow eagerly runs to him, curls around his hand and dares to tickle his wrist, playful now that it feels safe. Nicky strokes it with his thumb.

He thinks carefully about the one thing that should be here, but isn’t. The gold and black feeling is too far away, too faint, and Nicky’s anger flames, sudden and terrible.

The shadow shivers. Nicky forces himself to calm down. Time is running away from him.

He thinks, find him for me.

Sunlight peeks through the half open blinds and the shadow disappears as Matt’s sleepy voice breaks the stillness of the room. “Nicky? Man, what’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he promises, because it’s true, with voice cheery, even if he’s not. Nothing is going on. Not yet. “Go back to sleep, I’m just getting some food.”

He doesn’t stop to meet Matt’s confused look, just leaves the room in his pajamas and closes the door behind himself.

He walks barefoot around the campus. It’s September, which is inconvenient and melancholic and gains in the surprised looks of a few students with early classes. He ignores them to try and feel the deep thump of life underneath the surface, some remaining sluggish running of vitality in the veins that connect every dot of nature’s great painting. It’s feeble and dying, but it’s there.

It’s fall. His skin itches and breaks around his lips, as if mourning the lack of kisses, begging for reprieve.

He runs a punishing hand over them. The consequences of his choice have always been clear, and he has no right to complain now.

When he reaches the parking lot, he sees the old phone cabin that the Palmetto students painted orange and called a monument who knows how many years ago. It’s broken, unused, no more functioning, but Nicky steps in front of it and waits.

It rings.

Nicky picks up. “I’m so sorry.”

Don’t be,” the voice on the other end says, tired and scratchy with the remnants of a withheld scream. “I chose it. I wanted to be sure I’d be with you when you woke up, but they found me as I climbed down. I had to put some distance or they would have found you too.

Nicky smiles a bit to the freezing air. “I’m glad you’re here. Would have sucked to be alone right now, honestly.”

The voice on the other end hums. “Of all the mothers I’ve ever had, you’re probably the only one I truly love. When that shadow tugged at me, I knew you'd remembered. I couldn’t wait to talk to you again.” There’s a moment of charged silence in which the words hesitate before coming to the world. “I missed you.

“I missed you too.”

His feet are freezing, his heart is still heavy in his chest, and he can feel the end coming near in everything that he tries to hold onto around himself. But the voice on the other end of the line is warm, soothing like dark velvet, and it wraps Nicky in a semblance of home.

A couple of guys have been staring unabashedly for a while now. He is probably a sight, in his pajamas, without shoes, talking to the broken phone in the parking lot.

He’s not surprised when he sees a few figures stepping hurriedly toward him from the dorms direction. Even less surprising is that Andrew is ahead of everyone. Aaron, Matt and Dan are following him close and she’s holding the phone to her ear but won’t move her eyes from Nicky.

She’s talking to the coach. He can hear her all the way from there. He sounds worried even as she tells him they have found their missing player.

Poor coach. Nicky promises himself he’ll make sure he’s repaid for the troubles he always goes through.

“I need to go.”

You sure they won’t throw you in a psychiatric ward?” There’s a tilt of tease. As if any ward could keep him in, now.

“You know the place,” Nicky just says. “Bring yours there, if you wish. I’ll join you as soon as I get them to listen.”

I won’t hold my breath, then,” comes the replying scoff. A sigh. “May the gods bless us with a safe travel.

“I am sure you can see the irony in your own words.”

It’s a formula.” Nicky chuckles as the phone is hung up on his face.

He puts the receiver back in its place, just as the others stop on the sidewalk, close enough to reach him in a couple steps but not crowding. They must think he’s lost his mind, or is perhaps drunk or drugged. Andrew surely seems to be thinking so, because he’s staring hard at his eyes and pupils.

Nicky smiles softly at him, and he frowns even more. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Oh, wouldn’t it be funny to explain? He just shakes his head. The times are not ready yet, he would know, so instead he looks up to the pink sky. Dawn is beautiful, but lacking something still.

“Nicky,” Matt calls him lowly, and Nicky looks down at him again. “Are you okay?”

“Of course I am,” he says, deciding to ignore his current dressing state. “I’m just a bit melancholic, I guess.”

Melancholic,” Aaron repeats, slowly. “You seriously used melancholic in a sentence. Out loud. Did you hit your head or something?”

Nicky doesn’t answer. He looks at Dan instead. “I think we should go on another trip, actually.”

 

***

 

6.

Apollo and Artemis go with all the surrender in their veins, which is not much at all. Apollo stares at Erik in suspicion and Artemis clenches Nicky’s wrist just shy of breaking it.

“How will this help?” she asks, scoffing.

“It won’t,” Nicky answers, honestly. “It’s just to buy us some time.”

Apollo looks up from the restless waters and searches for his eyes. “Us.

The air goes thicker and warms up just a bit, just too much for this land, like desert under an implacable sun. Nicky moves his gaze, and Artemis pulls at his arm once again, frowning.

Erik sighs. “Everybody will know you didn’t overpower Poseidon on your own. The traces of powers linger far longer than their effects.” His hand goes to Nicky’s cheek, ever so gentle. “It’s safer if all three of you go.”

Nicky doesn’t object.

Apollo goes first, for the only reason that his sister won’t make herself vulnerable before she’s seen him to safety, and Erik holds him by the nape and the deep spine as he lowers him into the waters of Lethe.

The river of oblivion makes true to its name and Nicky holds Artemis as Apollo’s eyes go dazed first, then closed. His body shivers and Nicky watches his own powers being unmade as the young man is returned to a crying infant. Erik cradles him to his chest and hushes him gently.

Artemis outstretches a hand, as she did on her brother’s birth, and caresses his cheek. “I’ll meet you on the other side, brother,” she promises.

Nicky holds her, behind the knees and behind the shoulders, and dips her into the water. When he pulls her up, she, too, is no more powerful than a newborn baby weeping in the dark. He kisses her forehead.

Erik has placed a quieted Apollo in the big wicker basket they brought along. Nicky passes him Artemis and watches as she’s placed beside her brother and both are covered with a soft thick blanket to shield them from the cold.

Erik looks up and Nicky is already crying.

 

***

 

2.

Ending up on Abby’s visiting bed is unsurprising. He tries to be as upbeat as he could be as Nicky, but it’s hard with the time running away from his fingers so fast. When they ask him what’s going on, he says he’ll have to show them. When Andrew and Aaron insist, when they lose patience, he just stays there.

He thinks of today’s voice and tries to keep calm. He misses his child, so horrendously much.

When the night falls he closes his eyes and lets himself sink. He only catches a glimpse of the endless fields baring in front of his eyes, and the figure he meets is smokey and impalpable.  They’re both too weak to fully descend in this realm, it seems. Nicky blows a kiss to the figure, which curls in disapproval.

When he wakes up, it’s to the distinct knowledge that something was done, and not by him but in his name.  He doesn’t wait around to see what it was, though he wishes, because there’s not enough time left. He could feel it in the way the air freezes and crackles with electricity around Aaron.

Before sneaking out of the window, he tries to call Katelyn. Her phone rings, but she doesn’t answer.

Of all the gods, Time is the most implacable.

Stealing Andrew’s car is probably not a smart idea, but Nicky is already in enough troubles as it is so what’s one more? It’s not like knives could kill him, anyway. He doesn’t hot-wire it though, he just snaps his fingers and the car takes life under his eyes.

Appearing on the spot would spare him so much time, but he needs to leave a trail for the others to follow and a ripple in space would alert any and all other gods of his awakening. Better keeping it low, for now.

He chuckles to himself at the thought that the Maserati is now the low-profile option.

As he drives, he lets his mind fall into memories from far away, old times which he kinda misses and kinda doesn't, people he’ll see soon whether he likes it or not, duties he’s skirted which he’ll have to right.

A child's soft face, big grey eyes, bigger velvet black wings lull him into a soft smile. His kid has never been his to begin with, but when he’d started appearing in the realm of darkness, none the wiser of what was going on, Nicky had been there to lead him gently back to the exit. And again when it reoccurred, and again and again, until summer came and he’d brought Erik along to their meeting point, in the field beside the bend where the Lethe met the Acheron. The smart brat had not trusted the blond man immediately, but Nicky had given them six months and came back to find them eating figs under the shade of a tree.

He left him looking like a fifteen years old, just shy of a couple of centuries actually, and now he looks like an adult yet is not even thirty yet. How curiously different rules Time set for all his creatures.

Halfway into the drive, when he should have still been hours away from his goal, his phone starts buzzing on the passenger seat. Nicky checks it, letting the car drive itself through the folds of space, cheating miles off their travel.

From: The Straight Cousin
What the fuck, Nicky!
Andrew’s car, really?!
Do you have a death wish?!

From: The Gay Cousin
Where are you
Nicky where are you
Nicky now

From: The Straight Cousin
Come on, Nicky, answer us

From: Kevin’s Daddy (Coach Not Jeremy)
Nicholas Esteban Hemmick, you get your sorry ass back here right the fuck now or I’ll sign you up for so many marathons you’ll be grey in the hair by the time you reach the finish line of the last one.
I mean it, Hemmick.
Get the fuck back home.
Hemmick, for fuck’s sake!

From: The Sweetest Nurse Who Could Do So Much Better Than This
Nicholas, whatever is going on, we will find a solution, you’ll see. Please, come back, we’re all worried for you.

From: The Straight Cousin
Nicky, this isn’t funny, you hear me?! It’s not fucking funny.
Where the fuck are you?!
Answer me, goddammit!
What’s gotten into you?!
Nicky, come on.

From: Captain Dan Sir
Nicky, I don’t know what’s going on, but if we made it through Neil’s bullshit, we can do with whatever’s going on with you.
Just call us back, okay? Any of us.
I promise you I’ll get Neil and Katelyn on keeping the twins from scolding you.

From: The Gay Cousin
The car has gps dumbass
If you don’t come back I’ll come and get you myself
Don’t do anything stupid

From: The Straight Cousin
Nicky

From: Kween Jackass
You’re going to the cabin.
Everybody on the team dreamt about it tonight. How did you do it?

Morpheus?

Nicky snorts at the last message. He types, Not quite, just as his phone pings again.

From: Sweet Baby Child Must Protect
Kevin is an idiot. I know you’re not Morpheus. How did you do it? I didn’t even realize you were one of us.

Nicky wants to answer, that was the whole point, but he doesn’t. He knows who Kevin is, now, and he’s pretty sure he knows who Neil is, but he’s not sure how many others are on the team. Probably none. The Monsters fell together apparently by chance, but he knows better than to believe so.

God finds god, after all.

He doesn’t answer anymore, because he’s reached three fourths of his travel and his skin is starting to prickle with the proximity of what’s his.

A shadow curls in the passenger seat. He offers it a side-way glance and it meows, pleased with the attention, as he puts the phone down and scratches it for a moment.

The Olympus is restless, it informs him. Hera’s wrath spikes again and Poseidon fumes with vengeance.

“And where are the Erinyes, now?”

They didn’t come for the murders of your children, they say not interfering now is a debt they owe to pay the Olympians.

“The Olympians struck first,” Nicky hisses. “We were in our right to defend ourselves.”

Word among the celestials is that the world is balanced on a needle, and only one of the deities have the power to tip it on either side.

“Who said that?”

The words fell from the Moirai’s lips and became law, but not even Zeus himself was told which god has such power in their hands.

“Great.” Nicky sighed.

So many gods fled the Olympus after Hera’s latest bout of jealousy and betrayal entitled Poseidon to a right he never had and got him killed, for as temporary as it had been. For the first time one of the Twelve had been sent to the Hades, and all the others had grown restless under the weight of pending diatribes. Some had tried to extract vengeance, some had fallen just to return, because Poseidon’s exception had been asked by the only person the Underworld would have granted any wish to.

Until the Olympus found that out, Nicky had a bit of room to work, but after they realized it had been an open hunt for the god with too much power.

Of course the Erinyes would try to keep their snouts out of the mess. Everybody’s bet was probably on Nicky right now.

Which, really? That’s dumb. Nicky wouldn’t have run if he’d had the power to decide of the survival or fall of the Olympus. He would have yeet-ed the whole thing into Tartarus and said fuck all to everyone.

That’s probably why so many people want him dead, uh?

“It’s going to be a war when they find me,” he says, and the shadow squeals in unease, curls around his forearm protectively. He chuckles at the devotion. “Go back home. Rely the news, and tell everyone to be ready for the worst.” He hesitates for a second, but then brings the shadow to his lips and lay a soft kiss on it. It squeaks again. “Give that to the lord from me, alright? Tell him,” he gulps. “Tell him I’ll come home soon. Not yet, but soon.” A bunch of memories play in his mind and he scoffs. “And also that he’s a jackass.”

The shadow contorts at the last order, clearly unwilling to go to its master and relay such a message, but in the end it settles for a moment longer on Nicky’s skin. He blinks and it’s gone. Nicky makes a mental note to find it and reward it, when this whole mess is over.

The tires screech to an halt and Nicky finds himself face to face with the cabin the Foxes rented for that vacation after Baltimore. A mistake in planning, a wrong timing, and they all got here too early and left none the wiser, but it’s okay, Nicky can fix this.

He only has to get them here again.

The wait is surprisingly not as boring or nervous as he’d expected it to be.

He sits on the steps outside the cabin and watches grass grow through his toes, indifferent to the cold air lashing at it. He lets the sun touch his skin and fail to warm it up, weak without his master, and listens to the wind rustles to try and decipher the words of the trees around him. They sound pleased with his return, if a bit surprised by the timing as fall is ready to begin. He chuckles to the stories they tell him and plucks the flowers wrapping around his ankles to make a crown, which he hangs on the entrance door as a good wish for the next year.

He’s fixing it when engine sounds send a ripple of worry through the ground. It’s a toss up for who it might be, as it’s definitely too early for any of the guests he’s expecting, but when he turns it’s the familiar sight of a pink Porsche and a blue truck that welcome him. Wymack’s older and much less fancy car is nowhere to be seen and Nicky tries to get a feel for it, until he finds it miles further from the place. All the doors fall open.

Nicky tilts his head to a side until he meets eyes with Neil and realizes he’s not the only one who’s broken a bit of a rule to get here faster.  The blue eyes staring at him are searching, questioning, but not overly wary, and coming from someone who’d been on the run all his life it’s quite a testament of trust. Nicky nods slightly to acknowledge it, and then gets punched straight in the jaw.

He can’t die, but he can hurt and, damn, Andrew didn’t hold back. Now, he’s staring at Nicky’s bent form with furious eyes, indifferent to the shouts of worry behind him. “What the fuck, Nicky,” he hisses. “What the actual fuck.”

Explaining won’t be easy no matter where he starts, so Nicky shrugs. “It’s a long story.”

“A long story?!” Aaron yells, righteous fury bulking his shoulders. Nicky wonders how can nobody see the flicker in his eyes, the light. “And you had to drag us all here to tell us?! You had to fucking steal Andrew’s car and go MIA on all of us?! Jesus Christ, Nicky!”

Nicky almost gets an aneurysm, hearing Aaron curse another pantheon, but he holds his laughter in. “I need to dig up some things that are buried in this wood,” he says instead, opting to go for the most pressing points. “We’ll need those to save Katelyn.”

Aaron’s anger deflates, like a candle flame under a bucket of water, and he blinks, uncomprehending, as Nicky holds his eyes. “What are you— Katelyn?” From the way the blood drains from his face, he probably tried to call her as they were leaving Palmetto and is only now realizing that her lack of response might be due to something other than the early time of the morning. “What are you talking about?”

Nicky’s ears tingle with the warning of the trees, another car incoming, dark powers swirling with light, and he lifts his gaze to the turn at the end of the street as he still speaks to his cousin. “Katelyn’s pregnant with a child who will possibly turn the world around and destroy the universal balance and some people want to get them both killed before it happens.”

The car that appears is black and sleek and Nicky’s heart swells, full.

“Okay, this is crazy. You’re crazy,” Aaron says, indifferent to anything but what his brain is struggling to comprehend. “What the fuck is with this sci-fi apocalyptic bullshit? Did you hit your head or something?”

Nicky doesn’t answer. He’s too busy taking the steps between his teammates, who still look at him like he’s an escaped nutcase, to the car which stopped behind the Foxes’. He hears Kevin’s shocked voice when the driver’s door open.

“Jean,” Nicky mutters, testing the name on his tongue and linking it to the face of his child. A second later, he’s engulfed in the arms of the bigger man and he chuckles, feeling like an old lady shrunk by time under the towering built of his son. “Oh, Jean.”

Jean exhales as if he’d been holding his breath for a century or longer. He pulls out of the embrace just enough to look at Nicky and smile. “Even in this form,—” he says, caressing his cheek with an open palm, “—I see my mother’s face.”

Nicky laughs. Something settles in his chest. “My son grew up as I was distracted,” he comments. “I hope you’ve learnt not to get lost among the rivers, now.”

“Sometimes I venture to the darkest places on purpose, just to keep our lord on his toes.” Jean smirks, devious. “He always comes running the moment he realizes where I am.”

Nicky slaps his arm and Jean laughs. It’s a soft moment, one they waited years for, but it goes fast as Jean sighs. “Have you taken your jewels, yet?”

“Speaking of,” Nicky bites his lips. “They haven’t woken up, yet. I can get mine, but it’s a toss up whether they’ll be able to pick their own.”

“That’s all cute and shit,—” a voice calls from behind Jean, and Nicky turns to be met with the highest ranks of the Trojans. Jeremy and Laila look just lost, though; it’s Alvarez who’s taking purposeful steps toward them, “—but we were summoned here for a reason, I guess, and I’d like to be make apart of it.”

“I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I agree with the sentiment,” Allison huffs, her voice closer than Nicky expected her to, and less shocked. “I too would like to know what the fuck we’re all here for? And also that bullcrap about Katelyn birthing the Antichrist, of course.”

Jean bristles. “Wrong pantheon,” he hisses to her, but Nicky puts a hand on his arm to make him let go of the fight.

Alvarez has been staring him up and down for a while now, and nods to herself before offering a hand.

Hecate,” she says, and the air around her cracks with raw energy. “Goddess of magic and sorcery and a bunch of other things.”

“Nicholas Hemmick,” he replies, feeling the uneasiness of the ground and hearing Jean’s sharp inhale at his not too respectful answer. Indeed, pissing off a primal is not a good idea, generally. “For a little longer, at least.”

Her smirk takes an edge. “We’ve met before,” she says, searching his face with eyes that tainted her sclera black for a second. “Oh, yes. I was doing some business in necromancy, back then.”

She’s not wrong. Nicky offered her sweets after she returned the souls she resurrected for a little while.

Someone among the Foxes chokes on the word necromancy. Maybe Matt. Yeah, probably Matt.

Nicky smiles and they drop their handshake. Apparently he’s granted a bit longer before returning to the world. Words have power, especially from the lips of a deity, and Alvarez knows it.

“Okay,” Dan is saying when Nicky turns back to them. “What. The. Fuck.”

Allison is holding on Renee’s arm as the other touches the cross on her necklace as if to gain strength. Andrew and Aaron are the furthest, haven’t moved an inch from when Nicky left them, but where the first looks studying the latter looks lost. Matt is pale but stands besides Dan. She’s ahead of everyone, but her strength looks fake in front of the gods she’s facing.

Nicky knows that by now they can tell something bigger is going on. Alvarez words broke the veil of illusion and something of their powers has reached all of them.

Aaron shakes his head. “This doesn’t make sense. Hecate? As in, the Greek goddess? Did you all got high on LSD?”

Alvarez bristles and the ground at her feet sizzles as the grass dies, immediately. Nicky feels the ping in his chest, but clenches his teeth through it.

The Foxes take a step back and Dan cusses.

Neil and Kevin are huddled close and silent. They are staring, wondering, and when Kevin speaks is in low Greek to Neil’s ear. The other shakes his head.

Andrew’s eyes zero on them. “Oh, let me guess,” he says, voice falsely cheery, “More secrets.”

“Not ours to tell,” Neil returns, voice slightly apologetic. “We think we know what’s going on.”

“But it doesn’t make sense!” Kevin tackles on, glaring at Nicky. “I didn’t feel you. How?”

“How did Riko not feel you?” Jean interjects, rolling his eyes. “How did you not feel me? The lotus flower is the worst kept secret, there where the world of gods meets the world of men.”

Nicky frowns. “How much of that flower goes around?”

“Without anyone to police its growth? Too much,” Jean says, dark. “It kept me and Kevin safe in the Nest, from Riko, but too many other gods use it for less upstanding reasons.”

Nicky mentally notes to take care of the issue, but then shakes his head. “We can explain as we walk,” he decides. “Time is running out and we need to hurry up.”

 

***

 

5.

“Your sight is the only light that reaches my eyes,” Erik says, looking far too sad for the romance he’s offering. He sighs. “It’s not the time, yet. Why are you here?”

Nicky walks the length of the room in ample strides, the night air passing his light chiton and making him shiver from the cold. Artemis and Apollo stopped at the door and now stare attentively, silent.

As he falls in his husband’s embrace, Nicky sobs. “Poseidon attacked us. I don’t know if Hera told him to, but he won’t stop until he’s found us again after today.”

Erik’s eyes go wide for a second before they harden. “Their foolishness kills more people than Ares’ cult.” His eyes fall on the adolescent twins behind Nicky. “Is there anywhere safe for them?”

Nicky shakes his head.

Erik stands taller, but keeps him enveloped in a protective hug as they listen to the sound of breeze making the veils at the arches swing and blow up. “I bear no more love for my brothers. My only family is you, now, and to you goes my loyalty and fidelity.”

Nicky shivers against his chest. “I didn’t mean to make you choose,” he mourns. It’s not a refusal, and that raises shame in his chest and to his cheeks, but he has the twins to protect and he will do anything to ensure their safety.

Erik laughs bitterly. “You didn’t. This is all on them.”

 

***

 

3.

“It still makes no sense,” Aaron hisses, pushing a branch out of his face as he follows in the deep of the forest with the others. The gods could make it faster without the humans, but that’d be counterproductive. “And even if there was anything true in what you’re saying, Katelyn’s on her fourth day of period. She can’t be pregnant.”

Nicky rolls his eyes. “Yeah, well, gods never cared much for the temporal line,” he huffs. “Somewhere in her life, she’ll get pregnant of you and that child has one chance out of at least twenty-six to be someone the gods don’t want to leave to roam the Earth.”

“So, the gods kidnapped Katelyn and, what?” Allison frowns.

“Kept the world still and moved her along her own thread of life, until they got to the point when she’ll be pregnant and on the cusp of giving birth,” Jean explains. “Then they’ll put on a fake trial to decide what to do and ultimately kill them both.”

“You’d say a 3.7 percent chance of the kid being Asclepius would be low enough for anybody else but assholes always prefer kill-first-check-later plans,” Alvarez comments.

“Isn’t Asclepius the god of medicine?” Jeremy says, frowning. “One would think that’s not exactly the same as the Antichrist.”

“In the past, Asclepius found a way to bring people back from death,” Nicky explains. “I’m sure you can see how that would disrupt the universe balance.”

“Oh.”

“But he was already born, right?” Dan offers, climbing over a dead trunk. “This whole… ritual reincarnations thing is just a rerun of things that already happened. What did they do the first time?”

“Zeus fried him with a thunderbolt,” Nicky says, off-handedly. “Official story is, Asclepius did it for money and that’s morally wrong. Truth is, the Olympus is a cesspool when it comes to morality, they just want to make sure dead people stay dead so living people will still fear the Underworld and worship them in an attempt not to end up there. The end.”

“Well, that’s cynical,” Kevin huffs. “It’s also because the resources wouldn’t be enough, the population would only increase until the planet would not be physically able to hold them all and chaos would reign. Also, the risk of a return of Cronus or Uranus would mean—”

“May I introduce you to the manager of Olympian propaganda, Kevin Day,” Jean scorns, shaking his head. “Zeus is just scared he’ll lose his throne. He couldn’t care less of the people or the world.”

Kevin tries to reply, but Neil trips him and he ends up with a mouthful of leaves instead. He glares, but Neil is still too busy sending anxious looks in Andrew’s direction to bother with him.

Nicky knows that Andrew is mad because of this ulterior secret Neil kept, but honestly, how was he supposed to tell? Hopefully, after the last bits are cleared, Andrew will forgive him.

“So, Katelyn is, what, a goddess of something?” Aaron asks. “And she’s destined to give birth to this Asclepius?”

Oh, poor dumbass. “Katelyn is human,” Nicky corrects him, not turning back. “Like Dan, Matt, Allison, Renee and—” He frowns, then turns to Jean. “Wait, what are Jeremy and Laila? They don’t feel like gods.”

“Neither do you!” Kevin counters, just for the taste of being right, and goes ignored.

“Demigods,” Jean answers, shrugging. “She was Penthesilea, he was Hector.” He smiles, shaking his head a bit. “Both Trojan warriors in every reincarnation.”

Nicky chuckles at the thought and nods. “Alright, then they’re not fully humans.” He takes a look at the flabbergasted faces of the two in question. “Probably will take a bit longer for them to remember their past lives. Some months, maybe?”

“And you?” Andrew asks, low. “What are you?”

Nicky doesn’t answer. Both because he doesn’t want to and because his eyes lay on a hidden shape among the trees and he smiles. Space and time tingles with energy, here, and his pace hurries as he heads to the point where two trunks bend toward each other until crossing.

“Here we are,” he says, standing in front of the arch and feeling the call from within.

“Nicky, there’s nothing there,” Allison points out, head shaking. “I knew this was all a feverish hallucination.”

Nicky smiles. “You think?”

He doesn’t let her reply. He feels the life running in the trunks of the trees and closes his eyes as he raises both palms in front of himself. He asks, let us in? And he pushes.

The trees sing as they reveal their secret like a blooming flower. Someone gasps and when Nicky opens his eyes he’s standing on the entrance of a round room with walls so white they shine like stars. He smiles.

When he turns, he meets Aaron’s and Andrew’s eyes and hesitates for just a second, before whispering. “Before asking who I am, shouldn’t you ask who you are?”

Andrew bristles, and Nicky slips inside before he can continue their verbal sparring.

The room is warm and welcoming, the marble floor soft like velvet, the roof of painted glass miles and miles from the ground. There’s three alcoves indicating the cardinal directions; the door they walked through points the South without failing.

There are bows and quivers in the pedestals at East and West. The former bow is decorated with gold in the shape of laurel leaves and the arrows shine warm like the sun. The latter is of darker wood and splashed with silver which curls and points outward like a stag’s antlers and the arrows shine the cold shade of the moon.

Nicky waits, anxiously, as everybody walks in, but his heart lightens as Andrew and Aaron split immediately, instinct drawing them to opposite directions.

Aaron touches the golden bow reverentially, and the lyre that lays abandoned at its feet. Andrew grabs the handle of the silver bow without hesitation and the marble statue of a dog at the feet of the pedestal comes to life to roll at his feet, whining for a belly rub.

“Oh fuck!” Aaron yells when he sees it, and his hand flees from the bow, but the lyre sings, untouched, and his expression smooths again as he stares in wonders. “Was this—” he frowns again, as if trying to resist the pull. Nicky lets him attempt, because he knows he’ll fail. “Is this—”

“Mine,” Andrew finishes for him, with no hesitation in his words. There is not the full recognition of memories in the way he hesitates before indulging the hound, now in flesh and bones, at his feet, but there is acceptance, a vague memory of years long passed. He looks up to Nicky and blinks. “You were there.”

He’d say he were, yes.

“I remember you,” Aaron says too, and at some point in time he picked his own bow too. “But you were—” he frowns, trying to grasp on the image like catching a fish barehanded, “—a woman?”

Nicky rolls his eyes as Jean snorts. “Is gender really the thing you choose to fixate on, right now, Aaron?” he huffs, moving toward the North alcove. “I’m a goddess,” he says, and doesn’t it feel good to let it out of his lips, finally. “I can turn into literally anything. I’ll change my fucking genitals, if I want to. Can me move on, now?”

Something is covering his own things, and it takes him a moment to recognize it’s not a drape, but something much more precious. “Oh, Sweet Elysium,” he murmurs, running his hand on the feathers of pitch black velvet and precious diamonds. “Jean.”

“Consider it an antitheft precaution,” Jean says, apparently unbothered by his dismay. “I wanted to make sure I would feel if someone tried to steal your things.”

This explains why he never ran away from the Nest, at least.

Reverential as he can, Nicky picks the huge wings and they go meek, weighting nothing to him despite being easily each as wide, spread, as he is tall. People gasps as he stretches them carefully in the air, and white vines raise from the floor to hold them up.

Jean is by his side when Nicky turns. “Help me?” he asks.

Nicky steps aside.

When Jean turns his back to the wings, they ruffle each feather and stretch even wider, excitement in every inch. Nicky finds the open rips on his shirt and keeps them wide as he pushes the root of the wings to the scars he finds on the bare skin.

Gaping wounds open for a second, but bones and tendons and muscles fill them immediately, without any pain, as the wings settle back in their rightful place. Nicky caresses the clean skin when the process is over.

“When I felt you coming here, last time, I thought you had already remembered,” Jean whispered. “I could have survived longer in the Nest, I’m not that easy to kill, even for a child of Zeus, but I thought it was time and called Renee. When I realized you had still no idea of who I really was, I didn’t know what to do.” He frowns, looking at Nicky from above his shoulder. “USC was never in the plans. If Hecate hadn’t noticed me when I was running low on lotus flower, I didn't know what I would have done.”

“I wondered why our little god of dreams rot away in the nest of a demigod, one of the many among Zeus offsprings too,” Alvarez adds, arms crossed and indifferent to the widening of Kevin’s eyes as he’s revealed who really is Morpheus. “Now it’s much clearer, indeed.”

What is?” Andrew says, looking all but pleased, and the hound at his feet growls at Hecate, uncaring of anything but protecting its owner.

“Apollo and Artemis, Hera’s biggest temper tantrum because of Zeus’ infidelity,” she replies, before Nicky can shut her up. “The twin gods of sun and moon, born despite the curse that forbade their mother from giving birth, raised from the low name of bastards of one of the Three to part of the circle of the Twelve Olympians. And they lived off on an island most of the time, even.” She points to the twins. “So, who’s the brother and who’s the sister?”

“You know which is each,” Neil points out, cold. “They picked their gauntlet.”

“They did,” Alvarez admits. When she shrugs and waves the topic away, it feels like a threat. “And I know who you are too.”

Nicky can feel everybody tense as she steps closer to Kevin and Neil, looking all like a lioness on the hunt. “Athena was easy to find, dear goddess of military strategy and wisdom,” she stares at Kevin for just enough to be meaningful, and then she turns to Neil. “I guess I should have recognized you from how fast you were on court, but it took me touching you to actually know,” she smirks. “Hello, Hermes, fast messenger of the gods and patron of merchants, thieves and athletes.”

Kevin glares, and Neil straightens as his name still bounces off the walls, becoming truer by the second. Alvarez doesn’t bother any longer with them, though, and both sneak worried glances in the twins’ and the other Foxes’ directions.

“Instead, let me ask, and this time I will demand a proper answer,” she continues, Hecate through and through as she finally stares at Nicky, unyielding and firm. “Once again, who are you?”

Nicky holds her gaze for a while, but doesn’t reply to her. Instead, when he turns, he sidesteps Jean’s wings and moves to the things that had been hidden underneath them instead.

Three jewels look at him, shiny as the day he took them off. He never wore all at the same time, before, but, well, desperate times, desperate measures.

Two are wide bracelets, bands of rose gold that cover from his wrist to half way up his forearm, covered in detailed carvings of blooming flowers and vines and early fruits and made even more precious by the gems coloring the scenes, pink quartzes and diamonds. He puts them on and feels the pulse of fall trying to push against him, outraged.

“I know it’s not my time for much longer,” he whispers to the cold air. “Just for a bit. I promise I will respect your turn.”

Next is the head circlet, a crown in all that matters, if less gaudy than any of Hera’s jewels. It is rose gold too, but encased down the length are six rubies the size of a seed. Nicky smiles as he caresses each of the stones, one for every month of freedom he got from the Olympus bullshit.

When he puts it on, his curls grow just that much longer, past his shoulders, but his body keeps the masculine shape he took for himself this time around. Femininity is still a part of him, but he’d never felt too strictly bound to the female body he'd been born in.

He doesn’t mind the titles he still wears, though, running in his ears as voices with no longer a body gasp at his return.

Bearer of Spring. Queen of the Underworld.

There is some kind of aesthetic to them, isn’t it?

Alvarez curses behind him. Jean smiles and picks his hand to kiss his knuckles.

Persephone.”

 

***

 

4.

The sea touches the shore with deadly stillness, not the barest wave in sight for miles. Except for one spot.

“Poseidon!,” Nicky rumbles, fury mounting, as he finds Apollo forced on the beach by the waves falling relentless on his back, giving him no reprieve to breath or struggle out of reach.

Nicky pulls him out, but Apollo shoves him away and runs. Nicky follows, stumbling through the woods, until he hears Poseidon's laughter and realizes what this is.

Hounds whines and growls, and arrows lay scattered among the grass, shining helplessly under the sunlight.  Artemis won’t scream for help, but her brother doesn’t wait. Nicky stumbles after them and chokes on his own pain when Apollo brings a rock down on Poseidon’s head, crushing his skull, spilling his brains.

He’s not dead, of course he’s not. One of the Three can’t be killed so easily, but Nicky touches the ground, begs so loud in his heart that his prayer carries through the dirt and is granted.

Poseidon doesn’t rise.

Artemis holds her brother's hands as he fixes her chiton. Their world has never been anything more than the island and each others, and the reveal was never meant to be so hurtful.

Nicky hears the rumble in the sky, looks up to see the flashes of light behind the numbs and curses. When the twins turn to him, he’s already grabbed them by the wrist. “We need to go.”

“Where?!” Artemis pulls back. “They always find us.”

Gods find gods, it can’t be helped. Gods reach anywhere on Earth, it can’t be changed. Still.

“There’s one place no god will walk in uninvited,” Nicky says, and already the terrain crumbles behind him, falls in line with an unseen design and fits debris by debris until a long staircase encased by darkness stands to lead them in the entrails of the ground.

“But we will?” Apollo asks, voice as laced with doubt as his hand with his sister’s, as he stares at the darkness and goes ashen. “Too far from the sun and the moon, and we’ll fall ill.”

“It’s only for a little while,” Nicky promises, and his heart clenches at what he has to do. “We need to hurry up, though. Before someone comes.”

“Time does not tell many stories where the hero walked these steps down and then was allowed to climbed them up again,” Artemis says, but she’s already stepping on the stone, already testing its resistance. Her legs are firm and unshaken, the assault unaccomplished, but Nicky thinks she’s justing holding it together until the world gives her time to breathe again. “Let’s go, then. Any end to this foolishness is a victory of ours.”

“That’s counting the chance of all of us dying, I imagine,” Apollo hisses, but follows her sister.

Nicky climbs after them, not before sending one last look to the threatening clouds over them.

The first drops of rain hit his face.

 

***

 

4.

“Only the gods,” Nicky stresses, ignoring Dan’s outcry as Alvarez finishes drawing a circle of symbols in black sand in the centre of the room. “You wouldn’t be able to survive on the Olympus, anyway.”

“If that’s true, then Katelyn—” Matt starts nervously, before cutting himself off at Aaron’s furious glare.

“Katelyn is pregnant with a demigod. That gives us a bit longer, though not too much,” Jean explains, still frowning as he stretches and relaxes his wings to get used to them again. “The problem is that the twins were submerged in the water of Lethe, the river of oblivion, and for as long as they don’t awake as the deity they are, knowing who they used to be doesn’t make them gods.”

Andrew stops fixing the quiver to his back to glare at him. “Speak clearly, man-pidgeon.”

Alvarez hurriedly steps in before Jean can reply. “You technically aren’t gods until you remember you are. Right now? You’re humans. You’ll be until you remember. Which is a cavil they might use to try and throw you out. And off the Mount Olympus, I might add, which means you would die because, again, you’re still humans.” She shrugs under the glares she receives. “I don’t make the rules. It’s how you managed to go unnoticed all this time; because you aren’t gods. Yet.”

Nicky sighs at the nervous ripples in the air of the room. “We will get in, we’ll take Katelyn, we’ll get out,” he says. “I don’t care about the rules.”

“Oh, I know you don’t,” Kevin replies, poisonous from where he stands by the wall, arms crossed in nervousness. “We’ve all seen how much you cared for them the last time.”

It’s sudden, like all gods’ fury is, and it burns as Nicky moves from one side of the room to Kevin’s space in a second. Rage morphs his voice into a choir of two, a male and a female, the latter raising for the past to send most people to cower.

And where were your rules, last time?!” he hisses, unable to stop, unable to calm down. He’s a goddess of voluble temper, just like any other. “You’re the goddess of justice, but you turned your head the other way when Hera wanted to slaughter Leto and her children!

He has two bodies. One is Nicky’s, male and firm and sturdy, and one is Persephone as she was born, lither and strung up and soft with womanhood and meaty flesh. Her grip on Nicky is slipping and it takes all her willpower to catch him again, choose him again, don’t forget.

He pushes away from Athena and sees that she’s struggling to fit back into Kevin too. Dark hair look both short and long, the chest looks both broad and breasted, the hips look both thin and curvy. A blink, and once again is a young man in front of him.

Kevin glares, his own fury lightening fast. “It wasn’t your place to meddle as it wasn’t mine. This whole circle of resurrections stared because you brought the divine twins to the Underworld!”

“And whose place was it to meddle?!” Nicky retorts. “It was yours! It was Ares’ and Aphrodite’s and Demeter’s and everybody else’s! But none of you did anything!”

“You killed the Python! You killed Scorpio!”

“Hera would have killed Apollo and Artemis! You would have let her!”

“I—”

Enough!” Both turn in time to catch a glimpse of blond in Neil’s hair, an impression of scarless skin and a flash of gold at the ankles, before it’s once again their friend in front of them. “We’re wasting time. We need a strategy; recriminations can wait.”

“I don’t need his strategies for the greater good,” Nicky hisses, Persephone weeping loudly in his mind at the memory of past abandonment. “I only need the one that will see me walk out of that place with Katelyn in my arms.”

“You can’t,” Kevin stresses.

Watch me! I did it once, I’ll do it again.”

The room is silent. It takes Nicky a moment to realize the reason is the curls of darkness moving from every shadow toward his feet, resting protectively around his legs and hips. Kevin has bleached, now, and the clock at his wrist beeps the passing of another hour.

Almost time over.

He pulls away from the confrontation with all the wish to avoid it which is Nicky’s, and ignores Persephone’s righteous rage in his belly. Instead, he steps over Hecate’s portal and waits. Immediately, Aaron follows him, bow swung across his chest, and Andrew does the same if with a long drawled sigh.

Alvarez shrugs and walks over the edge with them. “You know me, I hate that bunch of assholes.”

Neil sends a reproaching look in Kevin’s direction, but steps inside too, without hesitation. “I don’t know how much I can help. I may be one of the Twelve, but I’m the weakest among them,” he tells Nicky, serious. “The Butcher of Baltimore was my father this time around, but he is Ares on the Olympus since the beginning of Time.”

“He can try and fight us,” Nicky scoffs. “All the victims he kills enlarge my husband’s reign.”

“Hades can’t help you with this!” Kevin screeches, eyes going wide. “This is— He never breaks the rules! He’s the only one who doesn’t!”

Somewhere in him, Nicky is having fun at the sight of such a distraught Kevin. Persephone is displeased with Athena’s display. “Clearly you don’t know him as I do.” He’s tired of talking about this, though. “Are you coming or not?”

Kevin looks still shell shocked by what he was told. Maybe that’s why he steps over the black rim.

Alvarez cackles and there’s light everywhere.

When they open their eyes again, they’re atop of a staircase with no bottom in sight. Andrew waves for a second, and steps hurriedly away from the edge. Neil is by his side immediately.

“Where to?” Aaron asks, fists clenched nervously, and Alvarez points him the direction.

Leaving the stairs behind, it’s hard to miss the huge temple in front of them, indeed. Nicky takes the head of the group when he sees the two sentinels at the door.

Nymphs are vicious creatures, not to make angry with no reason, but one of them is from the depth of Oceans and the other if a wood nymph. Nicky wraps the first with a thick vine before she can call even a warning and with a gesture of his hand the plant throws her off the mountain.

He hears Aaron’s choked sound at the sight, but ignores it. She’ll survive; it will just take her time to get back on top of the stairs.

The other nymph meets his eyes before realizing and immediately she falls to her knees. “Mother of Spring!” she chants, and Nicky stalks fast toward her.

“Get your sisters,” he calls as he walks by her side, past her and into the temple. “Leave my path open. Let it be known that any of you who’ll try to obey my mothers’ orders over mine will not be welcomed in my sight when Sprint and Summer touch the Earth again.”

The nymph squeals and hurriedly disappears down a side corridor, letting them through without resistance.

Kevin approaches him, nervous. “Did Hades help you the last time? With— When Poseidon died for a moment?”

“Nothing happens in the Underworld without my husband’s knowledge and permission,” Nicky scoffs. “Just because none of you guys above ground has a decent grip on its matters, doesn’t mean the Afterlife has to be like that too.”

“It’s not some special power,” Kevin mutters to himself, eyes widening as he connects the dots. “It was always just the way things have always been. The king of the Underworld has always had the power to reclaim lives—”

“—he’s just always been decent enough to follow the rules about death, yes.” Nicky rolls his eyes as they pass by an unguarded door. There are some lances abandoned on the floor, though, betraying guards who used to be here and ran away fast. “A bunch of cowards, all of you.”

Kevin says nothing.

“We’re here,” Neil says instead, as they approach the huge golden door of the trials room.

Nicky goes to open it, rage boiling again, but Kevin grabs him by the arm and pulls him to a side corridor instead. “The trial began already, the door won’t open now,” he says, eyes stilted in concentration. “We’re getting in through a side door.”

Persephone in his mind buckles at the order, but Nicky powers through. He doesn’t trust Athena, but he trusts Kevin.

 

 

***

 

3.

Apollo grows handsome, blazing and warm like the sun. He plays the harp and he heals illnesses. He stands proud in the light of day.

Artemis grows gorgeous, stronger and faster then her brother yet a pale reflection of his light. She hunts deers and trains dogs and refuses sex. She tilts her face to the moon every night.

In the warm months, Nicky visits them on the island and brings them gifts and provisions they don’t really need, because they are Zeus’ children and they create what they need. Apollo brings Nicky to the forest and asks about all kinds of plants and their use and Nicky dutifully blooms everything he desires. Artemis lets him feed her hounds and deers and gives him capes made with precious pelts when the cold months approach.

When fall comes, Nicky can’t visit the twins. They live, though, strong and prideful, and wait for his return every time.

One year, Nicky arrives and there’s three people on the island.

 

***

 

5.

Kevin leads them inside through a secret passage and a dark curtain, and Nicky finds himself appearing behind his mother seat, where he stood the last time he found himself in such a spot.  There’s a roar of power in his chest and he readies himself, because it’s less than an hour, now.

First he hears the cries, later he sees Katelyn’s form on the marble floor. She, too, has been dressed in a white chiton now wet in sweat and is curled in fear. She looks older, maybe thirty or thirty three, and she's holding onto her swollen belly. Nicky’s rage spikes.

He catches from the corner of his eyes Neil grabbing Aaron before he can launch himself forward.

He wouldn’t reach her, anyway. This is realm of gods, and for Aaron it’d be like smashing his face against a glass door. His feet couldn’t touch the marble of the trial ground.

Nicky’s, on the other hand…

Hera is grinning like mad, and Zeus looks bored once again. Nicky has never seen the Butcher of Baltimore before, but he would recognize Ares’ blood stained armor and maniac eyes everywhere, and he’s glad to find him standing on the other side of the room, far away from the god he’s had as son in this last life. He doesn’t look for Poseidon because he doesn’t need to lose his mind and start a killing spree.

Instead, he walks past his mother, who jerks in surprise at the motion by his side, and growls. “Seriously, Hera? Again?”

Gasps fill the air and Hera’s eyes find him and widen. Her mouth snaps like a rabid dog’s. “Look who returns home,” she spits. “The long lost goddess of flower crowns deigns us with her presence. How long as it been? Centuries? And you return to steal another rightful justice from me.”

“What justice?” Nicky scoffs. “You’re just a jealous vixen.”

Katelyn must have recognized his voice, because she looks in his direction and her eyes fill with different tears, of hope rather than fear. Nicky steps on the floor. Just like last time, there’s no defendant by the woman’s side.

He turns to Hera again. “What’s the excuse this time? She’s not pregnant of your husband’s cock, we all know that.”

“She’s payment for a past crime,” Hera retorts. “You stole the perpetrator from our trial, so she stands in his place.”

“What crime?! You want to kill her because you fear she’s bearing Asclepius.”

Zeus fidgets at the mention of the name, and so do a couple of other gods. Demeter stares at Nicky with fury and he thinks bitterly that he really can’t get any parent to love him, divine or not. Oh, whatever.

“What crime, you dare to ask?! Poseidon’s murder!”

Nicky stares, wide-eyed, at the madness in front of him. “Poseidon assaulted the virgin goddess of the moon!” he roars, his voice doubling again. “His murder would have been justified even if he’d died for good, but it only lasted five minutes tops! This is crazy, you’re defending him?!”

“If I assaulted Artemis, as you say, then Artemis had a right to my head. Not her brother,” a voice comes.

Nicky turns to the other side first, because he heard a chocked sound in the twins’ voice. He meets Andrew’s widened eyes, sees Neil’s face growing red with fury as he moves as if to shield his lover. Andrew hisses a name Nicky has never heard before, Proust, and Neil steps into the trial grounds before anyone can stop him.

He’s only a flash, one moment here and the next on top of Poseidon’s chest, smashing his fist in his face once, twice, his speed as his accomplice, before the god recovers and grabs him by the neck.

Nicky can barely grow moss on the portion of the wall before Neil is flung at it, and it softens the blow but not enough for him to recover before two nymphs of the ocean grab him and hold him against the floor. He trashes in their hold, snarling and cursing, but they’re strong and his powers aren’t of the kind that can help him out.

“I’ll kill you,” he still promises, poison dripping from his mouth, lightenings in his eyes. “I will kill you.”

“Wait!” Everybody’s eyes fall on Kevin as he steps onto the floor, to Nicky’s side and further, all the way to Katelyn to stop in front of her. “This is not justice, and you know it.”

Hera’s eyes examine him for a moment before she shakes her head. “Persephone’s sanity has been questioned eons ago, when she dug her way through the dirt and filth to drink wine from Hades’ lips and eat from his fingertips. Of the messenger I don’t much care, the numbs must have clouded his judgement. But you.” Kevin holds her glare as she points a finger at him. “You disappoint us, Athena. Where were you when we started this trial? Your vote was needed. And now you step in like an uninvited claimant to someone else’s marriage?”

“I step in like the goddess of justice in front of evil cruelty,” Kevin retorts. He steals a glance at Nicky, before adding, “I was wrong the last time and I let you have your way. I thought the rules were more important than their purpose, which is to protect, and I let you twist them to your pleasure. But your husband’s infidelity isn’t worth three lives, as your fear of what could be isn’t worth two.”

Hera is blistering with rage, but Kevin opens his palm and his lance appears in it as his shield around his other arm. He slams the butt of his weapon on the floor to block Hera’s path toward Katelyn, and says, “You wanted my vote, and now you have it. I stand in defense of this woman, tonight.”

There’s hesitation in the air, now. Nicky sees Ares’ eyes trained on Neil’s form, but he cannot touch him here. Poseidon is shaking his head as if dealing with idiots, and Hera sighs heavily.

“Very well,” she says, clearly not meaning it at all. “You’re outnumbered, though. The woman will die tonight with her spawn.”

Nicky spits at her feet. “Over my dead body, you old cow.”

She steals a lightening from her husband’s quiver before anyone can react and she launches it toward Katelyn, but Kevin is ready and pars it with his shield.

Nicky grins and flips Hera the bird.

“How much longer will you disrespect us?!” she yells, hysterical. “You’re nothing here! You’re a little goddess with meagre powers compared to any of us!” Her hands clenches into fists. “You ought to be reminded of your place.”

Nicky remembers Zeus’ words last time, the lascivious display as he touched his own dick, and feels disgust deep in his throat. “Try,” he dares, hissing sounds echoing against the walls.

How much longer? Ten minutes? Less.

Katelyn screams in pain, and Aaron punches against the wall keeping him from joining her. If only he could remember…

Nicky raises his head from looking at the girl to find himself face to face with Poseidon’s grin. Kevin has tensed by his side, but he clearly doesn’t dare to move and leave Katelyn open to Hera.

The god smiles a sick grin and makes obvious motion of laying his gaze on Andrew, checking him out from head to toe. Nicky clenches his fists. When Poseidon looks back to him, he’s smiling, terrifically serene. “No matter what you try, today I’ll have my vengeance on your little bastard for killing me and one of my sons,” he says.

Nicky frowns.

Poseidon punches him in the face before he can realize. He staggers backwards, and the god grabs him by the hair, keeps him bent and slams a knee in his stomach, once, twice, thrice, before letting him go.

Nicky curls on the floor, pain building like crazy in his womb, womb, womb, and he spits blood. Poseidon elbows him in the face again.

Kevin yells something, but there’s another burst of light, and Nicky barely sees him par another lightening directed to Katelyn before he receives another kick to the ribs.

“Oh, don’t tell me you thought you’d make it in time?” Poseidon says from on high, tilting his head as he stares down at him. “You thought you had saved her?”

Nicky blinks, once, twice. His thoughts are sluggish in his brain, all his focus on counting the passing minutes, and Poseidon kneels in front of him, legs spread and chiton barely covering his cock, just in front of Nicky’s face.

His face twists for a moment to reform a new one. Without the human disguise, Nicky can see the similarities and his eyes widen. “Drake,” he mutters, before he can stop himself.

Poseidon smiles wider. “I’ll have your godson’s wife and child killed, then I’ll kill him too—” he repeats, “—and maybe I’ll take another turn at your goddaughter. We know I like a beautiful man every now and then.”

Persephone screams in his brain and Nicky is gone. 

The timer in her mind goes zero.

She grabs onto Poseidon’s eye-sockets, drills her fingers in the spheres, because Persephone fights violently as the fire of the river Phlegethon, and she drags him to the ground. She sits on his chest and punches him with the strength of Acheron’s current and screams like an harpy, like a maenad, like a fury. She buries her fingers in his chest and curls them like claws and his screams fill her with resolute satisfaction as she pulls flesh and bones apart, digging for her treasure.

When she wraps her fingers around his heart, she bends to bring her face closer to his. “You never use this anyway,” she says.

The sound of arteries snapping when she rips it out is music to her ears. There’s blood all over her clothes now, and she calls it her warpaint.

She stands, the organ still in her hand, and she shows it on her palm to both Hera and Zeus, pale faced and still. “Of all the days to attack me,—” she says, “—you picked the Fall Equinox?”

The bracelets to her wrists are opaque now, and not for the blood on them. They’re nothing but beautiful jewels anymore, because she’s not longer the goddess of spring, not f rom here for the next six months.

Her clothes change against her body, a black chiton with rose gold embroidery, and the rubies in her crown, crystals of pomegranate seeds, shine ominously as suited to her role.

She clenches her fist around Poseidon’s heart to turn it into butchered shreds of meat which fall on the floor from between her fingers.

Someone is puking, and it might actually be Demeter. Someone is cackling, and it’s probably Hecate.

Poseidon is staggering back to his feet, but Persephone doesn’t look at him. She stares at Athena instead, and gestures to the crying woman on the floor. “Pick her up,” she orders. “We’re taking her away.”

Athena, still a man for all she claims to hate them, obeys immediately and misses Hera stealing another lightening bolt.

She never throws it. An arrow embodies in her hand, forcing her to abandon the grip, and when she holds her wrist already buboes are growing on her arm.

Persephone turns and smiles. “Apollo,” she calls, because he’s not her son but he’s as beautiful as the sun and just as blazing in his wrath. He’s holding his bow and stepping past the barrier as if it was never there. 

Athena turns to fight the gods who try to stop them, and Apollo moves to pick up his lover instead.  When Persephone turns, she catches sight of Artemis’ coldness before she sends one of her arrows through a nymphs throat and unleashes her hound on the other. Hermes shrugs the first body off himself and hurriedly stands to join her. Him? Artemis doesn’t look like a girl, right now.

Persephone doesn’t care. She turns and chokes.

Poseidon’s hand around her throat is firm and she kicks out at him, taken by surprise. Apollo and Athena are surrounded by nymphs and Artemis is facing Ares with no fear and Hecate’s help but without space in her mind for any other enemy.

His chest still open, what's left of his eyes crying crimson, he growls, “I’ll send you back to your husband in a hundred pieces.”

Persephone feels cold and closes her eyes.

 

***

 

2.

Nicky finds the woman curled at the feet of Mount Olympus. Her body is covered in wounds, as if the nymphs threw her off the very mountain, but somehow her swollen belly shows no bruise, no cut. As if there was any need for more proof of divine paternity.

“Tell me your name,” he orders, time ticking on his skin.

Sobbing, she says, “Leto,” and then, wailing, “Help me.”

On a newly emerged island, Nicky carries Leto’s battered form. Water stopped dripping down her legs, and red blood took its place. Her whole body spasms as he lays her on a bed of moss.

“The ground has not settled, yet,” he tells her. “This is not a real island, still, so no man nor beast worships anyone here. Be strong, be brave, and give birth. I’ll keep watch in case Hera finds out.”

Hera finds out.

In the first hours of the night, she sends a Python and Nicky fights it with vines that clench tighter than its coils. By midnight, with the moon high above them, the snake’s corpse rests along the beach length and Nicky returns to find Leto birthing a child.

She’s not strong enough to hold it, so Nicky does for her. The baby girl looks up to Nicky and he’s lost in hazel eyes. He feels a tug where his skin touches hers, and his powers flow freely trough that contact.

Like a flower blooms in spring, the girl’s body grows and fills until an adolescent woman is standing naked in Nicky’s arms.

He doesn’t have time to freak about his mistake, because Leto sobs. “I can’t,” she says, “I can’t, I can’t, I give up.”

“You will,” says the girl, her first words so full of command and strength. She leaves Nicky’s arms to kneel before her mother’s legs and force them open again. “You will birth my brother.”

Twins. Nicky almost curses, but he has no time.

In the last hours of the night, Leto screams and her daughter aids her through the birth and Hera sends another beast. Two monsters for two children.

Nicky knows Scorpio and knows that it killed Orion. He knows but fights anyway. When his vines die, he closes his eyes. “Love, help me,” he says, and he feels power filling him to the brim, utterly different from the golden thrum he usually feels. It’s cold and definitive.

By dawn, Scorpio is dead on the sand and Nicky returns to Leto to find her disappeared.

Her daughter looks unaffected by the loss, and perhaps the blood on her hands and chest means something. She’s cradling another baby in her arms and her blond hair have been swept in front of her shoulder to fall like a drape on the tiny body, ridicule protection from the cold.

Nicky comes closer and sees it’s a boy. The girl grabs his hand before he can realize and puts it on her brother’s head.

Much like her, his body grows, not enough to be a full fruit but far from the seed it’s supposed to be right now.   A pretty boy with blond curls and hazel eyes, he looks up to his sister and blinks twice. “Artemis,” he names her, and reality bends to accept the new truth.

“Apollo,” she replies, and the world complies to her just as much.

Nicky looks at the rising sun and lets his shoulders drop. He’ll need to wash the blood off himself, soon.

 

***

 

6.

Nicky opens his eyes and there’s no more pain.

It takes him a moment to recollect himself, but Persephone is peacefully quiet in the back of his mind and he can find his knees under himself, on the marble floor, and all his limbs attached despite all odds. When he looks up, he first sees a skeletal arm, only the thinnest of skins covering it, and only after a moment he sees the healthy hand wrapped around the bony wrist.

He realizes his ears are buzzing only when he looks even higher and sees Poseidon’s face contorted in pain and his mouth open and realizes he’s probably screaming. The moment he thinks it, he can hear his agonized voice.

Erik stares at him, impassive, for an eternity longer. When he lets go of Poseidon’s arm, the god stumbles backward and stares anxiously at his necrotic limb until he sees it slowly coming back to life.

“You touch my spouse again,—” Erik warns, voice oozing darkness as his cape, as his boots, as the mastiffs that followed him from the black chasm which just opened in the floor, as Morpheus’ wings do from where he has them curled protectively around Nicky, “—I will kill your whole body. I will not take your soul, for it doesn’t belong to me, but I’ll make sure you’ll live the rest of eternity as a breathing amass of gangrenous tissues. I swear on the river Styx.”

“Brother,” Zeus tries, but Erik cuts him off.

“You only call me that when you fucked something up, and I’m tired of cleaning after you.” He lifts his glare on the brother that governs the skies. “How many of your lovers inhabit my kingdom, now? They might be expendable for you, but mine is not for me.”

“This is not possible,” Hera hisses, but she’s backed up so much she’s now cornered against the wall. “The rules—”

“Your husband set the rules and I’ve abided them,” Erik rebukes her. “But he promised me when he gave me the rule over the dead, that I never would have needed to come here and fix the issues of the living.” He turns to his brothers, now huddled closer, and spreads his arms. “Yet, what am I here for, now?”

“We needn’t your intervention,” Ares tries to say, ripping an arrow from his chest that pierced cleanly through his armor and would have killed him had he been a man.

“You invoked death upon a woman before it was her fated time, and Poseidon swore to massacre my lover,” Erik retorted. “That requires my intervention.”

Silence falls heavy in the room of gods, for everybody knows that among them only one has a steady increase of acolytes rather than a continuous exchange of them. Erik steps to Nicky and, careful, gathers him in his arms. Jean lets him go reluctantly.

“You with me?” he whispers and Nicky nods even if he’s so tired now, so Erik kisses his forehead.

Jean stands in front of the huddled group of defendants and glares up at Zeus. “You want a vote? Let it happen now.”

For the Olympians are Twelve, Hades is called as thirteenth vote when needed, but he has never appeared before being summoned and now the gods stare at each others, uncertain of voting against his wife in front of him.

“Go on,” Alvarez insists, joining Jean. “We’ll be the referees, since we can’t vote. The favorable to killing this woman?”

Hera’s hand raises immediately, as does Ares’. Poseidon’s follows after, though with a bit of difficulty, and Zeus’ after some more hesitation. Nicky is not surprised to see Dionysus joining in, the asshole being far too fond of cruelty and bloodshed for someone who patrons wine and dancing. Demeter’s was expected, but Nicky still glowers at her.

“How many sharks in this pond,” Alvarez comments, snapping her lips. “Those against the bloodshed?”

Aaron’s hand is the first, followed close by Kevin’s, Andrew’s and Neil’s. Nicky suspects Hephaestus only votes against because of how much he hates Ares, and Aphrodite has a gleam in her eyes as she votes. She never stops looking at how Katelyn is slumped against Aaron’s chest, held protectively in his arms.

“Seems my vote is the deciding one,” Erik comments, brow arched in his brothers’ direction. “The woman leaves with us. Alive and unhurt. You will send the Moirai to my realm and they’ll return her to her right place on her life thread.”

Nicky doesn’t hear much more after that. He’s tired, and one passing touch of Jean’s fingers sends him into slumber immediately.

 

***

 

1.

“This is madness!” Nicky yells, and the room looks to the other side.

There’s a woman sobbing on white marble and nobody seems to care. The ring around her is empty of defendants and the ground under her form is soaked with the water on her vest, between her legs. She screams and Athena looks away from the scene.

Nicky curses. “She’s already giving birth! Why do you have to do this?!”

Zeus sighs, looking bored out of his mind, but stays silent as his wife’s words bend reality like hot iron under the hammer. Hera herself, to his side, is staring down on the pitiful scene with a wicked smile on her lips, her face distorted by cruelty in a terrible mask.

“She brought this on herself,” Hera claims, her voice like lashes making the woman sob harder and shrivel on the floor.

“Oh, forgive me, did she force your husband to take out his cock? I didn’t know.”

All the other gods teether, uneasy. Hera all but growls in his direction, and Nicky knows it’s only Zeus’ raised hand that stops her from tearing him to pieces on the spot. “You’ll bring no other one into this,” he says to his wife, and Nicky wants to scoff at the faux concert. It certainly wasn’t there when Nicky had been stuck in troubles and begging for help. “And you will respect me and my wife, little thing.”

Nicky is not sure whether the term is supposed to remind him of his inferiority or to be a threat. Zeus is scratching his cock though the tunic. Disgusting.

“She’s into labor,” he repeats, through clenched teeth. “She will have to give birth, eventually!”

“Not on any land or water where man worshipping us lives,” Hera repeats. “If she can find somewhere no man nor beast will chase her from, well then, she’ll give birth.”

“You’re expecting her to do all of this in the state she’s in! Both she and her child will die!”

Hera’s eyes are heavy-lidded and dark. “If death claims her, it’s not under my jurisdiction.” She smirks. “Maybe she can suck Hades’ dick and he’ll spare her.”

Nicky curses and almost steps off into the trial grounds, but a firm hand wraps around his arm and keeps him in place.

Hera makes a vague gesture with her hand. The gods murmur in sympathy, but none dares to oppose as two nymphs grab the woman, crying and begging as she is, and drag her away from the main temple, away from the Olympus.

Nicky clenches his fists.

“Stop meddling,” his mother’s voice hisses in his ear. “Let them solve their squabbles like this, if so it pleases them. Better a single whore than all of us.”

He doesn’t answer her. He turns and leaves the room, instead.

 

***

 

7.

“Here, he’s coming back.”

Nicky blinks at the light in his face and groans. Someone huffs, but the light lowers and he manages to open his eyes to meet Aaron’s and Andrew’s faces. “What?”

“You slept through most of the magic,” Aaron informs him. “Katelyn’s back to her age and not-pregnant, your injuries healed and you, Andrew and Kevin stopped looking like holographic cards of yourself as men and as women.”

Nicky groans, because it means everything really happened and where the fuck is he? It’s Fall, okay. He just wants to bury himself under all the duvets in the Underworld and be left alone with Hades and get shadows to feed him grapes for the next two months at least. Afterward, he’ll consider doing some kind of duty.

“Hey.” He blinks, and the only sun he cares for finally appears in his sight. He smiles as Erik brushes stands out of his forehead. “How do you feel, my love?”

“Like I went a couple rounds with a tsunami,” he groans, again. He groans an whole lot, on average, but he thinks the situation oughts more groaning, just to underline the concept of how contrary he is to ever repeat the experience. “Oh, wait, I did.” Poseidon’s face comes to his mind. “Filthy motherfucker.”

Erik kisses his cheek. “If he ever touches any of you again, I will make true to my word.”

Nicky sucks a breath in when he remembers. “Shit,” no, really, this is crazy. “I can’t believe you swore on the river Styx. That’s… serious!”

The river Styx was a goddess in origin, the cruelest and most powerful of all. Swearing on her means she’ll come and haunt your ass if you don’t keep your word. It’s not an end you’d wish on anyone.

“So was I,” Erik says, unflinching. “Very serious indeed. Poseidon and Zeus know my exasperation and today saw my annoyance; they will not test my wrath, or it will be the last thing they do.”

Nicky hums. “Sexy,” he says, before he can stop himself.

“There, I knew he had to make this gross.”

When Nicky turns to rebuke Aaron, he’s stopped as he realizes the black stone that makes up floor and walls on the room they are in.

It’s not oppressing for there are arches on all sides opening on the sight of endless fields of green and gold and dark splotches of woods, the blue line of a clean river further even. There’s so much light and the air is flowers scented, there are white clouds scattered around and the wind carries the sound of laughters. Nicky is resting on a nest of blankets, pelts and pillows of soft feathers on a triclinium, and everybody is sitting on benches and chairs around a long table covered with all kinds of foods, mostly meat and fruits. There’s strong smell of wine and honey.

Nicky recognizes home with a smile. “We’re at the palace of the Garden of Hesperides,” he says.

Erik chuckles. “Of course, we are,” he says. “It’s Fall now, so this is yours to reign for the next six months. And you were too tired to travel further or understand what was happening, so we let you rest and your friends waited for your awakening.”

The people at the table are now more recognizable than just people of Nicky’s.

Aaron has moved back to sit besides Katelyn again, who shoots him a big smile and mouths a thank you. Andrew and Neil sit in front of them, close enough to know that the new secret hasn’t broken anything between them, and Artemis’ hound sits behind them and occasionally begs them for a pet or a scrap of food.

Alvarez is drinking wine in big mouthfuls and shows him a thumbs up when their eyes meet, which is funny.

Kevin is wearing a chiton and the spirit of his mother sits at the bench besides him. It takes a moment for Nicky to recognize the shadow which helped him this whole time and he bows his head in gratitude. She beams at the gesture and then returns to speak to Kevin in hushed tones.

After one more minute, Nicky realizes some of the feathers of his nest are not from his pillows. “Jean,” he half scolds, trying to pull himself off the wing so he won’t crush it, but the man scoffs.

“I wasn’t going to let you have bad dreams now, was I?” he says, haughtily, and Nicky punches him in the side, then pulls him closer to kiss his temple.

“How did that work, actually?” Alvarez interjects, pointing at them. “Last I checked, Morpheus was not Persephone’s son.”

“It’s the Ancient Greece,” Nicky reminds her. “I found him lost around here and kept him; that’s enough to make him my son.”

Alvarez snorts in her cup and Jean rolls his eyes, but doesn’t deny having been lost nor adopted.

“What’s going to happen now?” Aaron asks, wrapping an arm around Katelyn’s shoulders. "What about the future? If we ever really have a kid?"

"Oh, that won't be an issue," Nicky waves. "It's not going to be Asclepius."

Aaron stares at him in disbelief. "How do you know?! All this mess-"

"Aphrodite was staring at Katelyn when we were leaving," Nicky interrupts. "Only one reason for her to. It's going to be another one of Apollo's kids."

Katelyn bites her lower lip. "Do you already know which one?"

Nicky smiles reassuringly at her. "How they will come out, I have no idea. But they'll be Hymen, god of marriage."

"Doesn't get any weaker than that, in the age of accelerated divorce," Andrew scoffs, chasing his own cynicism with a long gulp of wine.  Nicky thinks he sees Aaron try to kick his brother under the table, but Andrew adjusts himself and he misses.

"What about you?" Kevin interjects. “You’re back to being Persephone; you can’t come back on Earth for the next six months.”

“That depends on what he says now,” Andrew corrects, sending a piercing glare in Erik’s direction before looking at Nicky. “You’re here because he kidnapped you?”

It takes a moment to register. Then Nicky snorts. “Oh, please. That’s what Demeter said to try and get Zeus to force me back on the Olympus.” He made a face. “She was hoping that marrying me off to Ares would mellow him enough not to devastate all her fields whenever he went on a campaign.”

“Persephone is, to date, the first and only person to find the Underworld completely by accident,” Erik adds, appearing in Nicky’s field of vision with a cup of water that he takes greedily. “When I offered to escort her back, she refused. It took her mother six months to find where she’d gone, and when they came to get her she grabbed a handful of pomegranate seeds and shoved them in her mouth.”

“You can’t leave the Underworld if you eat food from here,” Nicky adds. When everybody freezes in their gestures, he laughs. “No, no, it’s okay, these are safe to eat. The rule regards food that is grown from Underworld soil, and I picked the pomegranate straight from the tree in the inner garden.”

“Only six seeds though, right?” Katelyn comments. “I prefer this story to the kidnapping one, I have to say.”

Nicky raises his cup at her. “Don’t believe all the legends men tell you, my dear. They’ll twist every word to hide a woman’s strength.”

Katelyn lifts her cup in return.

“So, this is where you choose to stay, right?” Neil asks, looking a bit melancholic as he hesitates. “You’re not coming back, are you?”

“I mean, it’s not so different from when you thought I planned on moving to Germany after school. Speaking of which,” Nicky turns to punch Erik’s chest. “You get yourself a human disguise for the first time in forever and you couldn’t make on that lived closer than nine thousand miles? Really?”

“I rarely can leave this place, you know it,” Erik apologizes. “I came to visit you when I could, which is not often, so I had to come up with an excuse. I left the Underworld to itself for a few years when we were together in Stuttgart because I missed you too much, and it almost collapsed.” He kisses the corner of Nicky’s mouth. “Forgive me, my love.”

“I’ll think about it,” he replies, cheekily. Katelyn, his only ally, giggles at the table. Nicky sighs. “I’m staying here. It’s the agreement. But I’ll come to visit when it’s time for spring!”

“What are we going to say to everyone?” Aaron asks, but Jean waves his words away with a hand.

“Humans already forgot about Nicky’s existence as we speak, and your teammates also forgot about the trip to the cabin and the temple of jewels,” he says. To Katelyn, he adds, “You’ll remember because your thread is tied to Apollo’s, but be careful not to let anything slip.”

“And it will be like you’ve never existed?” Andrew asked, frowning.

“When we’ll be back, there will be someone filling in Nicky’s spot. A person we don’t know, but will get to,” Neil explains. “When he’ll come in spring, the others will think it’s the first time this cousin of yours comes to visit.”

Nicky lets them talk details without him and sets his cup down on the floor. The twins have their memories back, but they’ve been kept on an island for most of their time even before, so the practices of these situations evade them still.

It’s a good couple hours before they finally stop talking to look at Nicky again. He forces himself to keep his eyes open. “What?”

“Spring is not for a long time,” Katelyn says. “Will you be okay?”

Nicky makes a show of burying himself deeper into his nest and his husband’s side. “I’ll be marvelous.”

“We can visit you here, right?” Neil asks. “I mean, I know I can walk in and out if I have a message so I could keep us all in contact if that’s not possible, but— yeah. Visits would be nice.”

“This is not a prison for Nicky,—” Erik says, gentle, “—but it’s not safe for you all to spend too much time here either. Jean can open connections to the Underworld from your dreams. He can bring you here when you’re asleep, for a a little bit. I think that would be the safest solution.”

Nicky nods, because it sounds reasonable, and the others exchange looks before nodding too.

Alvarez is the first to stand up. “Alright, we better go. Humans might forget about this all, but Jeremy and Laila won’t and I’m not going to explain them everything on my own. Jean, I decide you're coming along. Any other volunteers?”

“I’ll help you,” Kevin says, to the surprise of nobody, and Nicky chuckles as everybody stands up and follows to another circle of powder, this time white, that Alvarez drew on the floor.

Aaron and Andrew approach him for a moment. They stare at him as if trying to reach Persephone, but they are the same thing so Nicky smiles. They nod, Apollo and Artemis, and Aaron touches his hand for a moment. He doesn’t say anything, though thank you is written all over him.

Andrew doesn’t touch him, but kicks at his foot lightly. “Don’t get in troubles for the next six months.”

“I’ll do my best,” Nicky replies, voice a tiny bit too mocking because Andrew kicks him again and then turns to Erik.

“Keep him out of troubles or Hell will need a new ruler.”

“Wrong pantheon!” Jean hisses. “Tartarus, why can’t any of you keep things straight? There’s enough confusion as it is.” Nicky opens his mouth, but a finger pointed in his direction shuts him up. “No gay jokes.

Well, there goes all his fun.

Andrew has joined the others in the meanwhile, and Alvarez has them all disappear in a flash of white light as Katelyn and Neil alone wave a bit.  Kevin’s mom fades into a shadow again and brushes against Nicky’s cheek before sprinting out of an arch, back into the Elysian Fields. He smiles as it goes.

Erik moves Nicky’s head to rest on his chest and pets it gently. “Still tired?”

“Deadly so,” Nicky jokes. Erik pinches his side and he squeals. “I think I’m not going to leave my bed for the next six months.”

The chest under his ear rumbles with a humming sound and Nicky waits. After less than ten seconds, Erik laughs.

“You didn’t say you’ll stay in bed to sleep,” he notices.

Nicky’s grin turns devious. “Carry me there and we can do something more interesting.”

Erik has never been stronger or faster, and Nicky’s laughter fills the palace for weeks.