Right on schedule, Artemis’ workday grew shorter and Helios’ grew longer as winter turned to spring. But this year there was one major upset in this schedule: unlike every Spring Equinox since the beginning of her marriage, Persephone didn’t come to Olympus. She sent word through Hermes that neither taking her young son to the Olympian court nor spending six months away from him during his growing year struck her as a good idea. Demeter, being the patient, understanding goddess that she is, took it all in stride and graciously accepted that she’d have to spend a summer without her daughter just this once.
Excuse me for a moment while I catch my breath and wipe the tears of laughter from my face.
Demeter immediately sent word back demanding that Persephone honor her long-standing agreement. When Persephone refused, Demeter tried getting to her through Hades. Hades replied that Persephone was determined not to take Adonis to court, and he’d be damned if he was going to be stuck alone with that kid all summer. (I’m sure the prospect of six extra months of wife time was a trial he was doing his best to bear.) So Demeter threw a fit, and by a fit I mean a famine. The projected wave of migration caught Persephone and Hades’ attention. Contrary to popular belief, neither one of them enjoys a mass influx of dead people. They hate the paperwork.
Persephone, Demeter, and Hades worked out a compromise. Persephone would stay home with Adonis and Hades, but only until the Summer Solstice. Adonis would be nine months old by then. At the fairly average rate he’d been growing, it was a reasonable projection that he’d be a young adult. At the Summer Solstice, Persephone would take Adonis to Olympus with her, but she’d return to the Underworld at the Autumnal Equinox as usual. Next year, she’d resume her normal schedule and Adonis could choose to go or stay as he pleased. Demeter was appeased just in time for the farmers to get some passable crops in. Paperwork averted!
Come the Summer Solstice, Olympus prepared a celebration to welcome Persephone and her son. The Muses & Co. were the main attraction. While we were backstage waiting for our customary production to start, I saw some of my sisters crowding around a slight gap in the curtains.
“Oh my goddess.”
“That’s just unreal.”
“I’m feeling very inspired,” said Erato.
“He’s too beautiful to live,” Melpomene swooned.
“Hot guy? Let me see,” I joined them. “Who are we looking- whoa.”
Yes, Adonis was all grown up, just past the border of adolescence into adulthood. I wondered how much older he’d get. Demigods aged more than full-blood gods, and we weren’t sure whether Adonis’ grandfather Endymion counted as a god or just a frozen human. If it was the latter, Adonis was only one-fourth god by birth. I could see both Selene and Endymion in the adopted Prince of Hades. Silver light, eternal slumbering beauty, a mingling of divinity and humanity…
The curtain started to rise, and we all jumped back to our spots. Apollo entered from the wings to start the show. “Summer comes at last,” he proclaimed in his best stage voice, “and with it our beloved Persephone.” As Apollo faced the guests of honor, Adonis offered him a coy, demure smile with just the slightest flip of his iridescent silver-blond hair.
“Well, there goes that,” Terpsichore lamented under her breath through motionless lips.
“No kidding,” I laughed in kind, marveling that the guy I’d been ogling a few seconds ago was now making me feel like I was looking at a nymph. I made a mental note to torment Apollo about his adorable little fanboy later. Then I went back to Professional Showmanship mode and waited for Apollo to give us our cue. And I waited. And waited. And waited.
Then, as I realized what was going on, I felt like the core of my soul was evaporating.
“This…performance…” Apollo stammered, “We have…I…” Adonis slowly blinked his disgustingly long, thick eyelashes. No blond should have eyelashes like that. It’s just not right.
“It is our privilege as always,” Calliope strode forward, taking the position that had been hers before Apollo’s tenure as our Governor, “to welcome the Lady Persephone, Hades’ queen and Demeter’s princess, to the home of her youth. This year we are pleased to extend this welcome to the young prince Adonis, chosen son of Persephone and Hades. May their visit be a joy to Demeter, and may Demeter’s blessings bring a wonderful season to us all.”
We began our chorus. Apollo continued standing silent and immobilized in front of us. Slut Boy kept making eyes at him. While Apollo remained helplessly transfixed, Persephone scowled at Apollo as only the Iron Queen of Hades can. Once the song was over, Persephone, in an unprecedented move, joined us on stage. She acknowledged the audience, braced her arm around Apollo’s shoulder, and turned him to face us at an angle along with her. “Thank you so much, that was lovely,” she projected with a glorious stage smile. “Now let’s conclude this pageantry so I can greet my Olympian brethren.” As my sisters and I bowed to the applause and cheers of the audience, I edged close enough to hear Persephone whisper in Apollo’s ear, “Keep your eyes, hands, and everything else off my son if you know what’s good for you. That goes for your musical Maenads, too.” Seriously? Where was she getting that the musical Maenads would be an issue? I briefly recalled that the actual Maenads are essentially Dionysus’ harem. Still, I just couldn’t imagine Adonis being into women.
I stuck by Apollo as we descended the stage. So did Persephone. She tried to steer him away from where Adonis and Demeter were waiting for her, but they caught up with us anyway.
“Mom, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” Adonis said with the shy, inviting smile of an ingénue. I managed to keep myself from vomiting.
“Go sit with Demeter,” Persephone gently (for her) ordered Adonis. “Mommy’ll be right back.”
“Persephone, the boy just wants to meet some of your friends,” Demeter chided with the mirth of a grandparent’s schadenfreude. “Apollo, I’d like you to meet Adonis. Adonis; Apollo.”
“I hope I’ll be seeing a lot of you,” Adonis smiled as he wrapped his delicate fingers around Apollo’s hand.
“He doesn’t even live here,” said Persephone.
“I…am…I’m here a lot, though, like, every day, I, I come here once a day to, you know, check in, and stuff, and…” Apollo’s voice, briefly found, was soon lost again. Maybe the heat from his flushed cheeks had burned it away.
“Well, when you do, come up and see me sometime,” Adonis blinked those absurd eyelashes again. “I’m getting my own quarters.”
“No you’re not,” said Persephone.
“Zeus said I could,” he told her.
Persephone took a second to massage the space between her eyebrows. When that was done, she said, “Do you know what being the demigod prince of Hades means? It means your mother can kill you and thereby ground you for eternity.”
“Sweetie, stop trying to ruin his life,” Demeter comforted her.
“Can I give you a little friendly advice?” Apollo finally recaptured his voice for good. “You want to stay under Zeus’ radar. Trust me, I grew up in this place, and let’s just say that the less attention you get from Their Majesties, the better. Do you know who Ganymede is? The mortal boy that Zeus- he was Zeus’ cupbearer? One in a long line of ‘cupbearers’?”
“Mom told me,” Adonis sighed. “And you guys are probably right,” he relented with downcast eyes. He looked so fragile, so vulnerable. Had I not hated his marble-covered guts, I would’ve volunteered to be his nanny/bodyguard on the spot. “I can’t imagine you ever had to worry much, though,” he rested a hand on Apollo’s arm. “You’re so strong. Is it true that your arrows always hit their mark?”
With his warmest, shiniest sunbeam smile, Apollo said, “Listen, if you ever need to get away from the court, come to the Museum on Parnassus. You’re welcome any time.” Yep, me and my knuckles would welcome the little punk, alright.
“He won’t need to,” Persephone ruled. “I can look after him just fine.”
“My sister’s summoning me,” Apollo reluctantly excused himself. I spotted Artemis and Athena on the other side of the room. Judging by Artemis’ expression, I knew I could count on her to talk some sense to her mentally impaired brother. “Hopefully this won’t take long,” said Apollo. Adonis impulsively kissed him on the cheek. Apollo’s face turned bright red as he vanished. I thought of following him so I could have the fun of hearing Artemis’ lecture, but I decided to stick around and keep an eye on Goldilocks.
“What is wrong with you?” Persephone demanded of her son. “I raised you better than that.”
“Sorry, I guess I lost my head,” Adonis shrugged. “Everything’s so dead in Hades. It gets lonely. I mean, you and Dad have each other, but I don’t have anyone.”
“You’d have every naiad, male or female, in the Five Rivers if I let you have your way,” said Persephone.
“I know, I know, they’re bad company,” Adonis replied with adolescent petulance. “Wasn’t that one of the reasons you brought me here with you? So I could make some friends you approve of?”
“I brought you with me because I knew I couldn’t leave you alone for three whole months,” said Persephone.
“Try three whole minutes,” he murmured.
“And I sure didn’t get the impression that you want to be friends with Apollo,” she continued. “Stay away from him, alright? I can’t think of one demigod he’s been involved with who hasn’t ended up dead.”
“Did they die virgins?” Adonis asked.
“In case you’re wondering, my darling flower child,” Demeter put her arm around Persephone, “they don’t outgrow this.”
“I believe I heard a cry for help,” Aphrodite proclaimed with delight as she appeared in our midst. The alluringly disheveled state of her hair and clothes gave an obvious explanation for her hitherto absence.
“You must be the one my mother warned me about.”
The voice was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember any voice having this much affect on the various organs in my chest cavity. I realized the speaker was Adonis only because he was standing in the same place and his physical features hadn’t changed a bit. However, the same body was now inhabited by an overwhelmingly masculine soul. His very gaze, though not even aimed in my direction, made me want to melt into his arms and beg him to have his way with me.
“I certainly hope so,” Aphrodite breathed. “I haven’t had the pleasure,” she extended a hand, wrist up, palm down.
“No one is having any pleasure!” Persephone stepped between them and shoved a forceful palm against each of their sternums.
“Speak for yourself,” her mother deadpanned.
“Aaa aa,” I concurred.
“You’re that orphaned baby I gave Persephone?” Aphrodite tried to process the evidence.
“I grew up.” With an unassailable posture that even Ares would have envied, Adonis sidestepped Persephone and drew Aphrodite close by the waist. “Hard to get acquainted in the middle of a crowd,” he subtly tipped her chin up so that her eyes met his penetrating stare. “I prefer a more intimate setting, don’t you?”
“Come with me,” Aphrodite invited as her arms encircled him. Before Persephone could protest, they were gone.
“If by some miracle that kid makes it through the summer alive, I’ll kill him myself,” Persephone groaned. With that, she was after them. Demeter shook her head and wandered off.
Eris, Goddess of Discord, appeared in her place. I was still too stunned by Adonis’ transformation to have the sense to teleport away.
“Aphrodite left with him,” Eris observed. “No, he left with Aphrodite. It’s different, don’t you think?”
“Aaa,” I confirmed.
Eris answered with condescending laughter. “Apollo left without him. But he left without you, too.”
“He left without him,” she repeated, “and he left without him. But he hasn’t left yet.”
Eris’ characteristically chaotic ramblings made me forget about the infatuating Adonis I had seen with Aphrodite and remember the infuriating Adonis I’d seen with Apollo. “You failed to identify your pronouns in the last sentence, so I don’t know who’s the subject and who’s the object,” I said, trying to get a grasp on order and sanity.
“You lost me.”
“If only.” I looked around for Apollo and Artemis, but Eris grabbed my shoulder. Apparently she wanted to toy with me some more. She summoned her brother. I guess I should be more specific. Eris has a ton of half brothers, including Apollo. The only brother she acknowledges is her twin, Ares, the only legitimate son of both Zeus and Hera. Said twins might be the reason Zeus and Hera don’t reproduce together very often.
“Hey, babe,” Ares leered at me. “Finally got a clue and came back for some more of this?”
“Okay, first, I’m Thalia. Calliope is the Muse you dated a couple summers ago. Second, ew.” The prospect wouldn’t have been terribly repulsive – okay, it would have been downright tempting – if Ares’ body came with a personality to match. The fact that his personality can turn a woman off to his body says a lot about his personality.
“Huh.” He took a moment to process this. “Want some anyway?”
“Weren’t you just with Aphrodite, like, five minutes ago?”
“Yeah,” he said, evidently thinking this irrelevant. “Where’d she go anyway?”
“He left with her,” Eris taunted.
“Who?” asked Ares, with an attempt at nonchalance. He and Aphrodite had an arrangement. He didn’t complain about her lovers and she didn’t complain about his, as long as they came back to each other.
“Persephone’s son,” said Eris.
“Persephone has a kid?”
“Not a kid,” said Eris, “a son. A kid is a child. A son is a man. I think her son is a man. So does Aphrodite. I also think her son is a girl. So does Apollo.”
“Like the God of War has to worry about some fruitcake,” Ares dismissed. “What did you say the kid’s name was?”
“Adonis,” said Eris. “And I told you he’s not a kid. He’s a man. A very sexy man. Don’t you listen when I talk? I don’t think you listen.”
He must not have been listening, because over Eris’ speech, he was saying, “Adonis? Yeah, sounds like a real tough guy. How long did you say they’ve been gone?”
I took advantage of Eris and Ares’ mutual distraction and teleported to where Apollo, Artemis, and Athena were chatting.
“Don’t you give me credit for having any sense at all?” Apollo was laughing.
Artemis wasn’t laughing. “When it comes to pretty demigods, not even a little bit.”
“I’ve always let you make your own decisions about your love life,” said Apollo, now more serious.
“Let me?” Artemis said incredulously. “I’m the oldest and your guardian. I let or don’t let you.”
“You’re the oldest by an hour.”
“In that hour, I grew old enough to deliver you,” Artemis reminded him.
“I caught up with you by the end of the day,” he reminded her.
“I think all Apollo’s trying to say,” Athena ventured, “is that he’s a grown man with his own life, just like you’re a grown woman with yours.”
“That’s it, exactly,” Apollo agreed. “Well said.”
“That’s why I’m the Goddess of Wisdom,” Athena said in triumph.
“I know,” Artemis relented. “I’m sorry, I’ve just had a really bad week.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it?” Athena offered. She sat down and took Artemis’ hand. Artemis sat down, too.
“If you need to talk, I’m here to listen,” said Apollo as he sat on the other side of her. I took the seat on the other side of him.
Artemis accepted their invitation. “I had to fire one of my favorite hunters,” she lamented, letting her head sink to Athena’s shoulder.
“Anyone I know?” asked Apollo.
“I had been meaning to ask you,” said Artemis. “Her name’s Callisto.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” said Apollo. But it obviously did to Athena.
“Are you sure?” asked Artemis. “She’s pregnant; about five or six months along, and I wondered if you were the father.”
“I’m quite sure I’m not. Why would you think I was?” Apollo asked, not defensively, but definitely taken aback. “It’s not like I go around seducing your hunters whenever the mood strikes me.”
“Well, she- It’s- This is so embarrassing. The reason I outright fired her instead of giving her an honorable discharge is that she insists it was me.”
There were a few seconds of silence. Athena broke it. “Could you please elucidate on that last part?”
“She swears she became pregnant after she and I slept together,” Artemis reiterated.
“After she and you what?” Apollo and Athena demanded in chorus.
“Are you two insane?” Artemis defended. “Of course I didn’t really sleep with her, and I certainly can’t impregnate a woman!”
“Two questions,” said Athena. “One, do you mean you weren’t at all involved with her, or that you had sexual relations but didn’t literally sleep together? And, two, how do you know for certain that you can’t impregnate a woman?”
Artemis stared at Athena in outrage. “How could you even consider that I would be romantically or sexually involved with anyone in my service? And, forgive me, ‘certain’ may have been too strong a word, but it’s something I’ve always taken for granted, being female and all.”
“You’re one of the most powerful goddesses in the Pantheon,” said Apollo. “You can’t take things like that for granted.” He did have a point. I’d never heard of a goddess impregnating another female, but some goddesses can make themselves pregnant. That’s how Mom had my sisters and me.
“You’re one to talk! How many women have you knocked up?” Artemis retorted.
“Asclepius is the only one who’s definitely mine,” Apollo protested. “The rest of them are probably either by Hermes, Ares, or Zeus.”
I cleared my throat.
“Except the Corybantes, which I’m absolutely positive are mine,” he amended.
“The whos?” said Artemis. “Oh, that’s right, the septuplets that Thalia lost in Hades last year. See? Didn’t I tell you not to sleep with any Muses when you took that job?”
“It was totally just a one-time thing,” I said. Actually, Apollo had never slept with me or any of us. I was impressed but not surprised that he cared enough for Calliope’s safety to maintain our cover story even to his disapproving sister.
“I know I have no right to ask this,” said Athena. “You don’t owe me an answer, but please, for my own peace of mind, give me one. Were you ever involved with Callisto?”
“This is exactly why I fired her,” Artemis seethed. “How can I let someone go around saying those things about me if even you wonder whether they’re true? You, my best friend?” Athena winced at the last word. “I don’t mean to be harsh with you,” Artemis went on, “but it’s so maddening. I am not now, nor have I ever been, involved with Callisto or anyone else. It sickens me to think anyone would believe I’d take advantage of those girls. They’re like little sisters to me.” Athena seemed to be calming down. Artemis should have stopped there. “I don’t think of them that way anymore than you and I do each other.”
Without a word, Athena stood up and hurled her spear across the banquet hall. The spear went through Ares’ stomach and pinned him to the floor. I can’t say for sure that I saw Eris push him in the line of fire before she disappeared, but I can’t say for sure that I didn’t.
“Damn it, Athena, is it your time of year or something?” Ares roared. “Mom! Dad!” he summoned. “Did you see what Athena did?” he raged as he tried vainly to remove the spear. Zeus pulled it out. Hera silently observed the scene with her silk-covered arms folded in regal disgust. Servants crowded around and set to work mopping up the blood flow that was creating a small creek.
“Athena, what have I told you about impaling your brother in the house?” Zeus called with slight exasperation, tossing the bloody spear back to her.
“She’s your creation; what do you expect?” Hera sneered.
Smoke rose around Athena as she protested, “I AM NOT HIS SISTER!” With a flash of fire, she disappeared. So did Artemis. Whether she went after Athena or to her own quarters, I wasn’t sure. I teleported near Ares to observe the carnage. Most of my sisters had gathered around, too. Calliope was enjoying herself. Nothing like watching your idiot ex-boyfriend get taken down by his little not-sister.
“Someone get the blonde medic to patch me up,” Ares ordered.
“You called?” Apollo appeared beside him.
“Not you; the chick!” Ares pushed him away. “Not that there’s much difference.”
“I’m right here,” Aglaea, the resident physician, reported for duty. Hephaestus appeared next to her. Aglaea knelt over Ares and produced a physician’s bag. “Are you able to roll on your side?” she asked her patient. “I need to see both sides of the wound.”
“I think- ow! No,” Ares groaned.
“Hephaestus?” she requested. Hephaestus telekinetically shoved Ares onto his side. Hephaestus wasn’t being terribly conscientious, and Ares wasn’t being particularly stoic. Aglaea snapped her fingers. Off came Ares’ chiton. His loins were girded. I wasn’t disappointed or anything. What kind of goddess do you think I am? Okay, maybe I was a little disappointed. But only because it would have been funny.
“Yeah, this one doesn’t miss a chance to rip my clothes off, either,” Ares taunted Hephaestus.
“Don’t tick off a woman who knows her way around potions and scalpels,” Aglaea warned him as she went about sprinkling blood-stopping powder on his wound.
“It’s just like old times, isn’t it?” Ares ignored her and continued addressing her husband. “You spend all day at work, your wife spends all day with me and my men, and now she’s knocked up.” Aglaea poured half a bottle of some potion into Ares’ open mouth. “Keep it up,” Ares encouraged her. “I’ve taken so much of your silencing potion, I’m almost totally immune.” Ares and his men are Aglaea’s most frequent patients. The demigods, who can be mortally wounded by gods or monsters, really do need the medical care. The full-blood gods just like the convenience and the physician/beauty goddess. As evidence of her beauty goddess powers, Aglaea being eight months pregnant hadn’t deterred said gods.
“Since you’re such a big, strong war god, how about I let your wound heal on its own?” Aglaea threatened. “It’ll take weeks, and you still might end up with a permanent injury. Definitely a scar. I’ll tattoo ‘got this from my baby sister’ over it so you can’t tell women it’s a battle wound.”
Persephone, Adonis, and Aphrodite returned to the hall together. “You must be Ares,” Adonis smoothly surmised, standing behind Aphrodite with his hands clasped under her bosom. “I don’t think you’ll be a problem.”
“Shut. Up. Now,” Persephone whispered harshly.
Aphrodite left Adonis’ embrace and knelt next to Ares. “He just meant he’ll be happy to share,” she assured Ares as she smoothed his furrowed brow.
“No, I meant-” But Adonis never got to finish his sentence. Apollo grabbed him and silenced him with a kiss. The two of them spirited away, probably under Apollo’s power. My first instinct was to follow them, but at that moment I was summoned by Athena. It is not in one’s best interest to ignore an angry battle goddess. I obeyed the summons.
“What on earth was that?” Athena demanded once she and I were alone in her quarters.
“What was what?”
“When Artemis said she’d fired Callisto, I thought that was your blessing at work. But what about everything after that? People have speculated about Artemis and her huntresses for ages, but this is the first time one claimed Artemis got her pregnant!”
Oh, right, that had happened. I was losing track. “You don’t really think that’s true, do you?” I asked.
Athena sighed as she sunk to her couch. “I don’t want to,” she said. “I want to believe they were never involved and that’s that. But the way Artemis answered me…She swears we’re like sisters, but I’m sure that’s not all it is to her. She’s different with me, especially when we’re alone. She just won’t see it. After all this, I can’t help wondering if she had ‘nothing’ with Callisto like she has ‘nothing’ with me. Callisto is…I don’t know. Safe. Passive. Charming. Cute. Maybe she managed to get Artemis to turn their nothing into something. Maybe Artemis wants a girl who doesn’t spear idiot war gods at nice parties.”
“People who spear idiot war gods are awesome,” I comforted (?) her.
“I know. But maybe awe isn’t a feeling Artemis wants to have for a lover,” Athena contemplated. Nope; comfort fail. “Anyway, maybe the worst is over. Callisto’s out of the retinue now, and it looks like Artemis is going to be busy keeping Apollo out of trouble.”
“Speaking of which,” I cautiously segued, “with your permission, I’d like to get home and see what happened to Apollo.”
When I got back to Parnassus, Calliope filled me in. Apollo had taken Adonis to our old Museum on by the Springs of Helicon and had promptly summoned her, Persephone, and Demeter. Apollo had then suggested that, with Calliope’s permission, the family spend the summer at the empty Museum.
“He couldn’t have put it to a vote?” I complained. It was my old house, too. My first house. I’d moved there on my first birthday and lived there until a few years ago when Apollo became our Governor and built us a new Museum on Parnassus. What if Adonis took my old room? My first room? I didn’t want some demigod slut turning my room into a bachelor pad. Did anyone think of that? Well, did they?
“I was always the de facto proprietress, and Apollo didn’t want to waste time,” Calliope reasoned.
“Yeah, he just couldn’t wait to get his new boyfriend set up in a love nest,” I grumbled. I wondered which persona Adonis had shown while these negotiations took place; Aphrodite’s man or Apollo’s girl.
“Persephone had the same thought,” Calliope said dryly. “Apollo won her over by telling her that he’s worried about Adonis living on Olympus. I don’t blame him. That was awfully dense, mouthing off to Ares like that. Impressive and entertaining, but dense.” Mouthing off to Calliope’s idiot ex-boyfriend. The willingness to rent out the Helicon Museum made perfect sense now.
“Where’s Apollo now?” I asked.
“He’s helping them get settled in,” said Calliope. “He’ll be back before too long.”
“Sounds good,” I absently acknowledged. But I wasn’t so sure. I had a sinking feeling that I wouldn’t be seeing much of Apollo this summer.