Adonis’ gleaming, statuesque shoulders rose and fell in the waves of grass. I was mesmerized by the sensual, overpowering rhythm. My errand was forgotten. Invisibly, I floated toward the eye of the storm, wanting nothing more than to be swept up in it. Adonis was submerged, and a tidal wave of gold rose in his place as Aphrodite emerged from the vortex. The wave continued to rise and fall. Entranced, I floated to where I could see Aphrodite’s magnificent breasts, two great pink opals set with rubies. I caught a glimpse of her laughing seafoam eyes. I had never seen such perfect happiness in them. I wondered if that was how she always looked when she made love. It was, after all, who she was. Like comedic theater was my forte, this was hers. Pleasure, beauty, luxury, sensuality…love.
Aphrodite was in love.
I know it seems strange that I found that so remarkable. Though Aphrodite had always changed partners the way I change costumes, she always felt a deep affection for them at the moment she was with them. But it was an ephemeral, superficial affection. Even with Ares, her most consistent quarry, she tired of him as easily as she craved him.
Fully satiated, Aphrodite rolled over onto the grass next to Adonis. She laid her head on his chest as he encircled her with his lithe, chiseled arm.
“Stay with me,” Aphrodite murmured.
“We have time,” he comforted, gently fingering the apex of her breast.
“No,” said Aphrodite. “Stay with me forever.”
“Of course,” he said. “No matter how many others there are, you’ll always be my favorite.”
My trance was shattered. What others?
“I don’t want to be your favorite,” Aphrodite said with an unfamiliar earnestness. “I want to be your only.”
The shards of my trance were shattered further.
“Well, that’s a little unfair, isn’t it?” Adonis teased. “Do you really think you could stay with one man forever?”
“I know my heart even when I don’t know anything else,” she said. “I know I could stay with you forever.”
This wasn’t the first time she’d said those words. She’d said them to Hephaestus literally thousands of times during their sham of a marriage. Every time she had, he’d told himself that this time she meant it. She’d said it to Ares, Hermes, and Dionysus, and they’d all said it back to her, knowing each time that it was just a game. She’d said it to hundreds of mortal men who would wake up the next morning and wonder if the night before was only a dream.
So why was my heart telling me that, this time, she really did mean it?
“It still doesn’t seem fair,” Adonis chided. “You’ve had centuries of other men. I’ve only had a month.”
“But I’m me,” Aphrodite laughed. “Why would you need anyone else?”
“You know I love you, but think of when you were my age,” said Adonis. “Could you have committed to one man knowing there was an eternity of beauty and love waiting to be experienced?”
“I never was your age,” she reminded him.
“How do you know? You could’ve lived and forgotten a hundred lifetimes before you came to Greece. Maybe someday you’ll forget this one and wake up in a different land.”
“Don’t be mean,” said Aphrodite.
“It’s called being thoughtful, my love,” he teased her. “You think about these things when you grow up in Hades. Death, rebirth, memories lost, memories gained, it’s all business as usual back home.”
“Well, to an Olympian, it’s horrible,” said Aphrodite. “I like living forever. I like making happy memories and remembering them forever. If I just woke up somewhere and forgot everything, I might as well be one of your Asphodelians, or at least Elysians. It’s not very goddess-like.”
“You have so many memories with so many men,” Adonis remarked, not with jealousy or resentment, but with good-natured wistful envy. “Can’t you understand that I just want the same opportunity? I still love you. I’ll always come back to you, no matter how many others there are. Isn’t that enough?”
“I wish it were, but I don’t want anyone but you anymore,” Aphrodite pleaded. “I can’t tell you how much I wish that weren’t true. I’ve tried to want others. I’ve looked at every mortal at these Games and I don’t feel anything. Even when I look at Ares, I don’t understand what I ever loved about him, and I find myself wishing I was looking at you instead. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, and I wish I didn’t, or that you felt the same way about me.”
“Maybe in a century or two, I will,” Adonis considered.
“I don’t want to wait,” said Aphrodite. “I love you now.”
“And I love you now.”
“But not only me.”
“I’m not even a year old yet,” he reminded her.
“And I’ve been waiting for you for ages.”
“Not exactly waiting in idleness,” he laughed.
Aphrodite turned her face from his and let silent tears fall on the arm that still encircled her. “I don’t know why the Fates timed our births the way they did,” she lamented. “But who’s to say that if we had been born at the same time and raised side by side, we wouldn’t have loved each other from the start? Maybe I never would’ve needed anyone else if I’d had you from the beginning.”
“Maybe,” Adonis reluctantly considered. “And maybe I wouldn’t want anyone else if you’d never had anyone else.”
By now I was again fully entranced by their aura of absolute sensual euphoria. Why, I wondered, hadn’t the Fates brought them into the world at the same time? This was the Goddess of Love at her zenith. Her love for Adonis and his love in return would radiate throughout the world. All love would be beautiful, complete, requited. In that moment, I knew what I had to do.
My blessing must stand. Adonis had to live.
I knew I should leave, that I never should have intruded on this moment in the first place, but I couldn’t help lingering. I felt more joy and peace in that moment than I had all summer. Just a little more, I told myself, feeling like a beggar at the end of a rich feast. Just a little more happiness. Just a little more warmth. Just a little more love.
Aphrodite faced Adonis again and sighed. “How many more do you need?” she asked.
“You’re the most beautiful woman in the world,” Adonis said. “I could never love another woman.”
“I like the way this is going,” Aphrodite smiled again as she held him tighter. “But what about men?”
“It stands to reason that the most beautiful man in the world could spoil me as well for other men,” Adonis theorized. “Let me have him, and I swear I’ll come back to you.”
“Have at him,” Aphrodite teased as she pushed his hand down his torso.
Adonis laughed. “You know who I mean.”
Aphrodite’s mirth faded. “I know.”
“I’ll come back to you,” he said.
“Do you swear?”
“I swear.” He sealed his promise with a kiss. “You know how obsessively moral he is, though. If I’m going to have him, I may need to tell him you and I aren’t together anymore.”
“Do whatever you need to do,” Aphrodite granted. “Apollo is yours.”
Adonis gleefully rolled over on top of his giggling companion. “Thank you,” he kissed her again. “With any luck, I’ll be done with him and back to you before the Games are over. Ow!”
“I haven’t done anything yet.”
“This rock just hit my back. I don’t know where it came from.”
Behind Dionysus’ Tent, I discreetly took off my helmet and replaced it with my mask. I went inside the tent and located Persephone. “Did you find him?” she asked me.
“He and Aphrodite were in your meadow,” I told her through my mask. “No one else was around, and what they were doing seemed harmless enough, so I left pretty quick. It’s the safest place for them. If anyone or anything tries to hurt them, Artemis’ huntresses are a shout away. You really shouldn’t worry.”
“Thank you so much,” Persephone threw her bony, white arms around me.
That done, I left the tent and teleported home. Once there, I threw my mask aside and ran to the stable. Pegasus was in his stall. I trotted him out and mounted him mid-stride. “To my hollow,” I commanded. “Hurry.”
Pegasus cantered down the dancing field. The canter became a gallop. He spread his wings. The gallop became flight. The world disappeared beneath me as he sped to the hollow. “Survey and secure,” I ordered once we’d reached it. He circled around the hollow a few times. Once he was sure we were alone, he landed near the waterfall. I dismounted.
I took a few slow breaths so deep I thought my ribs might break. I sucked in the spray from the waterfall wishing I could drown in it. I felt for my vocal cords and tried to remember how to activate them.
“FATES!” I shouted with all my strength. FATES, Fates, fates, fae, the hollow echoed after me.
“I TAKE IT BACK!” BACK, Back, back, ba, a
“I WITHDRAW MY BLESSING!” DRAW MY BLESSING, Draw blessing, dressing, essi
“I WANT HIM DEAD!” DEAD, Dead, dead, de
“DEAD!” DEAD, Dead, dead, de
I didn’t go back to the Games that evening. There was nothing else I had to judge, and there was no one else I wanted to see. I half expected the Fates to visit me in my dreams. I never saw them. I can’t say for sure that they didn’t have a hand in my dream, though. It was one of the most vivid nightmares I’d ever had.
In my dream, I was revisiting a scene from my distant past. Remember that story about Athena’s two-pronged flute? This was the sequel.
As with the Fates’ retelling of that story, I was an unseen spectator, separate from Past Me. Past Me was playing a lyre in a band with my sisters. We were on a river bank. Apollo was in our band singing lead. Coronis, Apollo’s first love, was watching.
I remembered that day all too well. Apollo had been begging us for weeks to let him bring Coronis to the Museum. Calliope wouldn’t allow it. Mortals dared not approach our sanctuary. But Apollo had begged so incessantly that Calliope finally agreed to this compromise. Coronis would be allowed to appear before us at a neutral location far from our Museum. It was also far enough from her palace that no uninvited mortals would stumble upon us.
Judging by Princess Prissyface’s countenance as she sat and watched the show, she was a bit unclear on who was being honored by the gift of whose presence. Present Me wondered if Coronis ever suspected that she had no remarkable qualities of her own beyond her looks, and that history would only remember her as the mother of Apollo’s son. Maybe she had. Maybe that had been her whole motivation for getting involved with him.
When our song was over, Apollo said, “That was good, but I think it could have used a little more percussion. And the harmony was slightly out of tune in the second chorus. You know what might have made this so much better? If we had picked up the tempo just a little bit in the coda. And-”
“Apollo,” Calliope interrupted him in her best Big Sister voice, “If you ever become the leader of the Muses, you can direct our chorus then, but we’ve been working on this arrangement for awhile and I’m quite happy with it.”
“You were all wonderful,” Coronis gushed. “Especially you,” she said to Apollo with a sickening, seductive smile.
“Especially you,” Past Me mimicked to the Twerps. They giggled.
“You’re still visible to her,” Present Me vainly reminded Past Me.
Apollo and Coronis both turned to Past Me. They didn’t seem amused, which was ridiculous because I was amusing. Coronis opened her tight, stuck-up little mouth. “I don’t have to be a goddess to know a good performance when I hear one,” she said. “Apollo is the best musician in the world.”
Present Me could see the bristling in the band as sure as Past Me had felt it. Apollo whispered something to Coronis. Coronis bowed her head toward Calliope and corrected herself. “The best male musician, of course,” she amended. My sisters were appeased, but Past Me wasn’t convinced. Coronis whispered something else to Apollo. They shared an openly covert laugh. Past Me gagged.
Just then, a horned figure emerged from the tall reeds in the river. We knew him by sight. He was Marsyas, a satyr renowned for his musical talent. He used his song and dance to seduce shepherds and shepherdesses alike. He hopped over to Coronis on his furry goat legs. “The best, you say?” he taunted her as he fingered the jewels sewn into her sleeve.
Coronis retreated to Apollo’s side. “How dare you approach me, you disgusting creature,” she rebuked him. Apollo held her close and shielded her from the satyr.
“Forgive me,” Marsyas said with an exaggerated courtly bow. “My deepest respects, Princess Coronis. I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting you before, though some of my brothers have. According to their tales, you are worthy of great honor and renown indeed.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Her Highness said with a maidenly blush. Past Me was gleefully observing that Coronis had absolutely no talent as an actress.
Apollo spoke. “You will not defile the name of my beloved,” he protested. “She was chaste as Hestia when I met her, and has been faithful as Hera since.”
“Could that dialogue be any lamer?” Past Me whispered to the Twerps.
“Still visible,” I called to her. “Also,” I said as I repeatedly smacked Apollo upside the head, “you’re a moron, she’s cheating on you, and you’re a moron.” Alas, as in all dreams, my hand bounced off its target without impact.
“If that’s what she’s told you, my lord, I won’t challenge it,” Marsyas conceded. “But I will challenge your lady’s allegation that you are the best musician in the world.”
“Best male musician,” Apollo reminded him, not wanting to incur the wrath of the Nine Muses upon his mortal beloved.
“I challenge you to a duel of music,” said Marsyas.
“This ought to be good,” Apollo smirked.
“Two rounds,” Marsyas proposed.
“Very well. Coronis can judge,” Apollo agreed.
“I think not,” Marsyas countered. “Your lady love will say anything to get a demigod in her womb. Let the Nine judge. Their devotion to the arts outweighs their affection for you.”
“Fair enough, if the Muses agree to it,” said Apollo. “Calliope?”
“Ladies?” Calliope looked to us. We all gave our assent. “We agree,” said Calliope.
“Very well,” said Apollo. “You have made the challenge, so you decide the stakes,” he said to Marsyas.
“Simple,” Marsyas replied. “The winner may do whatever he wants to the loser.”
How had I missed that the first time? Was I really so young and naive that I didn’t catch the way Marsyas had made his bet? The way he’d leered at Apollo when he’d said it? His whole stance toward Apollo, the subtle threat and the obvious lust? Or rather than youthful naïveté, had I been so obsessed with Coronis as the primary threat in the scene that I’d completely overlooked Marsyas?
Either way, to my horror, Past Me was actually laughing. I suppose I couldn’t blame her. It was a common enough bet, and it was usually settled by making the loser do something stupid like hopping backwards on one leg while blindfolded. Worst case scenario would be the loser providing the winner with free labor. But older, wiser, more aware me could see that neither scenario was what Marsyas had in mind for his vanquished opponent.
Apollo could see it, too.
Calliope called the beginning of the contest. Apollo went first. He played an instrumental number on his kithara, the small harp he had invented. His performance was incredible. I could hear a kaleidoscope of colors in his song. Marsyas’ signature instrument was the flute. No matter how pure and skillful his melody, surely he wouldn’t be able to match Apollo’s harmonies, we were all thinking.
“You were amazing,” said Coronis, right before rewarding Apollo’s performance by tongue-tapping his tonsils. Past Me and Present Me were struck with identical stomach aches at the sight.
Then it was Marsyas’s turn. He produced his instrument: Athena’s two-pronged flute, the aulos, which we hadn’t seen since she’d thrown it away a few weeks earlier. We’d all forgotten about it. We’d also forgotten about the curse she’d imparted as she’d cast it aside: Damn that stupid instrument and damn the next person stupid enough to pick it up.
Marsyas played a beautiful pastoral tune filled with rich, rustic harmonies. In his song, we could see the green pastures, the rolling hills, the grazing ewes and the frolicking lambs, the daydreaming shepherds and the spirited shepherdesses. But Present Me could see something Past Me had missed. Throughout his performance, Marsyas never once took his lecherous eyes off Apollo.
My sisters and Past Me huddled for deliberation. Calliope came forward with a verdict. “Apollo, I’m sorry,” she said, “but this round goes to Marsyas.”
Each contestant played a second time. After a much longer deliberation, we decided the second round went to Apollo, but just barely. Calliope ruled that we would judge a tie-breaker round. Marsyas looked assured of victory. Present Me could see his sick anticipation of his impending conquest and Apollo’s inevitable subjugation. Though Apollo was doing his best to maintain his composure, even Past Me was starting to realize that he was in genuine distress, not the fun kind.
“Tie-breaker rule!” Past Me called out as she waved her hand in the air.
“Thalia, not now,” Apollo groaned.
“What’s the matter, bitch?” Marsyas taunted him. “Why don’t you surrender now and get it over with?”
Past Me ignored them both. “For the final round,” she declared, “each contestant must play his instrument upside down.”
“I’ll allow it,” Calliope said.
“What? Why?” Marsyas demanded.
“Because you’re rude and vulgar and I don’t like you,” said Calliope. “Apollo, take your place. Marsyas, if you don’t know how, I suggest you spend some time playing with your instrument until you figure it out. Thalia, there’s no need to gloat. You can stop that giggling.”
Apollo played his kithara upside down as impressively as right side up. Then it was Marsyas’s turn. He placed the upside down aulos in his mouth. He set his thumbs on the tone holes. So far so good. Then he twisted his hands and made a painful, tedious attempt to set his fingers on the top holes. It was impossible. He’d get one or two fingers in place, and that would tilt the mouthpiece out of his mouth. He’d get it back in and lose hold of the aulos altogether. Finally, he slammed it to the ground. “That’s it,” he growled. “I’m done.”
“Ladies?” Calliope barely looked in our direction.
“Apollo,” we ruled in a unanimous cacophony.
“Apollo is the winner,” Calliope declared. “Name your penalty, Apollo.”
“Let me take Coronis home first,” Apollo said. “She doesn’t need to see this.”
He was back in a matter of seconds. Marsyas was waiting, unconcerned, almost exultant. “What don’t you want your girlfriend to watch?” Marsyas goaded with that same licentious smirk he’d had from the beginning. “Got some frustrations you need to work out?” Present Me wanted nothing more than to hurt him. But apparently lucid dreaming wasn’t an option. I had no choice but to let the memory run its course.
“Something like that,” Apollo replied in a low, strained voice. He waved his hand. In an instant, the bewildered satyr was hanging from a tree branch by his bound wrists.
Now Calliope was worried. “Apollo,” she warned, “no harm has been done here. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
“I won’t,” said Apollo, with an anger and terror in his eyes that had disturbed me then, but that I understood now. I wondered how many innocent shepherds and shepherdesses would’ve understood, too. “And I know I’ll regret it if I don’t flay this monster alive while I have the chance.”
I woke myself from my dream kicking and flailing. I was spared the rest of the scene, but it played out in my waking mind anyway. I recalled the end, when my sisters and I had shown mercy on Marsyas by turning him to water and joining him with the river before Apollo finished his task. That river bears Marsyas’s name now and forever. Would I, I wondered, have shown the same mercy if I’d understood then what I did now?
I never got back to sleep that night.
I kept to myself the next morning until my presence was required in the theater competitions. I was barely able to concentrate during the judging. The presence of other people felt oppressive. I fully intended to have lunch alone at the empty Museum.
Adonis’ appearance on our pavilion initially made me more resolute in my plan. I teleported home without saying anything to him or Apollo. Neither of them were worth speaking to or paying any attention to. It wasn’t my problem that Apollo was an idiot in matters of the…let’s say heart. I couldn’t help it if he was a magnet for the beautiful and the cruel. So he was going to make the same mistake all over again and end up with yet another heartbreak. See if I cared.
I put on my helmet and shot back to the pavilion.
The two men were alone. They were sitting on a bench at the back of the pavilion, Adonis distraught and vulnerable, Apollo steady and firm with a protective arm around him. “I knew what she was like,” Adonis lamented, “but she told me it was different with me.”
“It’s always ‘different with you’,” Apollo consoled him. “Your kingdom is full of women who told me it was different with me.”
“And I still think it was different,” Adonis bravely maintained. “She loved me more than she ever loved Ares. I know she did.”
“I’m sure she loved you as much as she’s capable of loving anyone,” Apollo allowed. “How could she not?”
“Can you believe I was thinking about staying here when Mom goes home at the equinox?” said Adonis. “Mom tried to warn me not to plan two months in advance around Aphrodite, but I didn’t want to believe her.”
Apollo held Adonis in silence for awhile. A brief look from Adonis implied that Apollo wasn’t following the script. “I might as well go home with Mom now,” he tried again. “There’s nothing to keep me here.”
“I think that’s for the best,” Apollo said with dutiful resolve as he stroked Adonis’ tanned, toned shoulder. “It’s safer for you in your own realm. Besides, I’m sure your dad misses you.”
“One winter isn’t forever,” Adonis dismissed. “It’s not like I’d never see him again.”
“I don’t think you realize how lucky you are,” said Apollo. “You have two parents who are good people, who care about you, and who care about each other. Not very many people in the Pantheon can say the same.”
“Your father made you one of the Twelve,” said Adonis. “He must care about you.”
“Seeking glory, honor, and power through your children isn’t the same thing as caring about them,” said Apollo. “At all. Love means putting someone’s well-being ahead of your own desires. Sometimes even ahead of their desires.”
“What happens when what you want, what the person you love wants, and what’s in both of your best interests coincide?” Adonis asked.
“A miracle,” said Apollo.
Adonis nestled his head in Apollo’s neck. Before Apollo knew what was happening, Adonis brought his lips to meet Apollo’s. He held onto the shy, delicate kiss. Apollo didn’t pull away.
“We’re gods,” said Adonis. “Making miracles is what we do.”
Apollo initiated the next kiss. This one was deep, uninhibited, the flooding release of a month and a half’s worth of dammed-up emotions.
I decided I had other places to be.
A part of me wanted very much to just tell Artemis right away that Adonis was playing her brother. But a strong sense of integrity, altruism, and maturity stopped me.
Are you done laughing yet?
I could have told Artemis, but I decided not to. The Fates had been running me through all kinds of stupid tests for the last two years. I decided it was time to give them one. I wasn’t going to do a single thing to tip Artemis off to Scumboy’s treachery. In fact, if I had the opportunity, I would try to actively hide the affair from her. If the Fates wanted her to send a swift arrow of justice through that two-faced whore’s pathetic excuse for a heart, they could figure out some way to alert her themselves. I was going to put the whole thing out of my mind and enjoy the rest of the Games as much as I could.
So I went to Dionysus’ Tent in search of enjoyment.
Instead, I found Eris. I thought of putting my helmet back on, but she’d already spotted me. Eris finding out about the helmet could lead to no good whatsoever.
“Hi, Random Muse Person,” she greeted me.
“Thalia,” I said.
“Whatever. You Muses all look alike. You should all pose as different ones sometime. That would be so funny.”
“We don’t look that much alike,” I said. “But,” I had to admit, “that would be pretty funny if it would work.”
“You could wear masks and be anonymous,” Eris suggested. “I love these Games,” she randomly changed the subject. “It’s so much fun whispering to the athletes. At the wrestling tournament this morning, I told one wrestler that his opponent was trying to poison him, and I told the other that his opponent was in love with him.”
“You need help,” I observed aloud.
“Ooooo, do you want to be my minion?” she grinned.
“No, thank you.”
“If Adonis falls in love, do you think he’ll stay?” she contemplated.
“Where on earth did that come from?”
“Me,” said Eris. “I just said it. See, look at my mouth. The words you’re hearing are coming out of it. See?”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” I stopped her.
“So do you think Adonis will stay?” she asked again.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” I replied.
“Really? I’d think you would care if he fell in love with Apollo and Apollo fell in love with him and he stayed here.”
“He’s not in love with Apollo,” I snapped. Immediately, I cursed myself for saying that.
“How do you know?” Eris grinned.
“Just a gut feeling,” I shrugged.
“A feeling like being punched in the gut because you think he might be in love with Apollo?”
“No, Eris, a gut feeling means-”
“I know what it means,” Eris interrupted me. “Everyone thinks I’m stupid, but I’m not. Would a stupid person know that it wasn’t really Apollo with Aphrodite in the woods that night?”
“It’s theoretically possible,” I replied. I should have let it go at that, but curiosity prevailed. “If you didn’t think it was really Apollo, why didn’t you say anything?”
“I said a lot of things,” said Eris.
“I mean, why didn’t you say anything about that?”
“Oh, that. Why would I?”
“Good question,” I granted.
“If it’s such a good question, why don’t you answer it?”
“You can answer that, too, even though it’s not a very good question. Answer the good question first, though. Go ahead. I’ll wait.”
“I’m not going to do that,” I stammered.
“But it was such a good question,” Eris pouted.
“You know what? I’m going to go be somewhere else,” I decided.
“Oh, I’ll come with you,” Eris offered.
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
“If wishes were horses, they’d have four legs,” Eris pontificated.
“That makes no sense.”
“It makes perfect sense. Horses have four legs. Didn’t you know that? I’ll get a horse so you can count them.”
In the blink of an eye, one of Ares’ enormous war horses appeared before us in the tent. I took advantage of the ensuing chaos and slipped away unnoticed.
Once I was safely secluded, I put my helmet back on. Invisible mingling seemed like the perfect compromise. I could take in the Games without having to interact with anyone.
I wandered toward Aglaea’s medic headquarters tent, thinking I might say hi to her if she were alone and things were slow. I hadn’t seen her since that one time I’d visited her after Euphrosyne’s birth.
A sign in front of the tent stated that the physician was out. Aglaea, I surmised, must be overseeing something at another medic station. I slipped inside anyway to get a break from the crowd and the sun.
But I wasn’t alone. Psyche was watching little Euphrosyne, and Artemis was with her. I kept my helmet on and sat down in a corner as close to the tent wall as I could get without touching it.
“You know, you don’t have to stay with me,” Psyche was telling Artemis. “Wouldn’t you rather be watching the Games with your brother or some of your friends?”
“I hate crowds,” said Artemis. “Besides, hosting and producing the Games keeps Apollo pretty busy, and I like to let the hunters have fun without their boss hanging around.”
“What about Athena?” Psyche suggested as she tilted her head to give Euphrosyne better access to her thick black hair.
“Things have been weird with Athena,” said Artemis.
“You two seemed like you were getting along fine yesterday,” said Psyche.
“Right; we get along,” said Artemis, “but it’s just, I don’t know, it’s weird. When I’m around her, I have all these…these things.”
“Feelings?” Psyche suggested.
“No, that doesn’t sound right,” said Artemis.
“You know I’m an empath, don’t you?” Psyche reminded her.
“You won’t let me forget,” Artemis replied.
“Do you want to know what I think is going on?”
“You’re going to tell me anyway,” Artemis looked away and crossed her arms.
“Te naway,” Euphrosyne babbled. She shook her fistful of Psyche’s hair and giggled.
“Of course I am,” Psyche cooed at Euphrosyne, “because that’s my job. Yes, it is.” Back in her normal voice, Psyche said, “I think that, as you’re getting stronger, you’re becoming aware of feelings that were too painful and traumatic for you to process before. They’re still not easy to process, especially since you’ve been avoiding them for so long, but you can at least sense them now.”
“I’ve always known how I feel about Athena,” said Artemis. “She’s an incredible person and the best friend I could ever ask for. There’s nothing painful or traumatic about that, and there shouldn’t be anything weird. This is different.”
“Does it feel like this?” asked Psyche. She set Euphrosyne down and stared at Artemis with intense concentration. Artemis winced. She started trembling. I could hear her rapid heartbeat from across the tent.
“Make it stop,” Artemis begged in a whisper.
“Remember what I showed you,” Psyche’s voice strained.
Artemis closed her eyes and took some deep, slow, purposeful breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. She repeated this a few times before declaring, “I’m alright.”
Psyche broke her concentration. Both goddess’ countenances returned to normal. Well, normal plus the look of an athlete who’d just completed a thorough workout.
“That’s it, exactly,” said Artemis. “What was it? How can I make it stop?”
“You can’t make it stop,” said Psyche. “All you can do is assess the situation and determine whether you want to act on the feeling or ride it out until it leaves on its own.”
“I don’t even know what acting on that feeling looks like,” said Artemis.
“I think you do, a little bit,” said Psyche. “You told me you held Athena’s hand yesterday. What happened to the feeling then?”
“It got better and worse at the same time,” Artemis recalled.
“That’s what I’d expect,” Psyche nodded.
“What, are you saying this is a normal thing?”
“Yes,” said Psyche, her wings fluttering with excitement. “It’s very normal. This is quite a breakthrough. Honestly, I was afraid it would take us months to get to this point.” It was hard to tell whether Psyche was more excited for her patient or pleased with her own skill as a healer as she delivered her diagnosis:
“You’re feeling your desire for Athena!”