WHO: Melpomene and Ares WHEN: Sunday night WHERE: Toledo, Ohio WHAT: Family reunion WARNINGS: TBA
Hope had done what she'd feared it would do: re-awakened every emotional nerve-ending in her body and utterly destroyed any protection the numbness that losing hope had given her. Melpomene had sworn not to want again but already that promise was shattered; she wanted, so terribly. She wanted her son, his life, she wanted it so much she felt crazy.
Melpomene pulled out into the streets of early morning Soho, and every oncoming vehicle made her wince. Every intersection. Every time the world presented her with a chance that another vehicle was going to smash into her and destroy her. It was the same fear she’d had when Alan was on his way to her while she was in labour – that something so mundane and deadly as a car would take him out.
Ares had her son, and any one of these vehicles could kill her before she saw him again.
Melpomene made it out of Soho and didn’t die. She made it through the tunnel and didn’t die. By the time she’d made it out of the state, her heart rate had grown a little steadier, and the fear that another vehicle was going to cross the center line and crash into her only reared its head from time to time.
The disbelief that she was actually going to see her son again, tonight, never left her. When Ares messaged with an update on his route, it was like confirmation of a miracle and her heart went a little crazy because she didn’t believe in miracles. At the side of the road, miles from home, miles from her family, miles still to go from her son and his father, she had the first of a series of emotional breakdowns. Sobbing over the steering wheel, relief and fear turning her into a battleground as they fought for dominance.
Neither won. Melpomene certainly didn't.
Maybe (she thought briefly and reluctantly) Apollo had a point when he said she wasn't up to driving. But it really was a brief thought: she had to do this on her own. Telos was her son and there was something sacred about this pilgrimage toward their reunion.
But determination didn't keep the breakdowns at bay. Or the fit of panic so intense she didn't remember pulling over but a full hour passed before she could drive again. And determination didn't stop the cold dread that took hold of her on the tail of the panic, and didn't let go.
Determination didn't stop the thoughts that haunted her, through the long, long hours of the drive.
It started when her palms wouldn't stop sweating after her panic, and underneath her hands the wheel turned slick, and warm, and it pulsed, it thrashed like a throat, struggling to live, failing to live.
Don't she pleaded with her mind, determined to keep driving, but... the images came all the same. All she could see was Tragos’ dead body, covered in blood, and tiny little Telos lying dead as well. If the power of Tragos' convictions were so strong it broke his vow to both her and Ares, then his spirit could have lingered too, to finish the job, to punish her through Telos.
If death was preferable to serving her, perhaps he thought death was preferable to being raised by her as well, and his ghost would taken Telos from her at the last.
The horror of this ending was too great, she couldn’t think anything else. Fists clutching around the wheel, it was all she could do to keep breathing till the horror faded. And it faded because she couldn't forget the sincerity in Tragos' face before he died, nor the words he'd spoken.
None of you are gonna let this kid choose.
Ares doesn't want a son, he wants a warrior.
He's not going to end up dead or a murderer at fifteen.
We're going to keep him safe. I will keep him safe.
She could hear the conviction in his words, even now. It would have been easier - no, not easier, but more straightforward - if he'd stolen her son as a punishment, as revenge, as cruelty or malice. But out of a misguided attempt to keep him safe?
It was easy, sometimes, to hate the dead.
But not this time.
After Kaden had escaped with Telos, she'd been white-hot mad till despair had sapped her anger. And now as despair faded into the next stage, the anger hadn't come back in the same shape at all.
It was still there, the betrayal that had stabbed through her chest. The incredulous disbelief that Tragos could do such a thing to her. The anger that rose up because it was the only way to fight the terror of being powerless as he held her, drugged and pinned, on her bed.
But it wasn't as blinding, as all-encompassing.
It would have been easier to be angry, if only she could force herself to forget that Tragos could have hurt her, beaten her, even killed her. It hadn't been the first time she'd been drugged and overpowered (or killed) on a bed; she knew how easily men slipped into that role. But she couldn't forget that even as Tragos held her down he promised he wouldn't hurt her.
It's okay, I've got you. Words of a lover. Words of someone who cared.
Words of someone who'd bled out under her hands. She'd seen the life leave his eyes, she'd felt it. His words would not stop haunting her.
It's okay, I've got you.
We're going to keep him safe.
Haunting her and haunting her and haunting her. Her thoughts lodged on Tragos' reasons as she drove: To keep Telos away from her, from Ares, from Aphrodite, from Apollo. They lodged and went round and round and round as the interstate blurred past her. Round and round and round till she realised...
He'd echoed Alan.
Not in words, but in sentiment. The reasons Alan couldn't be with her, because of Apollo... the reasons Tragos thought he had to steal her son. Reasons all tangled up in one... how had Atropos put it? One bitch of a snarl.
She couldn't let herself go there.
She had to focus on her son. Just her son. It was getting late in the evening and she would see him, soon, so soon. The fresh surge of hope-and-terror helped sweep all other thoughts from her mind, and she buried the thought that Tragos and Alan might have anything in common, buried it down deep.
When Ares' next message came, telling her he'd passed Chicago and asking where was she, Melpomene stomped the thoughts down even deeper. She could not be a tormented, sobbing mess in front of Ares. In front of the god who'd delivered her son. She would not dishonour him in such a way.
She was just a little east of Cleveland, so they agreed to meet in Toledo. Melpomene sniffed the last of her tears away and set her jaw firm, and tried to set her heart firmer. In a hotel overlooking the expanse of Lake Erie, she was going to be reunited with her son, and after that, nothing else would matter.