Staring at the Sun

Icarus, the mortal who flew too high. Apollo, the god who fell too hard. Aoide, the siren tired of singing.

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1. ONE

Icarus will be your downfall, the other gods had warned him.

    It wasn’t like Apollo needed anybody to tell him that. Gods weren’t supposed to fall in love with mortals. Their hearts were so much more fragile than their timeless bodies, and mortals excelled at breaking things.

    But maybe Icarus was worth being broken for.

    And so Apollo found himself in Icarus’s tower – again – with the familiar candlelight wrapping the workshop in warmth, the orange glow tangled in Icarus’s curls and kissing his bronze skin as he sat over the table, studying whatever he’d been working on last.

    If Apollo hadn’t seen King Minos chain the doors and bar the locks, this tower might have seemed more like a home than a prison.

    “Icarus?” Apollo said softly, and the boy whirled around to face Apollo with that familiar fearless grin.

    “You need to stop materialising, Apollo.”

    “How else am I meant to get here?”

    Icarus shrugged. “I’m sure you can find something more creative.”

    “You’re the inventor here,” Apollo smiled. The two of them waited a moment before Icarus rushed forwards, wrapping his arms around Apollo and holding him with the sort of warmth that the sun couldn’t even begin to know.

    “I missed you,” Icarus mumbled, pulling away too soon.

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Don’t be. You’re the sun god, Apollo. You’re busy. I’m surprised the other gods let you take messages to me, anyway.”

    They didn’t, but Icarus didn’t need to know that. Messages had been his excuse to come here in the first place. The problem with most gods was that they didn’t care – not about Icarus, not about the mortals, not about anything.

    “Anyway, we’re almost done with the wings – want to see them? The wax is drying and then we can leave, when it’s set. And Father said we can go to mountains and sail and - and maybe we’ll even see centaurs - oh, and we’re going to visit your temple, of course, and make offerings to you, since we can’t give you much now…” He trailed off, still grinning, and Apollo wanted to listen to him until everything crumbled into the Underworld, because maybe Apollo was the god of poetry and light and music, but Icarus had found the words that sung of dreams. Icarus was hope and joy and laughter in a world that had taught him only pain, and Apollo could feel himself falling.

    “We’ve not escaped yet, Icarus,” Daedalus said, and Apollo turned to gaze at Icarus’s father. 

    It was easy for Apollo to blame Daedalus for Icarus's imprisonment in the tower, for it was Daedalus's gifts that had cast them there. It was his skill for invention that had enabled him to build the labyrinth for King Minos’s Minotaur, but it was also his skill that helped bring about the Minotaur’s end. It was his knowledge that was too dangerous to be let free, but innocent Icarus helped pay the price.

    Sometimes, gifts weren’t really gifts. They were curses masked by lies and shallow things.

    Though perhaps it would also be Daedalus's gift that would free them.

    Daedalus turned to Apollo. “Thank you for coming. Is there news?”

    The two of them had dropped the formal titles upon his request. He was just Apollo to them.

    “You’re leaving soon?”

    “Tomorrow,” Daedalus said. “If the wax is set.”

    “Then yes, there is news. Zeus will not catch you if your wings break. Are you sure they’ll work, Daedalus?”

    The inventor nodded. “Of course they’ll work. I built them.”

    Icarus had helped, of course, but they didn’t have time to argue that. “Very well, then. Poseidon will not tame the ocean for you. Fly too close, and the damp may damage the wings.” Apollo waited for them both to nod. “And don’t fly too close to the sun, either.”

    “Why not?” Icarus asked, the candlelight dancing in his sea-blue eyes. The flames of the sun and the rage of the sea. Icarus would have to survive them both.

    “The sun is dangerous.”

    Icarus met Apollo’s gaze with a beautiful sort of fearlessness, and something twisted in Apollo’s chest. Drowning, the poets always called it. It felt more like flying. Or falling. Apollo wasn’t really sure.

    “But you’re the sun god. I trust you,” Icarus said.

    “Don’t trust the gods,” Apollo told him. Hated the words, but said them anyway.

    “You’re more than just a god.”

    “I’m dangerous.”

    “You’re-“

    “Icarus,” Apollo choked, gripping his shoulders, meeting his gaze and falling, falling, falling. “Listen to me. Do not fly close to the sun. The heat will melt the wax, and you will die.”

    “But-“

    “Promise me.”

    “I trust you,” Icarus said again. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    “Please, Icarus.”

    “Fine.”

    “You promise?”

    “I promise.”

    “Thank you.”

    Icarus smiled at him, and Apollo tried not to think about how much easier everything would be if he were not a god or Icarus not a mortal. “I’ll be okay. And I’ll see you soon – Father said we can visit your temple, remember?”

    “I remember,” Apollo told him. “I’ll have to leave now, but… Be careful, Icarus.”

    “I will,” he promised. “Thank you. For all of your help.”

    “You’re welcome,” Apollo said, and everything else he wanted to say threatened to spill from his tongue. He didn’t let it. “Goodbye.”

    “Goodbye, Apollo,” Icarus said, and for a moment it seemed like he wanted to say something else, as well. He didn’t.

    “Thank you,” Daedalus said, but there was something like impatience in his voice. Apollo nodded at him, but his gaze flickered back to Icarus.

    “Can I hug you?” the boy blurted, a last-minute grasp at something they could never have, and by answer Apollo reached for him and held him close.

    “I’ll miss you,” Icarus whispered.

    “You won’t have to,” Apollo murmured. “I’ll see you soon, won’t I?”

    “Soon,” Icarus echoed, and it felt like they were both clinging to some fragile paper promise that lay beyond the sea’s fury and the burning heat of the sun.

    Icarus could get there. Even if it felt like they were going to burn each other out – the god of light and the mortal whose dreams shone brighter than the sun itself.

    They tore away from each other, and Apollo offered Icarus a final smile before calling the light from the workshop candles to wrap around him, carrying him back to Olympus where he belonged. Except it didn’t really feel like he did, not any more.

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

Apollo drove the sun chariot across the sky as he did every morning, and he could see Icarus’s tower in the distance.

    He always slowed down as he reached it, because the tower was so dark, so lonely, and Icarus had never deserved that shadowy solitude. But today was different.

    Today, Apollo could see Icarus and Daedalus in the distance, their wings spread wide and strong as Icarus followed his father. And Apollo knew he had to hurry, just in case Icarus flew too close, had to drag the sun away before he could hurt the boy he loved.

    He painted dawn’s golden colours across the inky sky as he flicked the reins, and his sun horses sped up, the flames streaming from their manes as they galloped through the sky.

    He looked down again, with the wind tearing against him, the power of the horses a familiar pull as he kept them under control, and it looked almost like Icarus was heading higher.

    “But you’re the sun god. I trust you.”

    Apollo’s heart lurched – because Icarus was definitely beating his wings to soar higher, because Icarus didn’t understand boundaries, didn’t understand that even freedom had its limits.

    Higher. Higher. Apollo couldn’t make out his features, but he could see Daedalus slowing down, turning around, and maybe he was calling out for Icarus to stop.

    Apollo flicked the reins again.

    “You promise?”

    “I promise.”

    Why wouldn’t he listen? Stop, Apollo wanted to scream. Stop flying towards me, it’s not safe, the sun will destroy you-

    He wasn’t stopping, his arms beating to propel him upwards, but he was getting slower, and for a moment Apollo felt the breath return to him.

    And then he realised that it wasn’t because Icarus had realised what he was doing. It was because he couldn’t fly higher, because the wax was melting - from here Apollo could see the feathers slipping from the wings, untangled by Apollo’s golden blaze.

    “Icarus,” he whispered. “Icarus, stop…”

    “I’ll see you soon, won’t I?”

    “Soon.”

    Icarus was just a boy, just a boy who wanted to fly and be free and taste the world, but his wings were falling apart and he didn’t deserve this, not the wax falling down, down, down, not the too-hot sun or the danger or the promise of the ocean’s waves to break his fall and break his bones.

    And Apollo did not deserve him.

    “Icarus!” he screamed, and finally the wings could no longer hold the boy he loved, and for a moment that seemed like forever, Icarus stopped climbing.

    Apollo could see him, so far away and yet so close, could just make out the disbelief in those beautiful ocean-blue eyes, like he’d never realised what it was, to dream and to fly without care into something you couldn’t have.

    Apollo screamed his name again.

    And then the moment of timeless fear shattered into a thousand tiny pieces and Icarus was falling, his arms flailing and his lips parting with a strangled scream, and Apollo couldn’t do anything.

    Icarus was the sort of boy who could be told, a thousand times, that something was too dangerous, but he’d still try to trust it.

    Apollo called on the light, willed it to carry him to Icarus. Because even though transporting him with the power of a god would burn his skin, burnt skin was better than a broken corpse. But something was stopping him – Zeus. It must be Zeus, because the sky was his domain and he didn’t care about mortals with reckless dreams.

    Icarus was the sort of boy who wanted to believe in everything – even the god whose paper promises had crumbled, even the world whose jealous kings had taken away his freedom.

    “Father!” Apollo sobbed. “Father, please, let me go to him!”

    Nothing. And still Icarus was falling, and Apollo realised he had one thing left.

    Icarus was the sort of boy who would trust the sun until its golden lips kissed the wax and melted his wings, and even as he was falling, he looked like he couldn’t quite believe it.

    “Fly straight!” he screamed to his horses, and prayed they could carry the sun for long enough without charging too close to the earth, and he called the light around him. It carried him to the Hall of Olympus.

    Apollo collapsed before Poseidon’s throne, and met his uncle’s knowing gaze.

    “Please. Save him. Let the sea catch him and not break him, Poseidon. Please.”

    “Mortals must die anyway. Besides, it was your sun that tore him from the sky in the first place.”

    “I know.” And he did – he felt the truth so painfully that it twisted everything inside him, that it felt like it would break his heart just as much as the sea would break Icarus’s body. “Please, Poseidon. I swear on the River Styx I’ll do anything you ask.”

    Mortals weren’t supposed to fall in love with gods. Their bodies were so much more fragile than their stubborn hearts, and gods excelled at breaking things.

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