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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8. EIGHT

    A moment ago, Apollo had been beside Icarus on a beach in the middle of nowhere. Icarus was lost, confused, afraid – but he was safe. And maybe that was all Apollo could ask for, for now at least.

    Artemis’s godly magic started to fade, and Apollo closed his eyes. Vowed to get Icarus’s memories back, even if it was a near-impossible task, even if it meant that Icarus would hate him for failing to catch him.

    When Apollo opened his eyes again, he was standing beside Artemis in the murky darkness of a cave, fog snaking around them. Artemis let go of his wrist, and the two of them glanced around. Apollo summoned his burning light to his hands anyway, and Artemis did the same. They were both weak in this choking darkness, but they would find a way out.

    “Apollo. Artemis. Children of Zeus and Leto,” a woman called, and her words echoed through the shadows. Apollo edged closer to his sister.

    “We’re here for Icarus’s memories. You can get them back, can’t you?” Artemis called. She stood tall and straight. Defiant.

    The woman laughed, the sound rolling across the cave walls like it was ensnaring them. “What do you gods care for mortals?”

    “Did Zeus tell you to take his memories?” Apollo demanded.

    The fog billowed upwards before them, and a moment later it parted once more, falling aside as a woman strode forwards. The sound of her dress brushing the floor seemed like a thousand whispers of something Apollo couldn’t quite catch. Her past, maybe, or somebody else’s. When she smiled, her eyes flashed a hundred shades, as though she saw the world through the eyes of everybody else’s yesterdays. Mnemosyne: the titan of memory.

    “Of course Zeus told me to take his memories,” she crooned. “He’s mortal. He’s only a brief distraction, and then he’ll die-“

    “Right now, he has a chance to live,” Apollo snapped. “He is not a distraction, he is a boy who threw himself from the edge of everything because he hoped for something more. And he survived it. He survived the sun and the ocean and gods know what else – so even if he’s going to die-“ the words felt choked as he said them. “-then he’ll most certainly get a chance to live before that.”

    Mnemosyne smiled again. Apollo scowled at her.

    “You’re so petty, you gods,” she laughed. “You forget about the titans until you need us. Until it’s convenient.”

    “Mnemosyne-“ Artemis started, but the titan cut her off.

    “Don’t worry, Artemis. I’m sure I can find your brother something good enough to get Icarus’s memories back.” Her lips twisted into a sneer, and Apollo shuddered as her gaze turned to him. For a moment, Hera’s disdain slipped onto her expression, like she was finding the face of disapproval from his past that wounded him the most.

    “I have a task for you, Apollo. Succeed, and you can have his memories.”

    Apollo nodded. “Very well. What will you have me do?”

    “Apollo,” Artemis muttered. “Be careful.”

    He ignored her. For Icarus, he would risk his very being.

    “You will go to the underworld,” the titan said to him. “And you will find the soul of Hyacinthus where he rests in Elysium. You will speak to him, and seek his forgiveness. If he does not give it, I will keep Icarus’s memories, and he will never get them back. You will never get him back.”

    “No,” Apollo choked. “Not him. Anybody but him.”

    “You will speak to him or you will let Icarus’s memories go,” Mnemosyne said. “There is no other option.”

    “Please,” Apollo whispered. He could still see Hyacinthus’s blood matted in his hair, smeared across Apollo’s palms as he’d tried to save him. And failed. The god of medicine had watched his love bleed out before him.

    “Make your choice.”

    He thought of Hyacinthus, cradled in his arms, choking on his final words. Thought of Icarus, telling him I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. They both had stolen dreams. But Icarus still had a chance to get his back.

    “I’ll go,” he whispered.

    “It’ll break you,” Artemis warned him in an undertone.

    “I’ll go,” he said again, trying to keep the terror from his voice, and Mnemosyne strode forwards. Apollo held a trembling arm out to stop Artemis from intervening. “I have to do this,” he told her.

    She did not reply.

    Mnemosyne touched her fingers to his forehead, and darkness swallowed him.

    Memories consumed him. The first time he’d ever seen Hyacinthus, with his easy confidence and mortal heart. He had been gorgeous, that mortal prince, and Apollo had crumbled. Had fallen in love with every part of him.

    But Hyacinthus had looked beautiful, too, more beautiful than anybody else, and Zephyros, god of the West Wind, wanted Hyacinthus to be his. Apollo had worried, of course, because Hyacinthus could have chosen anybody. Could have left him in a heartbeat. But – “It will always be you,” he had told Apollo, time and time again. “It will always be you.”

    It had still been Apollo, when the two of them were laughing, throwing a discus between them like it weighed nothing, smiling like they were both free and safe and eternal. But gods could never learn to accept that beauty was not to be owned. Admired, perhaps, celebrated, treasured. But never owned.

    Zephyros was just like the others gods. And if he couldn’t own the prince’s beauty, then neither could Apollo. So he had steered the discus towards Hyacinthus. Had cracked his skull with a flick of his wrist, a change of the wind.

    Apollo had not forgotten that day. It had taught him that mortals break just as easily as hearts. That screaming and sobbing and praying could not save anybody. That he was helpless, the god of medicine and healing himself.

    Hyacinthus’s blood had never been washed from his hands, not really.

    And suddenly the world was spinning, and Apollo gasped for breath and staggered forward as light rushed into his vision, and then a voice as strong as armies.

    “Apollo.” Surprise, regret, anger. “What are you doing here?”

    “Hyacinthus,” Apollo whispered. 

    It had been a long time since his lips had borne that name.

    Apollo’s eyesight slowly ebbed back into him, the disorientation creeping away. Before him stood Hyacinthus, his brown hair almost golden in the light that spilled over the fields of Elysium. “Hya,” he choked again, reaching out to grip his shoulder, but the prince backed away.

    “Tell me why you’re here, Apollo.”

    “I’m sorry,” Apollo told him. “I’m so sorry, Hya, I should have done something-“

    “I should never have trusted the gods.” And it was true, wasn’t it? “I had a nation waiting for me. I could have fought countless battles for my people, but I was struck down by the jealousy of gods.” A bitter laugh dragged from his lips. “Tell me why you’re here. And be honest.”

    Apollo gazed at Hyacinthus as if he was trying to re-memorize his features, as if he would disappear at any moment. And perhaps he would. With every shift of the light, Apollo was reminded of how little substance of Hyacinthus remained. He was but a hasty copy of the robust, lively boy Apollo had known and loved, and Apollo could blame no one but himself.

    So if Hyacinthus wanted the truth, he would have it. “There’s a boy. The gods stole his memory, and I can get it back if you forgive me.”

    Hyacinthus gazed at him, his expression unwavering. “Sit,” he said eventually. They sat side by side in the grass.

    “Do you love him, this boy?”

    Apollo turned to look at him, but his expression was guarded.

    “Yes,” he whispered, and the word felt frail as he spoke it.

    “Like you once loved me?”

    “Yes.”

    Hyacinthus’s lips turned up in the ghost of a smile. “And did you ever really love me, Apollo? Was I just something beautiful for you to own for a while? A mortal prince, to entertain you until another jealous god came and stole me away?”

    “You really think I didn’t love you?”

    “I don’t know what to think. But I know what the gods are like, Apollo. Forgive me for assuming the worst.” A wry smile as he turned his eyes to the sky.

    “Hya, look at me,” Apollo begged.

    He did.

    “I would have given anything to bring you back. I went to Hades, I went to Zeus. I tried everything I could when I could not save you alone. Hya, I would have taken your place, if I could.”

    “Why?” the prince asked, and his voice broke. Apollo remembered days cut short and a mortal who could have been more than a prince.

    “Because of who you were. You were so beautiful, Hya. You are. In all of you – in the way you laughed with your men, the way you came alive whenever you were talking or fighting or smiling, the way you believed in what was impossible but you somehow made it… not.”

    For a moment, they stared at each other, and Hyacinthus’s lips stretched into a smile. “I see.” A tear rolled across his cheek.

    “You don’t love me any longer, do you?”

    Apollo wanted to tell him that yes, he did. But he would not lie, not to Hyacinthus. “Not in the way I used to. I still think you’re beautiful, but…”

    “Good,” the prince replied. “That love was of another lifetime. I’m glad you’re not ignoring the living to mourn ghosts.”

    Apollo did not tell him that he had never stopped mourning.

    “Forgive me.”

    “There is nothing to forgive.”

    “There is everything,” Apollo told him. “Everything.”

    Hyacinthus shook his head. “No. What is his name, this mortal boy?”

    “Icarus.”

    “I see.” The prince took a deep breath. Stood up, and offered Apollo a hand, pulling him to his feet. “Apollo?”

    “Yes?”

    “Give him the life we never had, won’t you?”

    Apollo tried to find words. When he could not, he managed to nod.

    “Good. Then you’re forgiven, if there was ever anything to forgive.”

    Elysium was starting to fade into darkness. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you, Hya.”

    And then the mortal prince was gone.

    For a moment, there was the crushing weight of darkness – and then Apollo was standing in Mnemosyne’s cave again, shaking and crying as his knees gave way and he hit the floor.

    Artemis rushed to his side, gripping his arm and hauling him up.

    “What did you do to him?” she snarled.

    “I’m fine,” he told her. “I’m fine.” He looked to Mnemosyne, and found the gleam of amusement in her eyes. “Give him back his memories.”

    “Very well,” she smiled. “But I’m afraid there’s a catch, Apollo. You see, he can’t see his father again, this boy.”

    “Why?” Apollo demanded. “He deserves-“

    “If he goes near Daedalus, Zeus will strike him down. Is that understood?”

    “Why? He went through all of this, just for you to separate him from his father?”

    “As the gods see it, Daedalus was trying to elevate himself to their level. They need him alive to set other events in motion, but they do not need Icarus. And what do you think will happen if he realises that dangerous inventions like the wings did not kill his son? What do you think he will build next, Apollo?” Her lips twisted upwards. “He is an inventor. But the other mortals are kings who lust for power. And what do you think they will do, if he matches our powers with mortal creations?”

    “He wouldn’t,” Apollo said.

    “He will create whatever he wants. And people will use his creations against us, if we do not stop them now.”

    She was telling the truth. Apollo knew that, but it didn’t help – because who else did Icarus have left? He wouldn’t be able to trust Apollo, not after this.

    “I can erase all memory of Daedalus from his mind, if you wish.”

    Apollo remembered Icarus’s expression, when they had first found him on the beach. He looked like somebody who thought they were broken. Would he still feel like that again? Icarus deserved to know, but he did not deserve to suffer the loneliness.

    But Icarus was a creator. He thrived on knowledge, and Apollo would not keep something like this from him.

    “No,” he said. “Give him everything.”

    “Very well,” Mnemosyne replied, and the fog coiled around them. “So be it.”

    There was a brief moment of fog so thick he could see nothing through it – and then the three of them were standing on the beach again, and Icarus sat by the shore, gazing out at the water.

    Still safe.

    “Icarus,” he called, and the boy startled. Scrambled to his feet.

    “You’re back,” he said, like maybe he thought they wouldn’t be.

    “Yes.” Apollo smiled. “This is Mnemosyne. The titan of memory.”

    Icarus nodded, his eyes wide with awe. Mnemosyne strode towards him, and though he did not move, he didn’t flinch as she touched her fingers to Icarus’s forehead.

    He dropped to his knees and Apollo rushed forwards to catch him, wrapping his arms around the boy he had almost lost, too many times, to his own burning light and to the sea and to the arrogance of gods. He had lost too much already. Would not lose Icarus again.

    “You’re safe,” he whispered.

    Mnemosyne withdrew. Waited a moment for Icarus to blink back surprise.

    “You… I…” He laughed. “I fell! I survived!”

    He was laughing. Icarus was laughing, laughing and smiling and he was happy and safe.

    “You survived,” Apollo echoed. “Gods, Icarus. You survived.” He held him close, breathed in the sea-salt of his hair. “I’m so sorry for all of this.”

    Icarus looked up at Apollo with something unreadable in his gaze. His brows drew together, and the corner of his lips tugged into a frown. He had remembered everything, and that came with a price. Icarus remembered that he had survived, but also that he fell. And Apollo hadn’t been there to catch him. 

     Apollo waited for the anger, but Mnemosyne cut in. “You will not be able to see your father again.” She explained it again, but her words tumbled together. All Apollo could see was the growing grief on Icarus’s features, the fear, the anguish, and the silent acceptance.

    “He’d make something too dangerous,” Icarus said softly. “And what if somebody else got hurt?”

    “Then you will stay away from him?”

    “Yes.” The word was strained, filled with everything he did not want to do. But to protect people from what his father would create, he would lock himself away.

    Stupid, selfless mortal and his stupid, selfless heart.

    “Do you swear it?”

    “I swear it.”

    “Good.”

    Mnemosyne flicked her wrist and the fog swallowed her completely.

    “Until next time, Apollo,” Artemis added, turning to go.

    “Artemis, wait,” he blurted. She raised an eyebrow.

    “Thank you,” he said, and meant it. “For everything.”

    Artemis smiled at him. “You’re welcome.” The light spilled from her fingertips, and a moment later Apollo and Icarus were the only ones left on the beach.

    Icarus had set his gaze on the sand beneath his feet like he couldn’t speak, maybe didn’t want to, and Apollo drew away, just a little.

    “Whatever you want to tell me,” he murmured, locking away the part of him that screamed against this, “Know that you can say anything.”

    Icarus looked up at him and met his eyes. “I know.”

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