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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9. NINE

    Icarus’s mind reeled at the titan’s touch. It was as if her fingers ghosted through his mind, jarring loose memories that he hadn’t even known he possessed. It came in flashes, split second frames cast one after another, almost too much to follow.

 

    A workshop, warm and well-lit, and almost painful in its familiarity. Home.

    A man with steady hands and worn eyes tinkering with bits of metal. Books everywhere.

    His name - Icarus. “Icarus,” the man said, smiling softly. “One day, we’ll leave this place. And you and your brilliant mind will astonish the world.” A rush of warmth, of excitement, of trust.

    The deep windowsill next to Icarus’s bed, where he stared out at the ocean, at the sun breaking over the horizon. Day after day, the sun rose, the sun set.

    Claustrophobia. The itch to leap from the tower, to spread his arms and soar to freedom. The promise that, one day, he would.

    The sun - the bright constant that Icarus depended on. When the panic took him, when the fear that they would be trapped in this tower until they died overcame him, the sun was there for comfort. First as a distant light to pray to, then as the god himself, prayers answered.

    Apollo. Light and warmth and gentle smiles. Long conversations in the deep of night, rapt interest in the work of Icarus’s hands. The implausibility, impossibility. A god interested in a human.

    The fear that maybe Icarus had dreamt him up. A way to cope with the near total isolation. It would make more sense than for such an honor to be his.

    Wings of wood and wax and feathers. Wings strapped to his back, laced around his arms. The power that surged through him, drowning the warnings in his ears. The joy of freedom.

    “I’ll see you soon, won’t I?” Apollo’s words in his ears.

    Higher, higher, exhilaration, freedom, release.

    “Soon.” Icarus’s reply.

    The sun so bright, so warm, so inviting. Apollo was there. He was guiding the chariot across the sky, and Icarus wanted to see him. He wanted Apollo to see the joy written on his features, the pride in his father’s creation.

    “Be careful, Icarus.”

    Higher, higher. Just a little higher.

    “Don’t trust the gods.”

    And then, the fall.

 

    Icarus felt himself falling, his legs giving out under the weight of memory, but he did not hit the ground. He was caught by two strong arms - warm, safe. They held him tight as he blinked, eyes adjusting to what he saw, re-writing it in light of new memory. His gaze found Apollo’s face, so foreign before, so familiar now. It was laced with concern, confusion. Fear.

    Icarus began to laugh. “You… I…” He laughed and smiled and closed his eyes. “I fell!” Icarus looked up at Apollo, willing him to share his joy. “I survived!”

    It was slow, but the tension in Apollo’s features eased. “You survived,” he echoed. “Gods, Icarus. You survived.” His voice was imbued with wonder, relief, disbelief. Apollo’s arms tightened around Icarus, and Icarus let himself melt like wax in the sun. “I’m so sorry for all of this.”

    But his most recent memories had not been erased. Like a frigid wave, the memory of his conversation with Aoide came crashing down upon him. He tried to look at Apollo now, tried to see him in a different light. Tried to see if he was still broken.

    The sun god was beautiful, radiant even. His golden skin, his silken hair, his soulful eyes were breathtaking, and Icarus felt a rush of fondness for him. Fondness, or maybe even love. But not in the way required of a lover. He searched his newfound memories for any indication that he might once have felt that way, or that Apollo would expect such of him. He found nothing, but the knot in his chest didn’t ease. Just because Apollo had not ask for anything of him before did not mean that he wouldn’t now. Now, after going to such lengths to restore Icarus’s memory, after putting in so much time and effort to care for him.

    Icarus realized that while he was studying Apollo, trying to work out his feelings for him, Apollo was staring back at him. Uncertainty and worry crept back into Apollo’s gaze.

    Mnemosyne interrupted whatever they might have said, or might have done. Icarus didn’t want to admit how thankful he was. “You will not be able to see your father again,” she said, and whatever gratefulness Icarus had to her vanished in an instant.

    Icarus’s ears stayed open as she explained, but his eyes glazed over. Daedalus. Daedalus and his brilliant mind, his nimble fingers, his wise words. Living with only each other for years and years, they had run into their differences and their arguments, but at heart, Icarus loved his father. And still, he could see the titan’s logic.

    For all his brilliance, Daedalus was dangerous.

    We inventors, Daedalus had said once, the flicker of a dwindling candle lighting his face as he poured over a detailed sketch, we are the ones with the power to change the world. The gods can do many things, yes, but they rely on worship from mortals for their power. And mortals rely on the gods to achieve the impossible. He folded his hands and leaned closer, capturing Icarus’s already rapt attention. But inventors - we do not rely on gods alone. We rely on ourselves. And whatever we create - that is no magic. That is wit. And that is power.

    And then he had created the wings that Icarus had almost killed himself with.

    As painful as it was, Icarus could see that Mnemosyne was right. The thought that his inventions had killed his son would be devastating to Daedalus, but also humbling. If he knew what a success the wings were, he would be emboldened. Already at the border of disrespecting the gods, Icarus didn’t imagine Zeus would take kindly to Daedalus soaring the skies, let alone other mortals.

    “He’d make something too dangerous,” Icarus admitted. “And what if somebody else got hurt?” he thought aloud.

    The woman’s gaze was piercing. “Then you will stay away from him?”

    “Yes.” He had no choice, but even if he had, he would have decided the same. Icarus could not indulge his own selfishness at the risk of someone getting hurt. Someone who didn’t have the sun god looking out for them.

    “Do you swear it?”

    “I swear it.”

    She nodded. “Good.” And then with a flick of the wrist and a cloud of fog, Mnemosyne was gone.

    The woman in the shimmering silver clothes moved to follow suit. “Until next time, Apollo,” she nodded to Apollo, who was still holding Icarus like he might vanish any second.

    “Artemis, wait,” Apollo blurted. Artemis paused and looked at him expectantly. “Thank you,” he said. “For everything.” There was something behind his words that Icarus didn’t know. He was lucky to even know as much as he did about the god, and so he contained his curiosity.

    Artemis’s smile was just as small and secret. “You’re welcome.”

    And then she, too, was gone in a flash of moonlight. And Apollo and Icarus were left alone.

    Icarus trained his eyes on the sand under his toes, and he felt Apollo stiffen slightly, withdraw. His heart fell. Perhaps now that they were alone, Apollo would drop whatever ruse of relief he had employed and reprimand Icarus for disobeying him, for flying too close to the sun as he knew he should not.

    But instead, Apollo averted his gaze and muttered, “Whatever you want to tell me, know that you can say anything.”

    Icarus stared at him, not comprehending, until Apollo met his eyes. And then, he understood. Apollo was scared, and somehow, Icarus had the power to calm him. Or destroy him. “I know,” he answered, mind reeling too much to think of anything else to say.

    Still trying to comprehend the lengths Apollo had gone to on his behalf, Icarus shifted slightly to better look at Apollo. Apollo dropped his arms instantly, his face pained, interpreting Icarus’s confusion for condemnation. “I’m so sorry, Icarus,” Apollo said again, his eyes downcast. “If you hate me, if you never want to see me again, I promise I will leave you alone.”

    This served only to deepen Icarus’s confusion. “Why would I hate you?”

    Now Apollo, too was confused. He looked up. “I let you fall. I was supposed to protect you, but I couldn’t even catch you when you fell. It was me, it was my sun that melted your wings.”

    Icarus almost laughed. Apollo’s worries seemed almost ridiculous. “But it was I who didn’t listen to your warnings. You told me not to fly too close to the sun and to be careful, but I didn’t listen. You should hate me. And now, everything that you had to do to get my memories back-“

    “Was all worth it,” Apollo cut him off. Confusion, now, or hope?

    “I-“ Icarus stopped. What was so special about him? “Do all gods go to such lengths for mortals?”

    Apollo’s eyes were bright and kind. “They do for the ones they love.”

    Icarus’s heart raced with warmth and fear in equal measures. He loved Apollo, he knew now. But what Apollo might expect and what Icarus was willing to give were not such close matches. “Apollo,” he began, “I don’t think I can…”

    Apollo’s face fell, betraying a moment of pure emotion and devastation before settling into a forced blank mask. “I understand. Gods are dangerous, selfish, petty. And you - so bright and pure and selfless… I can see why you would not love me.”

    “No, Apollo,” Icarus hurried to correct. “I do love you. You’re none of those things. You’re safe, and loyal, and caring. And I missed you every moment when I was trapped in the tower and you were unable to visit. I’d watch your sun go across the sky and pray to you and wonder if you heard.”

    “I heard,” Apollo whispered.

    Icarus swallowed. “I just… I think something’s broken in me. I love you, but not in the way of lovers. Not in the way that you, a perfect, beautiful god, would expect or want and I-“ he let out a shaky breath but pushed on, “-I have nothing to offer you.”

    “Broken?” Apollo echoed. “Icarus, you aren’t broken.”

    But Icarus only nodded. “I am. Maybe it happened in the fall, but resisting the sirens’ song is proof. I can’t love you like that.”

    “Sirens? You escaped sirens?” Apollo began to ask, then shook his head. “We’ll get to that later. You’re safe, and that’s what matters.” He shifted closer, laying a tentative hand on Icarus’s arm. After a breath, he said, “I knew this about you since before the fall. I’ve seen how so many humans act around me, and it was clear that you were different.”

    Icarus’s heart threatened to stop.

    “Icarus, I’m not asking for you to love me in any specific way. I have had many conquests in my long life. I’ve sired many children. I’ve made some… regrettable choices. But you - you’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before. I love you for your mind and your curiosity and your spirit. I will take any love you are willing to give, in any form you wish to give it. I’ve had my share of meaningless dalliances, but you… you mean everything.”

    Icarus was sure there were tears in his eyes. He collapsed into Apollo’s arms, which circled around him and held him close. What had he done to deserve this? Whatever it was, he was ever thankful for it. For a while, they simply sat there, letting the turmoil and tension drain from them with the tide. Icarus felt like he could stay there forever, just… existing.

    After a while, Apollo pressed his cheek to Icarus’s hair, tilting his head to ask, “So, sirens?”

    Icarus opened his eyes and looked out at the water. It had been a while since Aoide had last left, and he couldn’t tell if she had returned. In the darkness, the surface of the water was like a mirror, obscuring what lay beneath.

    “When I woke up in the water, I was next to a ship surrounded by sirens,” Icarus explained. “But the one who found me, she…” He searched the water. “She was different. She hid me from the others in a cave for a while, then brought me up to the surface when I couldn’t stand being in the dark any longer.”

    “But she sang to you?” Apollo asked.

    Icarus nodded. “Yes, but it didn’t do anything. Probably because of the way… the way I am. I think she kept me alive at first because she was intrigued, but then we kind of… reached an understanding. I think we’re friends now.” He could feel Apollo’s heartbeat against his cheek. The gods had heartbeats? Icarus wondered if their hearts were as fragile as humans’. “She might be here now. Aoide?” Icarus called.

    They waited a beat, but nothing happened.

    Frowning, Icarus said, “I hope she’s okay. I know she was worried that the sirens would find out she was helping me. I think they’d hurt her if they knew.”

    Apollo shifted. “Hurt her?”

    “Yes, I don’t think she was supposed to be helping humans,” Icarus answered, confused.

    “Icarus, they wouldn’t hurt her. They would hurt you.”

    Icarus tilted his head to look up at Apollo. “They can’t hurt me. Their song doesn’t work on me.”

    “There are other ways for them to hurt you besides their song.”

    “But why?”

    Apollo’s eyes were sad. “Icarus, do you know all the myths about sirens?”

    Icarus shook his head. “Only what was in the books you brought. But they were only mentioned in passing.”

    His voice solemn, Apollo replied, “If there was no consequence to failing to complete their punishment, sirens might have done their duty and sung their song, but stopped short of drowning sailors long ago. I don’t believe they are all bad at heart.”

    “Aoide isn’t. I know that.”

    “But even so,” Apollo continued. “If a siren sings her song to someone and they escape, the siren dies.” There was a moment of silence. “If she was avoiding the other sirens, it was likely so they wouldn’t kill you to save her.”

    Icarus blinked, his stomach churning. “But- She was… She was just going to let me go? And die?” He pulled away from Apollo and pushed himself to his feet. Heading towards the water, Icarus called, “Aoide!” He took another few steps. “Aoide!”

    Apollo’s hand closed on his arm before he could set foot in the water. “It’s not safe in the water. It’s not even safe for you so close on shore. You should stay towards the cliffs.”

    “But we have to find her,” Icarus said, scanning the water. “She’s going to die.”

    Apollo turned Icarus to look at him. “Whether we find her or not, she’s still going to die.”

    “There has to be something we can do-“

    “Short of killing you…” Apollo trailed off, pain in his voice. “I can’t lose you again, Icarus. Aoide made her decision.”

    Icarus’s jaw was set. “Then at least let me wait here for her to come back. Maybe we can think of something.”

    Apollo looked sad. “It’s almost dawn. I’ll have to go soon, and I’m not leaving you here alone.”

    Icarus would not be swayed. “I’ll be fine.” Apollo was about to protest, but Icarus wouldn’t let him. “She was going to die for me. I can’t let her do that without at least saying thank you. And goodbye.”

    At last, Apollo relented. “Alright. But I’m asking Artemis to send an attendant or two to watch over you, alright?”

    It was a compromise, but Icarus agreed. Dawn was approaching fast, and Apollo took his leave. He hugged Icarus tight, saying into his ear, “Please don’t do anything stupid? I’ll be back soon.”

    “I’ll be fine,” Icarus said again. He smiled at the radiant god. “I know you’ll be watching me from above.”

    “I always will be.”

 

 

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