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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7. SEVEN

    The realization settled over Aoide like daybreak. Slow, but certain and unwavering. And when it had dawned, everything felt clear and fresh and sharp, and there was no going back. There was no shoving the sun back below the horizon and hiding in the dark any longer. There was no denying what she was going to do. 

    Aoide was going to let Icarus go. 

    It was sometime between when the god with love etched into his features had gazed upon Icarus and when Icarus had apologized for the third time that Aoide knew there was no other choice. Apollo loved Icarus - that much would be clear even if Aoide were watching from the murky depths of the ocean. Apollo radiated love like he radiated light, and if she took Icarus from him, he would no doubt punish her. 

    But that was not why she would not act. To earn the love of an immortal god, Icarus must be beyond worthy. He must be a god among men, a priceless jewel of a soul who shined bright enough to eclipse all the other humans vying for the attention of the gods. Aoide caught a sense of this in his steadfastness in the face of temptation, but Apollo gave certain proof. Icarus deserved to live, and to destroy his life and Apollo’s love to save herself would be cruel, heartless, irredeemable. She didn’t need another act like that on her conscience. 

    Aoide knew from the start that she didn’t want to hurt Icarus. She also knew the implications of letting him go. But only then, in the light of day, did it become real. 

    She was going to die. 

    There was something wistful and sad about the thought. It wasn’t some far off distant thing like it had been before. It was real, it was now. Or soon, anyway, after Apollo returned from wherever he had gone to get Icarus’s memory restored. He would doubtless succeed; he was a god, and Aoide knew first hand what gods were capable of. And when he returned, he would take Icarus by the hand and bear him off to some new life, and Aoide would do nothing but watch them go. 

    But for now, Aoide simply drifted just under the surface of the water, watching the way the light broke into rays, shifting and shining. Every now and then, she would surface to feel the air on her cheeks, the warmth on her skin. It was daytime now, and the other sirens would soon wonder where she had gone. And yet, Aoide couldn’t bring herself to return to them. It was foolish, she knew, to test the limits of their suspicion by disappearing for so long, but in comparison to Apollo and Icarus and life and death, the sirens were the least interesting thing on Aoide’s mind. She would miss them, in a twisted sort of way. She would not miss the song, but rather being a part of something larger, something shared. Not that she would have time to miss much before death took her. 

    “Aoide?” Icarus asked, his voice small and hesitant next to the roar of the waves and the soaring cliffs. 

    Aoide was drifting at the surface of the water, letting the tide move her at will. “Yes?” she replied, straightening so that the water could drain from her ears. 

    Icarus sat on the shore, his toes buried in the sand. Some of Artemis’s attendants had arrived a while ago, bringing a small collection of food and supplies for Icarus, but they sat untouched in the dunes. “I-“ He stopped. “Never mind.” 

    Twisting to face him, Aoide surveyed Icarus. He almost seemed larger in the cave. At least he was in control down there; he had no idea what he was missing until Apollo showed up. “What is it?” Aoide prompted. She felt weird for caring. Human lives were so short - a fact which she knew well - and she was accustomed to the idea that she would outlive them all. There was no reason to take interest. But now, he would outlive her. What harm was there in filling her last moments or hours or days with conversation? 

    Talking with Icarus was different than talking with the sirens. Aoide could see bits of the Persephone she knew, the Persephone she missed, in him. Young, innocent, a beautiful soul with a bright mind. Bursting with potential. Aoide had failed Persephone, but she did not have to fail Icarus. 

    “Nothing,” Icarus said, his eyes still not raising from the sand. “Won’t the sirens be missing you?” 

    Aoide nodded. “Soon I will have to leave to pay a visit. But I will return.”

    “Please do,” whispered Icarus as he wrapped his arms around his knees. 

    Aoide let a moment pass where only the water moved. Then, she said, “I hope I have proven myself trustworthy. If there is something you wish to say, I would like to hear.”

    Icarus’s eyes flicked to hers, then back to the shore. He looked as if he was struggling with himself. “I-“ he began again. “I think more might have broken in me than just my memory.”

    Swimming closer, Aoide wedged herself between two half submerged rocks almost like a seat. She gave Icarus her rapt attention. “What do you mean?”

    Every word seemed painful for Icarus. “I just… Apollo said we were friends. But the way he acted… it seemed like we were something else.” The moment the words left his mouth, his cheeks flushed red. “That’s vain of me to think. That a god would have any interest in a human like me.”

    “No,” Aoide assured him. “I received the same impression. Gods do not act like that for casual friends. Apollo’s feelings for you are much deeper.”

    She had meant to reassure Icarus, but instead he looked more shaken. “That’s why I’m worried. I don’t think I feel that way about him.”

    Aoide frowned. “You do not know him, not anymore. When you regain your memory or become reacquainted with him, you might fall in love with him again.”

    Still, Icarus’s expression didn’t change. “No, it’s not about loving him as a person. It’s just, if we were more than friends, that would make us…” He forced the next word out. “… lovers, and I don’t think I feel that way about him.” Icarus’s face was burning red again, and he stammered on. “Just like you. I mean, I don’t feel that way about you. Not that you aren’t beautiful, just-“

    “My song,” Aoide marveled. “Perhaps this is why you were immune.”

    “Why?”     

    Aoide’s eyes brightened with the solving of this puzzle. “Sirens turn into what will best attract their prey - what they lust after. But if you are not attracted to men or to women, or maybe to anyone, then you are not attracted to me, no matter how I appear. And so you were able to hear my song and resist.”

    Everything Aoide said seemed to dishearten Icarus further. “So I am broken.”

    “How do you know this is not how you have always been?” Aoide asked. 

    Icarus squeezed his eyes shut. “Because Apollo would never love me like that.”

    Aoide could feel the pull in her gut. She had to get back to the sirens before they came looking for her, and she knew it would be soon. Very soon. “I have to go now. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” The change in conversation was abrupt, but Icarus didn’t seem to mind. His thoughts were elsewhere as he nodded. 

    Still, Aoide hesitated. “Icarus,” she said, waiting until he looked over at her to continue, “as I said before, you do not know him anymore. Do not judge him before you do.”

    Aoide shared one last long look with Icarus and then left the boy to his thoughts.

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