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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6. SIX

 

    “You’re looking for him, aren’t you?”

    Apollo glanced up at his sister, the smirk dancing across her lips.

    “Don’t taunt me, Artemis.” He stood. “And get out of my temple. I didn’t invite you here.”

    “I’ll be okay. And I’ll see you soon – Father said we can visit your temple, remember?”

    It didn’t feel the same – not now he knew that Icarus wasn’t coming. Maybe never would come.         

    She shrugged. “What if I wasn’t taunting you?”

    But that was all she ever did – they’d grown up competing for Zeus’s attention. Defending each other, when they needed to, but tearing each other down, too.

    “You’re always taunting me.”

    “Am I?”

    “Go away, Artemis.”

    She ignored him. “Look, Apollo – I really want to speak to you about him. Icarus, right? That was his name?”

    Was his name.

    “Go away.”

    Artemis rolled her eyes, pushing her snow-blonde braid over her shoulder. “Why don’t you want to talk about it?”

    Because it was tearing him apart. Because sometimes, pain was too much, the kind of pain you longed to share with somebody else, to let it out, but the kind that made you weak and vulnerable and exposed.

    And gods weren’t supposed to be exposed.

    “You don’t understand.”

    “I’ve lost attendants before,” Artemis said. Goddess of the hunt and the moon and archery. The elegant iridescence to his too-bright gold.

    “It was my fault,” he whispered. “Was it your fault, when your attendants died?”

    She met his gaze. “A mortal gets too close and you blame yourself. Besides – he’s not even dead.”

    “He might be, for all we know! How am I supposed to know where he is?”

    “He’ll just die anyway! That’s what mortals do, Apollo! They die.”

    “But they live, too!” Apollo snapped. “He was living – maybe not inside the tower, but he was going to live his life! He was going to travel everywhere and see everything and invent things – and he still believed in the world, even though it had only ever been cruel to him, and see what happened?”

    “You could never have had him, Apollo. Maybe he loved you back, and maybe you loved him, but his days are numbered,” she told him, and the words were cold and real, too real, and they cut through layers of what ifs and pierced straight into Apollo’s heart, the part that was blinding light, the uncloaked truth about mortal life. “If he’s not already dead, he will be soon.”

    Even if he hadn’t flown too close to the sun, even if he’d ever loved Apollo back – he would fade. He was beautiful, a flame that wouldn’t go out - but he would fade.

    Apollo sunk back to the floor and wrapped his arms around his knees.

    “Go away,” he choked.

    Artemis sat beside him, and said nothing. The silence was choking.

    “Go away,” he said again. “Please.”

    “Talk to me.”

    “You don’t understand.”

    “My attendants-“

    “They’re immortal,” Apollo snapped. “And you’re not… You don’t… You’ve never loved any of them like I loved him.”

    “I’ve loved as much as you loved him,” she said, and there was something like pain laced between her words. “Just not in the same way.”

    Apollo knew. He knew, he knew, he knew – but they were immortal, she made her attendants immortal, but Apollo didn’t have that kind of power.

    “Think about it,” she said. “What would you have done, if everything had worked out?” He looked at her, and the cold light from her blue eyes had faded.

    “I don’t know,” he whispered. “But it would have been a lifetime. Maybe just a mortal lifetime, and… And maybe his days are numbered, but at least there are days!” He rubbed furiously at the tears that burned his eyes. Couldn’t stop them falling. “So many days, Artemis, and what if he could have spent some of them falling in love with the world? And inventing? And what if he could have spent some of them with me? It’s not forever. But maybe it didn’t have to be.”

    “And now you’re scared he won’t have any left?”

    “Of course I’m scared! Where is he? I just want to know if he’s safe, that’s all I want to know.”

    “You want a lot of things,” Artemis said, her expression shifting back to something unreadable, and something inside him screamed that he shouldn’t be telling her this, shouldn’t be vulnerable in front of anybody. But these walls were crumbling too fast and he couldn’t stop them, like this wasn’t even his choice to make, any more.

    “I want this the most. I need to know if he’s okay.”

    Artemis stood up. “All right.”

    “What do you mean all right?” Apollo snapped. “You’re done? You’re just going to… Going to get me to tell you everything and then walk away?”

    “No,” she said, and reached for his wrist, gripping tight. And suddenly they were swallowed in Artemis’s silver light, and Apollo wanted to throw up because what if she was taking them to the Hall of Olympus? To expose his weakness to Zeus?

    “Let go!” he hissed, but then they were standing in a glade where the moonlight danced across the grass and between the animal-skin tents, and Apollo faltered.

    “The I’ll help you find him sort of all right,” she replied, and the phantom of a smile touched her lips. “Wait here.”

    Apollo stood as his sister, who had always tried to best him in everything he did, who had always sneered at his failures, who had always fought him for their father’s attention, strode into her camp, her braid swinging behind her, her hunting attendants leaving their tents to greet her.

    One of them broke away and headed towards Apollo.

    “She’s finding Icarus, I take it?”

    “She’s finding Icarus,” Apollo echoed, and the words didn’t seem real. “She’s finding Icarus.”

    The attendant grinned. “Don’t tell her I told you this, but she always planned to. She was just trying to figure out whether to make sure he was safe with or without telling you.”

    “She wasn’t,” Apollo said, but it felt more like a question. It was impossible – Artemis wouldn’t want to protect Icarus, would she? She wouldn’t care.

    “She was. She actually cares about you, you know.”

    “She doesn’t.”

    “Are we going to be here all night? She’s your twin sister. And maybe family’s a lot more than who you’re born with, but I think she’d choose you anyway, if she had the choice.” Her attendant grinned at him.

    “She never expressed any concern for me-“

    “Gods aren’t good at feelings. They’re good at showing anger, but not much else. You understand that, don’t you? You’re scared of being weak.”

    I’m not, he wanted to say, but he was, he always had been, he was terrified of it.

    And Artemis cared about him. And she was going to find Icarus.

    “But… I didn’t think she’d understand enough to care.”

    “A different kind of love,” her attendant shrugged. “Who cares what sort of love it is? You’re romantically in love with Icarus, and you’d do anything for him.Some people feel the same about those they platonically love.” She gazed at Artemis where she stood talking to her other attendants in the camp. A smile flitted across her lips. “Trust me, I know.”

    Apollo found himself suddenly glad his sister had companions like this. “That wasn’t what I meant. She’s always so calm, I thought she’d just assume I was overreacting or something. She doesn’t feel desperation as much as I do.”

    “She doesn’t show it,” her attendant said, a smile dancing across her lips, “But she understands it. A lot of us are desperate, her attendants. We were trapped in despair and not knowing what to do. We were misfits when she took us in, born to something we didn’t want to be. And maybe we’re still all misfits, but we know who we are, now. And we’re her misfits.”

    Apollo stared at the girl standing before him, the girl who had once been a mortal, who had suffered and fought and survived. These were the people at Artemis’s side, when she needed them. These were the hunters who would fight the rest of the gods to keep her safe, who would do anything for her.

    “I’m glad she has you.”

    “I’m glad we have her. And you have her, too, right?”

    “No, I-“ Apollo started, but he faltered. Because who else had tracked down the boy he loved, had talked to him to make sure seeing Icarus wouldn’t break him even more? “Yes,” he said eventually. “I suppose I do.”

    They stood in silence for a moment. And then, quietly, “What’s your name? I never asked.”

    “Polyphonte,” the girl said.

    “It’s a pretty name.”

    She shrugged. “It’s just a name.” And then her grin widened and Apollo turned around to see Artemis heading towards them, the smile creeping across her lips.

    “My attendants have found him,” she said. “We’ll take you to him now, if you wish?”

    “He’s safe,” Apollo choked out. “He’s safe, Icarus is safe-“

    “He’s safe,” Artemis repeated.

    “Thank you.” His legs felt weak and he wanted to collapse and breathe and laugh and cry because Icarus was safe, Icarus was safe Icarus was safe Icarus was safe-

    “Do you want to go to him?”

    Alone, yes, but safe.

    “Yes,” he breathed.

    Artemis reached out her arm, and Apollo clasped her wrist. The familiar silver light swelled around them.

    And then they were standing on the shore, the sea stretching out before them, catching the silver glow of Artemis’s moon, and all around them were looming cliffs and the gentle whisper of waves kissing the shore.

    “Turn around,” Artemis said.

    He did.

    Icarus.

    Icarus, with his hopeful ocean eyes and impossible smile and his too-big heart, Icarus Icarus Icarus Icarus-

    “You’re okay,” Apollo managed. He didn’t move. Couldn’t move. “I missed you, Icarus, I… You’re safe now.”

    But Icarus stepped back, and there was no joy in the expression he wore, just surprise and confusion, and something inside Apollo crumbled.

    Icarus didn’t want to see him. Icarus knew, of course he knew, that Apollo was dangerous, he finally understood, and he blamed him, of course he blamed him, of course he knew that it was Apollo’s fault he was here.

    He finally understood that the sun was powerful and beautiful, yes, but beautiful things can break you and powerful things are dangerous.

    Apollo should not have come back.

    “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

    “I don’t…” Icarus stammered, and of course, he didn’t want to see Apollo again, didn’t want him to be here- “I don’t know who you are.”

    Had Apollo really hurt him so much? That the shards of his broken trust had cut apart whatever he’d thought of Apollo before?

    “I promise, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I’m still Apollo-“

    “I don’t remember you,” Icarus blurted. “I don’t remember anything.” His eyes were wide with panic. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, I just… I can’t…”

    Had Zeus done this? It was the sort of cruelty he would weave – even if Apollo found the boy he loved, it was proof. That mortals were easy to control, to hurt, that seeing a part of him gone would break parts of Apollo, too.

    Apollo took another step towards him, and this time Icarus flinched but didn’t move back.

    “It’s okay,” Apollo said, trying to even his voice and keep the fear from staining it. “Your name is Icarus. You… We were friends, before you lost your memory.”

    “Friends,” Icarus echoed. “I… You’re Apollo? The Apollo?”

    “Yes. The Apollo,” Artemis interrupted, and Icarus’s eyes widened. Sea blue, beautiful, but scared.

    “You’re a god,” Icarus said, like he was testing the words on his mouth. “I’m not… I’m just…”

    “You’re a mortal,” Apollo told him.

    “Why were we friends? You’re a god. You don’t have time for mortals-“

    Apollo took another step forwards, set his hand on Icarus’s shoulder. “I do, Icarus. I have time for you. And you’re not like any other mortal, you’re-“

    Artemis gave a pointed cough from behind him.

    “I’m sorry,” Icarus whispered. “I don’t remember any of this. I’m sorry.”

    “Don’t apologise,” Apollo begged. “You’ll be okay, Icarus, we’ll sort something out…” And he didn’t know who he was, didn’t understand what he’d been through to get here, didn’t remember every trial he’d overcome – but that was who he was. He was a mortal who had always refused to give up, who had read every book Apollo had brought to the tower for him, who had built and laughed and dreamed.

    “I’ll find a way to get your memories back,” he promised.

    “Really?” Icarus asked. “But you’re a god-“

    “And you changed my life.” He hadn’t been meaning to say the words, but they had been there, waiting to tumble from his lips, and he did not regret them.

    “You don’t have to help me-“

    “It should be possible,” Artemis said, and Apollo turned to his sister. Saw the determination gleaming in her silver-blue eyes. He’d always mistaken it for a cold sort of cruelty, but he realised, now, with the moonlight painting her skin and hair and eyes, that she was not cruel. Unforgiving, steadfast, powerful.

    But his sister was not cruel.

    “Thank you,” he breathed.

    “We’ll have to leave Icarus here,” she warned. “We’ll speak to Mnemosyne.”

    “Who-“ Icarus started, but Apollo cut him off.

    “Goddess of memory. A titan, actually, but… Well, we’ll be fine.” All things considered, it was probably going to be incredibly dangerous – even for them. But Icarus didn’t have to know that. “We’ll be back soon, okay?”

    Icarus nodded. “Apollo,” he mumbled, and something in Apollo’s heart crumbled when he heard his name in Icarus’s voice again. Like maybe there was still something left to save. “Thank you.”

    “Think nothing of it.” He squeezed Icarus’s shoulder. “Wait here.”

    Another nod. “Goodbye, Apollo.”

    “Goodbye, Icarus.”

    And then Artemis gripped his wrist again, silver light melting from her fingertips and wrapping around them.

    Icarus was gone again.

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