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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3. THREE

 

    The moment his sun horses were safely back on sacred ground, Apollo returned to the Hall of Olympus and tried to keep himself from trembling.

    The blank marble walls were too cold, the blues and oranges of the mosaic floor too bright, and Apollo just wanted to go back to the workshop, when everything was warm and safe and Icarus was okay.

    Icarus, Icarus, Icarus. How was Apollo supposed to think of anything else? How was he supposed to know if Poseidon had honoured their deal? A favour – anything he asked of Apollo, in return for Icarus’s life. That had been all they’d said before Zeus had ordered Apollo to return to the sun chariot, before the horses drove the heat too close to the earth.

    Before Apollo’s blaze hurt anybody else.

    He avoided his father’s gaze as he strode to Poseidon’s throne, and that sea-salt smell washed over him. Had Icarus lived to taste it? Had the ocean broken his back, or had it filled his lungs as he stared upwards, at the sun, at the god he’d trusted but had betrayed him?

    “Poseidon,” he said, and tried to keep the terror from his voice. “Please. Tell me he’s safe.”

    “We made a deal, Apollo. The ocean caught him, as you requested, and he was alive when it washed him up.”

    Apollo nearly collapsed to his knees from relief.

    “Where is he?” Apollo begged, and Poseidon’s fingers drummed against the marble of his throne, his turquoise eyes calm and calculating.

    “Why should I tell you? You’ve had your favour. Consider yourself lucky.”

    “He could be anywhere. It might be dangerous, what if-“

    “Why does it matter?” Zeus interrupted, and Apollo turned to face him.

    “He matters, Father,” Apollo snapped.

    “He’s just a mortal. It was arrogance that did this to him – and your foolish love that kept him alive. Do not fall for men who try to make gods of themselves.”

    It wasn’t arrogance, or Icarus trying to imitate the gods. It had been Icarus tasting freedom and light and the chance of a future.

    “He was only trying to escape. He did nothing wrong,” Apollo snapped.

    Sometimes, it felt like the gods were so ensnared in their wars and lust for power that they’d forgotten what freedom tasted like. Or maybe they hadn’t. Maybe it brushed their dreams with phantom kisses, maybe they wanted to keep it to themselves.

    “He did, though, didn’t he? He failed. He thought he was powerful enough to withstand the heat of the sun.”

    “That wasn’t what he thought-“

    “He is mortal, Apollo,” Zeus said, rising from his throne, towering above his son. “And mortals crave power, but it is not theirs to take. Mortals who try to make their own are dangerous.”

    Apollo met his gaze, and he didn’t buckle. “He wasn’t making power. He was making a way out. You know the wings were his idea, don’t you? Daedalus designed them, but it was Icarus who thought of them, Icarus who refused to give up, Icarus who believed in flying when no mortal had ever flown before. He wasn’t trying to steal your stupid power, he was dreaming.”

    Because that was who Icarus was. He was a mortal boy who laughed and smiled and dreamed. He didn’t care about power.

    Besides, it wasn’t power that made you dangerous. It was what you were willing to do with it. And Zeus’s power defined him.

    “Dreams are fragile,” Zeus sneered.

    “His weren’t.”

    “Then why did he end up in the sea?”

    Zeus was king of the gods before he was Apollo’s father. He was the sky god, lord of Olympus, bringer of storms. He was more worried about losing his power than he was about losing his son. And that was where he and Apollo differed - because there were things more important than being powerful.

    “Because he trusted me. He ended up in the sea because gods are dangerous, but he trusted me anyway. And now I don’t know where he is, but you don’t care, do you? All you care about is your stupid, stupid power.”

    And his legs felt weak and he was shaking and the nausea was crushing him, but all Zeus did was sneer.

    “Of course gods are dangerous. Why do you think I warned you to stay away? It was your love that killed him, your love that pulled him closer, your so-called love that tore him from the sky.” Apollo’s eyes were stinging, burning, his vision blurred. “He is a mortal. He is weak.”

    And before Apollo could scream at him that he knew, he knew he knew he knew he knew, storm clouds crackled into life from thin air, rushing over Zeus and engulfing him in that terrifying power.

    Then he was gone, and Apollo was left standing alone with Poseidon’s unfeeling gaze fixed on him.

    “It’s best if you give up on him,” Poseidon advised. A moment later, the water at the foot of his throne had rushed up around him and he was gone, undoubtedly returning to his water palace.

    Apollo’s knees gave out and he choked out a strangled scream, slamming his fists against the ground again and again and again, screaming and sobbing and choking, “Icarus, Icarus, Icarus,” and soon his name became natural as it fell from Apollo’s lips.

    He wanted to find Icarus, wanted to hold him tight and hear his heartbeat and tell him sorry, sorry, sorry.

    But for all his power, Apollo couldn’t find him, and who knew where Icarus was?

    He wanted to stop hurting.

    He wanted to call Zeus back, tell him that Icarus wasn’t weak. Tell him that Icarus had thrown himself from a tower because of hope alone, that Icarus had done the impossible, that Icarus might be fighting to stay alive somewhere.

    Of the two of them, Apollo was weak. It wasn’t Icarus screaming, collapsed on the floor and lying alone, helpless, helpless, helpless.

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