Rite Of Spring – Part 2
The night air ruffled his hair as Hestia escorted him back to his apartment. Drawing on memories far older than his current self, he imagined the piles of snow and slush that slopped beneath his shoes. The scent of the ice and chill wetness was enough to give him an image of the winters of his past life, in a city similar to this one. The bitter scent of refrozen meltwater that formed the slippery sheets of ice Hestia had to help him over, seemed to curl inside his nose as they made their mincing way down the street. Suddenly, it was replaced by the scent of herbs and pita as a door was opened somewhere to his left. That scent was familiar, but Antoni’s was never open at this time.
“Hestia,” he said. “Is that Antoni’s?” The warmth that had been suctioned to his side vanished as Hestia left him to look into the restaurant. Antoni’s was next door to his home. It was a quiet, Mediterranean restaurant– one of the few in this town that served authentic food. Hades was one of their regulars. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk, stiffly upright, and waited for Hestia to return. The change in something so routine made him uncomfortable. In the stillness, Clotho’s words came to haunt him, filling his head with unsolved questions, worry and a trace of fear. Hestia’s absence began to feel much longer than a few moments.
“Yep,” she said, returning to his side. “I guess they changed hours. Would you like to go in for a cup of coffee, Tio? You didn’t have much at Demeter’s.” Like magic, the nauseous emotions that had welled up vanished under her soothing warmth and reassurance.
“Yes, dear. That seems nice.” They entered the shop, the bell above the door announcing their arrival with a bright ting.
“Mister David,” a man called, addressing Hades by his mortal name, the tag of ‘mister’ somewhat mocking. “Good to see a regular. I got nothing but college kids in here all day.”
“I am a college kid, Antoni.” Normally he would have launched into a spiel about what hell having to write a senior thesis was, but he was distracted. The restaurant felt off tonight. It wasn’t just the noise at the unusual hour. The place felt a little too warm, a bit too humid, the scent of spiced meat and chickpea replaced with the light tang of flowers. It brought back the unease. He turned to his closest guess of where the restaurant’s proprietor would be, hoping his vacant gaze landed somewhere near the man’s eyes.
“But you can actually pronounce everything and don’t just order beer,” Antoni shot back. “And you tend to bring the lovely Miss Eva. How are you, dear?”
“Antoni,” Hestia chuckled, the sound vibrating up Hades’ side. “I’m well.”
“You’re open late,” Hades observed, hoping for an answer to his questions.
“Private party,” Antoni stated blithely, though Hades could hear bitterness creeping into his voice for the person keeping him open past hours. “Some law office from downtown. Ambulance chasers. Needed half my restaurant! I had to bring my niece in. She’s supposed to be studying for finals.” His tone changed, beginning to drip with pride as he kept talking. “She’s set to graduate a year early, top of her class and a double major!”
“Very impressive,” Hades nodded along.
“She’s a smart girl.” His voice had turned sly, filled with implications Hades had heard often enough from his own mortal mother. “Single too.”
Not willing to give Antoni the satisfaction, Hades ignored the last bit. “She sounds very accomplished.”
Antoni clapped him on the shoulder, the blow coming unexpectedly but with little force.
“Come, I’ll take you to your usual seat.”
“If it’s a private party, we shouldn’t-”
“Hush! You’re one of my favorites. They’re in the back half anyway. Won’t notice a thing.”
Reluctantly, he nodded, letting Antoni lead them to a familiar table on the wall opposite from the noise. Though Hades could have found his spot on his own, he allowed Hestia to guide him as she and Antoni chatted back and forth. He contented himself with counting the steps on the thin carpet and listening to the click of glasses and tipsy giggles from the party. Antoni handed them both a menu, Hades’ in braille. It was mostly a formality; Hades would order his usual, which Antoni knew by heart by now.
“Please,” Antoni directed them. “Enjoy. I’ll have your coffee out soon, David. And what for you, Miss Eva?”
Antoni’s footsteps receded and the clatter of the party made itself known. Forks and knives were being picked up and put down, clacking against the plates as they went. Ice clinked in glasses. Food sizzled on hot plates and the scent wafted over to him, his heightened sense of smell picking out the individual spices in each dish. The chatter coming from a table closest to them felt low and intimate, a date perhaps?
An extension of his power told him that they were both young, the man younger than the woman, but he was also closer to death. It was one of Hades’ least favorite aspects of his power, to always know when others would die. There was a particular quality to this man’s soul that spoke of sacrifice and pain within the next few decades. At most he had twenty-five years to live.
“They look happy.” Hestia sighed, and he knew she was talking about the couple. “I see their home hearth, it burns bright.”
The wistfulness in her tone as she watched the invisible hearth flame between the couple sent a grim smile across his face. Hestia’s powers were more nebulous than the mythologists understood. There didn’t need to be an actual home fire just a home or family, whatever that looked like. Hestia would be there, tending to the spark that made it whole, keeping the ‘flame’, such as it was, burning as long as she could. As long as Mortals allowed it to live.
“They’re still mortal,” he reminded her, somewhat harshly. “The fires go out.”
“So do ours, Brother. But I’ve often found that the mortals’ flames burn more brightly than those of the gods. We live too long and then are born again, each time we grow dimmer.” Her voice had lost its softness, replaced instead with the bone weariness of all immortals. It was an ache familiar to those who had watched centuries pass and stood amongst them like a rock in a storm at sea. She clasped his hand, still chilled from the outside, warming it between her smaller ones that held the strength and heat of the Hearth. The tingles of power accompanied the bitterness in her tone as she continued. “Mortals can only burn once, but you and I, we will return as often as it takes for humans to forget us, or until we all choose to remain in your realm in Elysium. We are but flickering shadows kept alive by their lights.”
“You make it sound so lonely,” he muttered, the heat of her magic nearly burning his skin, but he couldn’t draw away from the warmth that seemed to touch the part of his soul that still resided amongst the rivers Styx and Acheron. Hades existed half amongst the living and half with the dead, even before he’d ‘remembered’. His spirit was always present as souls were ferried by Chiron, past Cerberus, and into the afterlife. Because of that, he never felt truly warm. His hands were always as chilled as the frozen puddles outside that reflected the black night into his unseeing eyes.
“For some of us, yes, it is lonely,” Hestia said. There was a quality to her voice, something she was holding in check. It almost sounded like joy. “But you, Brother, for all your doom and gloom, were never meant to be so separate.” He heard her shift in her seat. “You’ll see what I mean soon enough.” She sounded so wistful that his heart felt heavy for her. Before he could ask what she meant, he felt her entire demeanor shift, the agelessness of her tone sliding away to be replaced with that of a carefree young adult. “Well, Tio, I’m going to sit at the bar and bother Antoni. You two have fun!”
“What?” But Hestia was gone, her footsteps so light even his enhanced hearing couldn’t track her.
“Excuse me, Sir?”