"Falling in love is one of the hardest things to do, because you can never be certain that someone will catch you."
Chapter 3: Free Fall
Several Months Later
Hermes was late for dinner once again, and Apollo found himself tapping his foot in annoyance. What could the cretin possibly be up to now?
A second later, the messenger skidded into the room and slid into his seat. Apollo was the only one who shot him a chastising look; the other family members were too used to the younger god's antics to care.
"We're still waiting on Aphrodite," Hephaestus informed Hermes.
"Good," Hermes said, sounding slightly out of breath. Apollo looked at him suspiciously. Hermes looked back at him, and a grin spread across the elfish face. With that one look, Apollo knew that the messenger was up to no good.
"What did you do?" Apollo mouthed at him. Hermes shook his head slightly, signaling that he would find out soon enough.
Unfortunately, Hera did not miss this exchange.
"What's going on?" she demanded of her two stepsons. Apollo bit his lip to keep from spitting out the truth – being the god of truth was difficult sometimes. He glared at Hermes with acucsation.
The young god smiled at Hera innocently. "Nothing."
Hera's interrogation was cut short by the blood-curdling scream that echoed through the palace.
Zeus looked up in alarm. "Was that Aphrodite?"
His question was answered when said goddess ran into the dining hall. Her hair was as orange as the setting sun.
The reactions of each god were as different as the sun and moon. Hera simply stared, frozen with shock. Apollo, usually stoic, was fighting the urge to smile. Hephaestus smirked at the sight of his wife. Hermes had already fallen off his chair, and was doubled over with laughter. Zeus was looking upon the scene with amusement.
"You!" the love goddess screeched, pointing at her half-brother – the one that was still rolling around on the floor. "You did this!"
"Stating the obvious," Apollo muttered. Aphrodite shot daggers at him before returning her attention to Hermes.
"You stupid, feathery, little monster-!"
"Is that all you can come up with?" Hermes gasped, wiping the tears from his face.
Aphrodite screamed with rage. "I look like a pumpkin!"
"I know!" the messenger hooted with glee.
"I thought pumpkins had green stems," Zeus mused, twirling his fork between his fingers.
"Argh!" his daughter yelled, rounding on him. He immediately fell silent.
"Stop throwing a tantrum and sit down," Hera ordered, finally recovering from her initial shock.
"A tantrum?" Aphrodite exclaimed. "Look at me!" She pointed at her head.
"I've already seen you," the elder goddess snapped. "Now sit down so we can eat."
"I'm glad things are back to normal," Zeus stated happily, earning a glare from his wife. The king shrugged.
"You're still beautiful, darling." Hephaestus finally spoke up, trying to comfort the ruffled goddess. Finally, she took a seat. Hermes, too, climbed up from the floor and slid back into his chair. The gods dug into the food that was already piled on the table, carefully staying away from the subject of Aphrodite's hair.
"That was uncalled for," Apollo said to Hermes under his breath, after making sure that Aphrodite was distracted. "She didn't do anything to you."
Hermes sniggered. "It isn't like I put a poisonous snake in her bed. Besides, isn't vanity a bad thing?"
Apollo considered the question for a while. "Bragging is a bad thing," he finally decided.
"Whatever you say," Hermes muttered, taking a bite of his dinner. The two gods generally had polar opposite views on things. But didn't the saying go that opposites attract?
When Hermes had finished dinner, he sat back and yawned widely.
"Sounds like someone needs to go to bed," Apollo commented.
"Mmph," was the intelligent response.
Apollo stood in one graceful movement, pushing his chair back as he did so. "I'll come with you. I want to go to bed, too."
Hermes looked up at the older god, smiling prettily. "Why, Apollo – I didn't know you felt that way about me…"
"Don't be ridiculous," Apollo said, not meeting his eyes. He could feel his face turning red, and when he looked up, he caught sight of Zeus staring at them both, aghast. As quickly as possible, he led Hermes out of the room.
Hermes' room was closest to the dining hall. Both gods stopped outside the entrance, shifting uncomfortably and waiting for the other to speak. "Well…" Apollo said quietly.
With the quick smile that Hermes was so famous for, he stood on his tiptoes until his green eyes were level with Apollo's blue ones. "Good night," he whispered, pressing a chaste kiss Apollo's lips. Then, quick as a flash, he disappeared into his room, slipping past the curtain that hung in the entryway.
Apollo returned to his own room and prepared to go to bed. He ran a brush through his long hair, snuffed out the torches, and began to slide under the blankets…
But then, for the second time that night, an infuriated scream echoed throughout the palace. It sounded like it had come from Hermes' room.
Apollo leapt out of bed, raced down the hallway, and charged through the messenger's doorway, shoving the curtain aside as he did so. He stopped in his tracks upon seeing an infuriated Hermes and a smug Eros staring at each other.
"What's going on?" Apollo asked. His voice was dangerously quiet. Eros' smile faded. He knew very well that Apollo had despised him ever since the latter had struck the god of light with one of his arrows, causing him to fall in love with Daphne. The incident was the original reason that Apollo wore a crown of laurel leaves in his hair – when Daphne was running away from the golden-haired god, the earth turned her into a laurel tree. Apollo vowed to wear the leaves in his hair so that he would never forget her.
Right now, Eros was defenseless. He didn't have his bow-and-arrow with him.
"This piece of filth," Hermes hissed, pointing at the god upon his bed, "is trying to blackmail me into sleeping with him."
Apollo had never heard the generally happy-go-lucky messenger sound so angry. The fact that Eros had managed to upset his Hermes to such extent caused anger to rise within him like an erupting volcano.
"You are a poor excuse for a god," Apollo said, his eyes fierce.
Eros clamored to his feet and returned the stare, raising his chin in a defiant gesture. "You can't make accusations without knowing what happened."
"I don't recall accusing you, stupid boy!" Apollo said forcefully, and Eros took a small step backwards. "And don't presume to know the limits of my knowledge. I know what a disgusting, petty little creature you are. How dare you come here, to where those greater than you reside, thinking that you can wreak havoc and get away with it?"
Eros had no response to this. Apollo regarded him coolly. "I think that a year in exile would teach you a lesson. Hermes –"
Said god tore his hateful gaze away from Eros, and looked at Apollo inquiringly.
"—take him to the Underworld. Tell Hades that he is a gift from me." Apollo smirked, both at his own words and the horrified expression on Eros' face.
"You can't do this to me!" he protested. Apollo's eyes bore into his.
"Anyone who does wrong deserves punishment," he said coldly, nodding at Hermes. The messenger grabbed the young god none too gently by the arm. "Enjoy your flight."
Just before Hermes took off, he gazed at Apollo with a grateful expression. "Wait for me?" he asked softly, and Apollo nodded. Hermes disappeared from sight with a flash of light, Eros in tow.
Slowly, Apollo made his way to the bed that Eros had vacated only moments ago. He climbed onto the feather mattress, sighing when he inhaled the scent that was so comfortingly familiar. Hermes. The sheets smelled like a mixture of vanilla and strawberries. Apollo let his eyes flutter shut.
He must have drifted off, because the next thing he was aware of was warm breath blowing against his ear.
"Hmm?" he hummed, rolling over and stretching out an arm. His hand came into contact with something soft and warm – Hermes' face. He heard a soft gasp when his hand moved lower, and breath ghosted across the tips of his fingers.
"You fell asleep – " Hermes gasped once more when Apollo stroked his bottom lip. "— in my bed. Not that I'm complaining," he added wryly, and Apollo felt his lips curve into a smile.
"Can I stay the night?" he purred, lowering his hand to Hermes' arm and trailing lower until he found his hand. Intertwining their fingers, he pulled until the messenger fell onto the bed next to him.
"No funny stuff," Hermes murmured, and Apollo felt him nestling his head into the crook of his neck.
"Of course not," he replied softly, wrapping an arm around his waist. Neither of them spoke for several moments. Then…
"Love you, 'Pollo," Hermes whispered in his ear sleepily.
Apollo blinked in surprise. "What did you just say?" But there was no response. A second later, the messenger's breathing became soft and even.
When Apollo awoke, the room was still pitch black. But before he could begin the process of trying to figure out why, he was distracted by a warm body wriggling in his arms. Sometime during the night, Hermes had managed to crawl on top of the archer. Their torsos were pressed together, and Hermes' head rested on Apollo's shoulder. "Why's it so dark?" the messenger murmured.
"I don't – " Apollo began to answer, but was cut off by the eruption of voices in the hallway.
"Apollo!" an all-too-familiar voice bellowed. Said god groaned loudly.
"It's too early for this," he declared fretfully. Hermes cuddled closer in an attempt to comfort him.
"I don't want you to go," the dark-haired god whispered sadly. "I wonder what he wants?"
Footsteps echoed in the hallway, and flickering candlelight was visible under the curtain. A second voice spoke. "Where's Apollo?"
"Aphrodite," Hermes muttered.
"I don't know!" answered Zeus, sounding like he was ready to throw a thunderbolt . "He's not in his room."
"Have you checked in here?"
Apollo knew that she was referring to the room they were in right now. "I have to go," he hissed. Quickly, Hermes rolled off of him. "I'll meet you later."
With a golden flash, he was gone. A split second later, Zeus was shoving aside the curtain and striding in, followed closely by Aphrodite. Her hair looked ridiculously orange in the light cast by the candle. Hermes fought the urge to giggle. "Have you seen Apollo?" his father demanded. He looked furious.
"Not this morning," Hermes lied easily. Zeus eyed him suspiciously, and Hermes tried not to squirm under the stare. "Why do you need him?"
"What does it look like?" Aphrodite snapped.
"Well, I'm fairly certain that he doesn't have the power to fix your hair," her brother drawled with a smirk, glad for a reason to ignore his father's searching gaze. "So enlighten me."
Aphrodite snarled. "The sky, you idiot! Apollo hasn't driven the sun to the east."
Oops. "So have Helios do it."
"We don't know where he is."
Sigh. "I'll go find him."
In the meantime, Apollo was racing towards his chariot. The four horses were waiting for him, kicking their hooves against the ground and tossing their majestic heads with impatience. He vaulted into the chariot and took up the reigns. With a flash of fiery light, they were driving across the sky.
When the job was done, Apollo closed his eyes and willed himself to appear at Hermes' side. The first thing he heard when he had done so was the sound of bickering.
Opening his eyes, he saw Athena, Ares, and Artemis directly in front of him. They were obviously in the midst of a heated argument.
"You can't just charge into battle without a plan!" Athena was saying. "How do you expect to win a fight if your soldiers are running around like half-witted Cyclopes?"
"You take down as many people as you can!" Ares retorted. "That's what war is!"
"And if you run blindly into the enemy's trap, that's exactly what they're going to do to you!" Athena put her hands on her hips and glared up at the war god – or rather, the god of bloodlust. His twin was looking on with an expression that resembled disgust.
"Good morning, Apollo," someone said in a pleasant voice, and Apollo turned around to see Helios looking at him with a smile.
"About time for it to be morning," Ares grumbled. "What's your problem, Apollo?"
"Watch your mouth," Artemis snapped, always protective of her younger twin.
"I wasn't insulting him," Ares said defensively. "Really, it's ridiculous how much everyone loves him – just because he's so pretty –"
"We don't love him because he's pretty!" Athena said angrily. "You're jealous because he's more attractive than you."
"More attractive than me?! Says who?!"
"I'm standing right here," Apollo said loudly, but no one was listening to him.
"Says everyone," Hermes said coolly, stepping forward. Apollo reached out and touched his arm in an attempt to get his attention, but the messenger didn't notice. "And not only is he more attractive – he isn't a bloodthirsty, savage maniac. That's more than I can say about some people…" He let his voice trail off, shooting daggers at his least-favorite brother.
Ares rounded on the messenger. "Who do you think you're talking to, little brother?"
"Leave him alone!" Artemis said loudly, stepping forward and shoving Ares away from the smaller god. She knew how Apollo felt about Hermes.
"Stay out of this, Artemis!" Ares shouted.
"Stop this nonsense!" Helios finally roared, stomping forward towards the Olympians before a massacre took place in his foyer. His body temperature was rising, causing waves of heat to radiate off of him. "You call yourselves gods, but you can't even have a conversation without it ending in a shouting match!" He didn't need to say that he was disgusted, because it was evident in his voice. The four younger gods had the presence of mind to look meek under his smoldering golden glower.
"And while I appreciate the fact that you think I'm attractive," Apollo added, speaking to Athena, "I would prefer it if it weren't a source of tension in the pantheon."
Athena and Artemis grinned at him, but Ares was staring at the blonde god with furrowed eyebrows. After a moment, he turned to Athena. "Do you really think he's more attractive than me?" he asked curiously. Hermes rolled his eyes and looked away. Artemis cocked an eyebrow.
"I always thought Dionysus was very handsome," she said.
"That drunken mess?" Ares asked, incredulous. She giggled.
"Dionysus is really attractive," Athena agreed, and Ares looked even more flabbergasted at the words of the virgin goddess. He turned to Hermes, Helios, and Apollo.
"Do you agree with this?" he demanded. Hermes and Apollo both shrugged but Helios smiled widely.
"If you ask Dionysus, he'll tell you just how attractive I think he is."
Apollo couldn't tell if the older god was joking or not. He didn't really want to stay to find out. "Let's get out of here," he muttered to Hermes, and the messenger grunted in agreement. Apollo gripped the younger god's forearm, and Hermes flew them to Olympus.
They hadn't been in the palace for two seconds before a loud noise drew their attention to the main hall. "I told you not to come in here!" Zeus' voice yelled. Apollo raised a blonde eyebrow.
"Trouble in paradise," he said sarcastically. He usually tried – and managed – to avoid dramatic situations.
"We should probably see what's happening," Hermes said dubiously. Apollo sighed, but headed towards the commotion anyway. Hermes trotted after him.
They were met with a very odd sight.
Zeus was sprawled across the floor, his tunic soaked in what appeared to be wine. A shattered glass lay next to him. At his feet sat a giggling Dionysus, his long hair in disarray, crown of ivy leaves lopsided. Hera was off to the side, fuming – Dionysus had also managed to splash her dress.
"—need to watch where you're going!" Zeus was saying, sitting up and attempting to avoid the broken glass. Dionysus was paying him no mind. He had pulled a bunch of grapes from somewhere within his chiton, and was popping them into his mouth one-by-one.
"'Pollo! Hermes!" he suddenly cried out, noticing his hovering brothers. "Grape?" he offered. When they declined, the drunken god grabbed Apollo around the ankles, sending him crashing to the floor. He crawled towards his head. "Eat your grapes!" he ordered, waving the bunch in the blonde's face. Apollo grimaced and shoved the youngest Olympian away.
Just then, another flash of blinding light caused all five gods to blink. The group of Artemis, Ares, and Athena had arrived – and they were quarreling once again.
"Just because we're chaste doesn't mean we can't find someone attractive!" Athena was saying heatedly, Artemis nodding in agreement. Ares caught sight of Dionysus, who was giggling at Apollo. "But this? You find this attractive?" He gestured towards his youngest brother in disbelief. Hermes chortled.
"At least he knows how to have fun!" Artemis snapped. "Now will you quit your whining? You're giving me a headache."
"I know how to have fun!"
All of the gods within earshot snorted, including Zeus and Hera. Ares looked outraged.
"Ripping the skin off of mortals does not qualify as 'fun' to most people, Ares," Athena informed him. His dark eyes flashed. Without another word, he turned on his heel and stormed out of the hall. Athena and Artemis grinned at each other in silent congrats before they turned and caught sight of their father, who was still sitting on the ground in a puddle of wine. Athena cocked an eyebrow. "What happened?"
Hera pointed at Dionysus. Athena followed the direction of her finger, and both of her eyebrows rose. Dionysus was now using Apollo's stomach as a pillow, much to the dismay of the Sun God. His legs were crossed in the air, a foot bobbing along to music that only he could hear. He swallowed another grape and burped. Hermes snorted with laughter. "Help me," Apollo pleaded. Athena walked over to stand in front of Dionysus.
"Dionysus," she began, gazing down at the all-too-happy god. "Don't you think it's time to get off Apollo?"
Dionysus shook his head, grinning up at his sister. "No!"
Athena sighed, and without further ado, reached down and grabbed her brother by the arm. Dionysus had always been relatively small, so the feat wasn't difficult. She dragged him up and slung him over her shoulder. "Hey!" he cried out.
"You'd better not vomit on me," she huffed threateningly.
"Put me down!" he squawked as she calmly walked out of the hall.
Apollo stood up, rubbing the spot on his stomach where Dionysus's head had been and muttering 'foolish boy' under his breath.