I stared into the brazier, but I didn’t see the dancing flames and crackling coals. I saw a memory.
I had my little cottage, my little garden, my comforting forest and dark places that made my fire so very important. But I was lonely. Eventually, the loneliness became part of me, as much as my fire or my skill at cooking or the color of my eyes. I hadn’t even had the comfort of my siblings, such as it was. I had been alone and had become inured to the solitude. It became comfortable.
I blinked once, twice. Brushed away a tear.
“You are lonely, lovely one. We may not be a perfect match, but perhaps we can be lonely together?” Chiron’s voice rang in my ears, calm, ever-present, knowledgeable. Understanding. We hadn’t been lovers in the way everyone thought, but we had indeed loved each other. Passionate, fiery love, the love that leads to marriage and children, and a happy family life – that belonged to others. We could watch, be part of it peripherally, but forever the outsiders looking in. We were there for births and deaths, weddings and funerals, always the old couple living in the cottage in the glen with stories for the young ones and comfort for the heartsick or lost.
Deep breath. My chest still ached, but not as badly. You can’t get over nearly fifteen hundred years in less than a year, after all.
“I may not always be with you, Lady of Flames, but I will love and honor you all the days of my life.”
The deep breath caught in my throat, like I had tried to swallow a sea urchin whole.
“Lady of Flames, I’m beggin’ you, spare me!”
The remembered words hurt, and the sea urchin spines grew hooks and twisted. I finally tore my eyes away from the brazier. The fire rumbled, sensing my distress, and I laid a hand on the brazier and looked upwards. The eruption of flame two weeks ago had left a charred rosette on the ceiling plaster – beautiful even in its destruction.
No one had replaced the flowers yet, though someone had swept up the worst of the ashes and the shattered vase and the fried rock. The kitchen was still a mess, sooty and grimy instead of softly gleaming. Of course, things were still a mess – Bruna had left after my explosion, and I had sufficiently cowed the rest of the Olympus Admin staff to keep them out other than the initial cleanup.
Oh well. I hated the smell of burnt rock, but there was nothing for it. I went to one of the moderately singed doors in the kitchen, wrenched it open, and retrieved a bucket, a mop, and a scrubbing brush. Setting the bucket into one of my gloriously deep stone sinks, I turned on the water, boiling hot, and dumped soap into the bucket. Scented bubbles rose, bathing my face in the scent of clinical cleanliness with a hint of industrially-produced imitation lavender.
Two hours later, the floors were gleaming damply, the skirts of my dress were absolutely ruined, and even my muscles ached from scrubbing the flagstones. I turned my attention to the grimy steel of my kitchen and sighed.
I reached down for the sack of rags I used to polish the steel, and my heart lurched. Sitting right on top was a worn-out Aberdeen Warriors T-shirt, the sword insignia peeling off after hundreds of washings and more than one party with the Pack. I remembered when this one had finally been consigned to the rag-bag.
He had been playing rugby with Iain and Jamie and Alex, not long after we came here, and in the way of satyrs everywhere, it had gotten a bit excessively physical. All of them had ended up half naked after their shirts became victim to satyr competitive streaks. I hadn’t laughed so hard in years, watching those four prize bucks squabbling like six-year-olds on a soccer pitch. It had been a sight to see – a glorious autumn afternoon, soft sunlight, cold beers, great friends, the smell of fresh grass and healthy satyr, and immense amounts of shit-talking from all sides.
I sat down, cradled the shirt to my chest, and began to sob.
Some time later, I was disturbed by Eros nuzzling at me for his supper. I sniffled and petted his velvety nose. Not quite the same as a lap dog, but affectionate in his way. I pushed myself up from the floor, opened one of the refrigerated drawers, and pulled out an apple. Eros was appreciative as he crunched his treat, but thankfully he didn’t bray. I rubbed the long ears affectionately.
“Well, as long as your belly is full, you’ll be here, won’t you?”
Eros began his plodding route back out to the solarium. He may be the Golden Ass, but all he wanted was a full belly and a warm place to bask in the sun. Well, he may have wanted something more, but I didn’t have the ability to speak to beasts, and Pan wasn’t around at the moment. He seemed happy enough, so there was that.
I pushed myself off the floor, set the shirt aside, and picked up another rag, this one thankfully anonymous. I had a lot of steel to clean, and as long as I kept rubbing at the soot, I couldn’t see my own reflection. I looked a mess, and I knew it, but I just didn’t have the energy to do anything about it.
Eventually, I ran out of steel to polish. The kitchen was immaculate, the smoky reek vanquished in the wake of soap and water and the sharp scent of the bleach bucket. I could reopen Hearthfire any time I wanted. I just didn’t want to.
Part of me hated myself for this weakness, mooning over a lover like someone out of a bad romance novel. Part of me thought the other part of me was an idiot.
I hadn’t gone back into our room since I had come back from Mount Othrys. It hurt too much to come back here and see what was missing. I really did not know where he had gone, or when he may be coming back. His soccer bag was gone, his boots were missing from their usual spot by the door, and his phone was left on the bedside table. He had taken his toothbrush, but his throwing axes were still hanging on the wall, next to my boar spear.
Standing in the doorway to the bedroom, muscles twitching from exhaustion, absolutely filthy, I looked at the wide expanse of our bed. The feather pillows were singing a siren song, and our duvet whispered tempting hints about the feel of soft linen and the weight of goose down. I rubbed my hands over my face, recoiling from the stench of cleaning products as they touched my skin.
Time for a shower, at the very least.
An hour later, clean but tired to the marrows of my bones, smelling like Connor’s soap and wearing his robe, I flopped down into my favorite armchair in the foyer and fell asleep to the crackle of the fire.
Some time in the wee small hours, I jolted awake. Something was wrong in our bedroom – more wrong than him being gone, but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it. I ran back and opened the door, flicked on the lights.
He left his phone, left his axes…what else? I yanked open his closet door and stared. There it was, hanging on the back of the door, in easy reach – a deep oxblood leather gun harness with his pistol hanging in the sheath, the extra magazine hanging opposite. Hector had trained all the boys to never, ever go unarmed. It was too dangerous; there were too many humans that would kill them on sight if their secret ever got out. The sgian dhu that was always tucked into the top of his kilt sock was there too, right on top of the little shelf on the back of the door.
He left his axes, he left his gun, he left his dagger. That meant he hadn’t intended to leave the building, but he had taken his soccer bag. He had been singed and covered in soot when I left, but the apartment wasn’t really habitable, so maybe he had gone down to the gym level to shower and clean up.
I reached for the house phone, called his friend Jack who worked in the security office.
“Jack? Hestia here. Odd question, but have you seen Connor lately?”
“No, ma’am, I thought you two had gone off somewhere quiet until the ruckus died down. Isn’t he with you?”
My stomach sank. “I haven’t seen him since the night I had that little incident in my kitchen.”
“Let me check to see if his keycard has been used. Just a second, ma’am.”
I heard the clicking of keys and a muttered “fuck”.
“Ma’am, the last time his keycard was used was on the night you had that incident, about two hours after we responded to the fire alarm at Hearthfire. It hasn’t been used since. Looks like he carded in to the locker room on the gym level.”
“Thank you, Jack. Can you transfer me over to the concierge desk, please? And Jack?”
“If you hear from Connor, tell him….” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
“I’ll tell him to call you, shall I?” Jack’s voice was kind.
“Hold the line, ma’am.”
The concierge desk did their best, but Cassie didn’t have any record of Connor either booking a ticket on Olympus Air or checking out one of the fleet cars. I thanked her and hung up, realizing I was going to have to make an even more difficult call.
I walked over to my bar, pulled out a dusty amphora, and tilted it over a glass. The liquid inside was the colour of blackcurrant cordial with the alcoholic levels of the finest Highland raw whisky. It had been a very, very long time since I had tasted Dionysus’ wine, but I was about to need it. It was sweet and rich and temporarily paralyzed my vocal cords.
I coughed, and I swear the air around me burned blue for a moment. Just a sip was enough – too much, and I wouldn’t be able to talk coherently.
I picked up my cell phone, scrolled through the address book with my thumb, and took another deep breath as I hit the “send” button. “Hector? It’s about Connor…”