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Neon Gods: Chapter 30

Hades

Zeus turns slowly to face me. I’ve seen his picture plastered all over the newspaper and gossip sites more times than I can count, but in person, he seems faded. There is no carefully placed light to maximize his masculine features. His suit is rumpled and he missed a button when he redid his shirt. He’s…human. Fit and attractive enough, but not a god or a king or even a monster. Just an old man.

He stares at me, shock sliding over his features. “You look even more like your father in person.”

That snaps me out of my shock. “You don’t get to speak about my father.” I move away from the corner, gun held carefully in front of me. “Get up.”

“I can’t believe you’d be so damned stupid to show up here.” He rises slowly, stretching to his full height. He’s got a few inches on me, but it won’t matter. I never intended for this to be a fair fight.

He doesn’t look particularly concerned about this confrontation. “I have to admit, your plan was clever. I never would have thought the little bitch would run to you and be willing to play those kinds of games.”

I tighten my grip on the gun. “You don’t get to speak about her, either.”

Pull the trigger. Just fucking pull the trigger and end this.

Zeus smirks at me. “Strike a nerve? Or is it the fact that she scurried back to me fast enough when she realized where true power lies?”

“You’re awfully confident for someone being threatened by a man with a gun.”

“If you were going to shoot me, you would have done it the second I sat down.” He shakes his head. “Turns out you’re like your old man in more than looks. He always hesitated to pull the trigger, too.”

Again, I tell myself to do it, to shoot him now and be done with it. Zeus has committed acts of untold evil. If ever there was a man who deserved to be executed, it’s him. As long as he’s alive, Persephone won’t be safe. My people won’t be safe. Fuck, as long as he’s around, Olympus won’t be safe. I’d be doing every single person in this goddamn city a favor by putting this monster out of his misery.

Demeter and a full half of the Thirteen are only too happy for me to be their weapon. There isn’t a single fucking person that will hold it against me if I kill him…

Except Persephone.

Except me.

“If I pull this trigger, I’m no better than you.” I shake my head slowly. “I’m no better than every other member of the Thirteen who is willing to commit unforgiveable acts to get more power.” I don’t want more power, but no one looking in from the outside would believe it.

Zeus smirks. “You aren’t better than us, boy. You might play king down in the lower city, but when push comes to shove, you’re beating a man nearly to death and showing up here to threaten me with a gun. It’s exactly what I would have done in your position.”

“I’m nothing like you.” I practically spit the words.

He laughs. “Aren’t you? Because you don’t look like the good guy from where I’m standing.”

I hate that he’s right.

I can’t kill him.

Not like this.

Slowly, I lower the gun. “I’m nothing like you,” I repeat.

He snorts. “That’s twice in as many days that you’ve violated our treaty. Even if I was willing to look the other way on the first, the Thirteen won’t ignore this attack. They’ll howl for your blood.”

“Will they?” I allow myself a fierce grin. Finally, fucking finally, I know something this bastard doesn’t. If I can’t kill him, at least I can accomplish this. “You really believe your own fantasy, do you?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“You shouldn’t have sent your men after Demeter’s daughters.” I tsk. “If she was willing to cut off food to half the city to get Persephone back, what do you think she’s willing to do to you for ordering your man to stab Eurydice?”

“Cut off half the food…” Zeus goes still, surprise widening his eyes. “That wasn’t part of the plan.”

I have to fight back a laugh. I’ll never forgive Demeter for trying to hand Persephone over to this man, but I can’t help my dark amusement at how thoroughly she’s undermined him in such a short time. “Maybe not your plan. She’s been playing at her own game from the beginning. You’re just the only dumb fuck who didn’t realize it.”

“She might have been willing to go through such lengths against you, but she knows who feeds her.”

“Yes.” I wait for him to relax the tiniest bit before cutting his legs out from beneath him. “Olympus feeds her. Olympus feeds all of the Thirteen. Even you—especially you. They’ve looked the other way time and time again and ignored your sins. Now it’s time to pay the piper.”

“You’re not here for justice.” He sneers. “You’re here for petty revenge.”

My hand tightens on the gun before I regain control. Petty revenge. That’s what he calls wanting justice for the death of my parents. I take a slow breath. “Call the whole thing off and I’ll consider us even.”

Zeus raises his brows. “Call what off? The war? Or my marriage to that pretty little daughter of Demeter? Persephone.”

“Keep her name out of your mouth.” I stalk toward him.

“That deal is signed, sealed, and only needs to be delivered. She’s my reward for crushing the remaining resistance you represent.” He grins. “I intend to take a whole lot of pleasure now that you’ve broken her in.”

I know he’s baiting me, but now that I’m standing here, nothing seems cut and dried. “She’s not yours. She belongs to no one but herself.”

“That’s your mistake.” He laughs. “You put yourself in a position to take it all—my life, that woman, your revenge—and you lose your nerve at the last moment.” A mean glint in his pale blue eyes. “Just like your old man.”

“Fuck you.”

Zeus lunges for me, faster than he has any right to be, and grabs at the gun. He’s stronger than I expect, too. Even though I try to wrench away, he maintains his grip on my arm. I pull the trigger reflexively, but the shot goes wide. Zeus jerks me closer, still trying to get my hand off the gun. The look in his eyes spells my death. I might have hesitated to kill him. He won’t return the favor.

I distantly register the sound of glass shattering, but I’m too busy fighting for possession of the gun to worry about it. I twist my arm in his direction and pull the trigger again, but he’s ready for me and the bullet bites the floor at our feet.

Zeus finally gets a good grip on my wrist and brings my arm down on his knee. Fuck, that hurt. Despite my best efforts, I lose my grip on the gun. I glance down, trying to figure out where it went. Zeus takes advantage of my distraction and punches me in the face.

The room wavers around me. That fucker has one hell of a force behind his hits. Another punch and he might actually knock me out. I shake my head, but it does nothing to quell the ringing in my ears.

Thoughts and plans and strategy fly out the window. Instinct alone rules. I manage to get my arm up to block his next punch, and the impact of the blow sends me sliding back several inches. I slam my fist into his stomach, and he wheezes. He’s fast and hits like a freight train, and I’m hampered because even though I hate the fucker, I can still hear Persephone’s panicked voice in the back of my head.

Hades, stop.

I can’t kill him. I won’t. I just need to get enough space between us so I can move, so I can think. I shove him back. “Why did you kill my father?”

The bastard laughs. He fucking laughs. “He deserved to suffer.” He swings again, but this time, I’m ready. I duck under the punch and hammer a left hook into his side. Zeus bends over with a curse, but it’s not enough to do more than slow him down. “Shame about your mother, though.”

“Fuck. You.” There are no answers for me here this morning. I don’t know why I thought there might be. Zeus is a goddamn bully determined to mow down any threat that rises up. My parents were a threat, fresh to the roles and naive because they thought they could pave the way to a new and better Olympus. Zeus wouldn’t allow anything to affect his power, so he removed them. End of story.

I keep trying to create space between us, but it’s no use. Zeus doesn’t give me room to breathe. It takes everything I have to keep his fists away from my face. As it is, my eye is swelling shut and it’s only a matter of time before I lose the ability to see through it. If the fight is still going by that point, I’m in trouble.

I dodge a right hook and catch his arm, using his momentum to send him spinning away from me. “Stop. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

“I’m not stopping until you’re dead, you little fuck.” He shakes his head like a bull and charges me.

I don’t register where we are in the room until the cold wind slaps me in the face. Fuck. “Wait.”

But Zeus doesn’t listen. He winds up for a punch that will hurt like a motherfucker if it lands, but he’s misjudged his proximity to the broken window, just like I have. He teeters on the edge, arms windmilling as he tries to find his balance.

Time slows down.

He’s not to the point of no return yet. I can pull him back. I just need to get there. I dart forward, intent on grabbing his arm, his shirt, something. No matter what kind of monster he is, no one deserves to go out like this.

He makes contact with my hands, but his fingers slip through mine despite my best efforts. Between one blink and the next, he’s gone, the whoosh of air and a fading yell of surprise the only evidence that he was here to begin with. I stare at the broken window, at the empty dark blue air, at the lights twinkling in the distance.

Did I realize how close we were? Was I intentionally driving him back to a fall to his death?

I don’t think so, but no one would believe me if I claimed this was an accident. Not when I showed up to his office with a gun in the early hours of the morning when no one else would be around.

The icy wind slaps me again, knocking me back into myself. I can’t stay here. If anyone realizes that I broke the treaty, that I effectively killed Zeus, then my people will pay the price. Right now, I’m relying too heavily on Demeter keeping her word, and our short history has already proven I can’t trust her.

I step into the hallway and stop short when I realize I’m not alone. I blink into the darkness, recognition rolling over me. Speak of the devil. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Demeter pulls on a pair of pristine black gloves. “Someone has to clean this mess up.”

Does she mean the scene I left in the room behind me… Or me? I exhale slowly. “Was this all a trap, then?”

She arches a brow, and for a moment, she looks so much like Persephone that my heart gives a painful thud. Demeter laughs. “Hardly. I’ve done you several favors this morning, and it’s the least I can do to see that you’re still around in the future when I mean to collect payment.” She takes a step toward me and stops. “But if you hurt my daughter, I will happily rip out your throat.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“See that you do. They’ll never find the body.” She examines her gloved hand. “Pigs are very efficient creatures, you know. They’re practically nature’s garbage disposal.”

Fuck, this woman is just as terrifying as her daughter. I move to the side as she heads for the door to Zeus’s office. “What will you do?”

“Like I said, clean it up.” She opens the door and glances at me. “My daughter must love you very much if she was willing to ask for my help to keep you safe. I expect you to honor the bargain she made.”

“I will.” I don’t have to know the details to agree to them. Whatever price is required, I’m only too happy to pay it. It’s the very least I can do after everything that’s happened.

“See that you do. Now, get out of here before Ares’s people come investigating.”

Investigating Zeus’s death.

Zeus’s death that I caused.

Persephone will never look at me the same after today.

That knowledge weighs on me as much as Zeus’s death as I make my way to the ground floor. I step out the doorway to find a small crowd already gathering and people peering up into the sky as if the answers lie there. A few of them look in my direction but don’t pay me much attention. Anonymity is a benefit of being a myth.

I turn and walk away. In my darkest heart of hearts, I thought I’d feel victorious once Zeus died. It’s a balancing of the scales, a way of paying back all the horrible shit he’s done over the years. To me, yes, to my parents, definitely, but also to more people than I care to count. The swath of his destruction is wide and stretches back through the decades.

Instead, I feel nothing at all.

I don’t remember much of my trip back to the lower city. It feels like one moment I’ve tucked my hands in my pockets and am bowing my head against the wind in the midst of upper city shops, and the next I blink and I’m standing in front of my home. Only my aching legs and feet give testament to the fact that I walked this whole way.

I turn and look toward Zeus’s tower, barely visible against the skyline from my position. Behind it, the sun is already fully in the sky. A new day. Everything’s changed, and yet nothing’s changed.

I am still Hades. I still rule my portion of Olympus. The remainder of the Thirteen will have some shit to sort out, but ultimately Perseus will step up as the new Zeus, marry a new partner, and create a new Hera. I’ll honor whatever bargain was made with Demeter. Now safe, Persephone will be able to leave the city and chase her dreams. I’ll never see her again. Things will continue, more or less as they always have.

The thought depresses the hell out of me.

I walk through the same door I left and make my way to the converted living room. It’s all puppy playpen now, filled with toys and several beds. I sink down next to the center bed where all three pups are sleeping. Even though I’m quiet, it doesn’t take them long to realize they have a guest. Cerberus comes first, toddling to me on unsteady legs and climbing into my lap as if staking his territory. His siblings follow after his lack of warmth wakes them, pressing their furry wriggling bodies against me.

Petting them releases something in my chest, and I let my head rest against the wall and close my eyes. What kind of monster am I that I feel more loss at the thought of never seeing Persephone again than at Zeus’s horrific death? I don’t know, but I’m not monster enough to reach out. If I try to cage her, I’m no better than he was. I close my eyes.

She’s free.

I have to let her fly.


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