A vignette

Old Friends

The salt-breeze played with the miniature horses’ manes and tails, brushing a caress through Poseidon’s hair where he sat in the small meadow pasture, near the estuary stream running through it.  He was far enough from shore that the stream stayed fresh enough for the horses to drink, except for strange tides like they’d been having recently.  So, he sat with his ponies, monitoring the rise in salt water, and preventing it from sickening his pets.

The breeze whispered news in his ear, and he frowned lightly, pushing himself to his feet and ambling downstream toward the shore.  Where the stream came out was the only sand beach on his property.  Usually, when he had trespasser (like the breeze had told him was happening now), that’s where they settled.

He honestly didn’t mind, most of the time.  His land was isolated enough that the usual trespassers were either young people looking for a picnic spot, or older people wanting away from the noise of the youngsters.  He usually just warned them to pick up after themselves, and left them to it.

His favorite pony nudged him in the back of his knee, whickering as she followed him.  He chuckled, leaned down, and scratched under her mane.  She whickered again, nosing his hand in affection (and in begging for treats).

He shook his head, patting her as he straightened.  She whinnied, kicked and bucked, then raced back over to the rest of the herd, settling back into grazing.

Poseidon watched her go, then stepped into the stream, letting it wash him down to the shore and out to sea so that he could observe his trespasser.  He turned on his back and floated for a few moments, relishing the feel of his ocean, and doing a quick check to make sure there was nothing he needed to do…and noted that his trespasser was wading in the shallows.  It felt like a woman, and felt…familiar.

He swam to shore, and his jaw dropped.  He did indeed know this woman, in every sense of the word.  “Medusa?” he yelped.  “What are you doing here?”

She spun, her lovely face going slack with shock, her hair writhing.  All of it.  She wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing, and he noted that Athena’s curse extended to her body hair as well.  “Poseidon?  You live?”

He smiled gently.  “Of course I do.  I’m retired, but still around,” he told the only woman he could ever tolerate spending time around.

There was a reason he didn’t get along too well with his niece.

She smiled, wading over to him and taking his hands gently, smiling up at him.  “This is a very pleasant surprise,” she said.

He glanced down at her, noting that the centuries hadn’t touched her body in any way, then looked away from the gently weaving, quietly hissing snakes at her crotch.  “It is.  What are you doing here?”

She grimaced.  “I was hoping to find a bit of deserted beach to spend the day sunbathing.  I can’t exactly blend in with the general population,” she said, petting then pushing one of the snakes’ heads away from her face.  “Usually, I go around with my head covered, and fully dressed.”

Poseidon waved his hand at the surroundings.  His sand beach was surrounded by high hills, and the little cove was sheltered (and hidden) by high rocky outcroppings.  “I understand, but you’re safe here.”

She smiled again, her bright blue eyes warming.  “Thank you, Poseidon.”

He let go of her hand, brushing his through his hair.  “Well, it’s the least I can do for you.  It is, after all, my fault that you have to be careful.”

She gurgled a laugh.  “Not entirely,” she admitted, eyes sparkling.  “Athena was such a bitch to me when we met that I took quite a lot of joy in defiling her temple and altar.”

He shot her a quick grin, then darted in to kiss her cheek.  “I’ll be back in a little bit,” he said, ducking away from the suddenly angrily hissing snakes.  “Damn.  I bet that makes a few different activities difficult,” he said, winking at her.

She was giggling helplessly as he dove back into the water to swim around to his house—where he’d left his phone.

He had a niece to pester.  He was tired of living alone, and he’d just found the only woman he’d ever cared to spend the time around.

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Girls’ Night Out

This story is a lot darker than the others I’ve posted.  The main characters are depraved followers of Dionysus, and I don’t use the word “depraved” lightly.  The three women are Maenads.  Bringers of chaos, savagery, and destruction, and they glory in their acts.  I’d considered putting it in The Godshead, but decided not to.  Not only does it not help the loose plot move forward, but also doesn’t suit the tone in the rest of the stories. 

***

“…and fires rivaling those following the earthquake in 1906 are still burning tonight in parts of San Francisco, as peaceful protesters…”

A guffaw drowned out the newscaster as three women pelted the television with popcorn, disturbing the quietly pretty patterns of patchouli incense smoke.  The brunet in the tie-dyed peasant blouse and skirt snorted, “Peaceful, my round Greek ass.”

“Indeed, sister,” a blond that might have been pretty had her hair been brushed and her face clean agreed.  “That was one of the least challenging riots to start since that last slave rebellion in Sparta.”

The brunette smirked.  “I think there was more forcible sodomy in this ‘peaceful protest’ than there was in Sparta’s entire history even before we got involved.”

The blond interrupted, “Yeah, smelled worse than the Aegean stables, too.”

“…the ferret that the group put forward as their titular leader when approached by the city’s mayor is still missing…”

The brunette smiled.  “True, that.  Getting the ‘peaceful protest’ to spill out of its containment was almost too easy.”

A freckled redhead giggled.  “Satisfying though,” she mused.  “Almost as much fun as that time I rode Francis through Mecca.”

The brunet leaned around the blond to raise an eyebrow at the redhead.  “Francis?”

The redhead giggled again.  “Yeah.  You know.  Francis Bacon.”

The blond snorted.  “Oh, gods, that’s awful!

The brunet sighed, rubbing her temple with her left hand.  “How many times have you changed his name, now?”

“I’ve lost count,” the redhead confessed.  “He seems to find it amusing, and he always knows I’m talking to or about him.”  A soft, grumbly grunt from the miniature pig in the redhead’s lap seemed to agree.  He rolled over onto his side, and started to snore.

An image of fire creeping up a steep hill, building by building caught their attention.  “Authorities are too busy trying to put out the fires to calculate the human toll of this event.  Rumor has it that a good many of the peaceful protesters are dead, though there is no confirmation of numbers, nor of identities.”

“And rapes!  We can’t forget the rapes!” the blond squealed, bouncing on the couch.  The miniature pig on her lap was sent rolling down her outstretched legs and onto the floor.  He heaved a sigh and stretched, before moving over to the television to eat the popcorn on the floor.  He slowly swelled to his full size, crowding the living room.  “Oi!  Down in front, piggy!”  The giant, six and a half foot tall, two ton boar lifted his head, grunted once, and shrank back to lap size.  She pouted at the television when the image flashed back to the professionally grave newscaster.  “Phooey.  I know there were rapes.  Even on camera.  I made sure of that.”

“Sister, they’re too busy trying to put out the fires to figure out the individual crimes, yet,” the brunette sighed, rolling her pig onto his back to scratch his chest.  He groaned in contentment, stretching all four legs into the air before going limp again.  “They’ll get there.  But these jokers won’t ever admit that it was their ‘peaceful protesters’ squatting in the parks that started the riot, the fires, or have been murdering, raping, and pillaging. ”

“…representatives have stated that the rates of forcible rape are far less than other refugee camps around the world…”

All three women stared at the screen in slack-jawed amazement that that statement was actually uttered with a straight face, then sputtered into incredulous laughter.  “They have got to be kidding!” the brunette snorted.  “There are so many rapes in this riot that they’re going after the corpses because there’s not enough fresh meat.”

The redhead snorted.  “And of course, they got it in the wrong order.  It’s pillage, loot, rape, kill, then burn.  This bunch is dumber than the perverts and prudes in Mecca.  At least they raped the live ones.”

“Ooh, look,” the blond squealed, pointing at the television screen and bouncing some more.  “They’re actually showing some of the violence!”

“…panicked protesters fleeing the fires overran the tents set up to treat the tuberculosis victims…”

The brunette grabbed the television remote and muted the volume, while all three stared intently at the images on the screen.  All three sighed when the picture cut back to the newscaster without the sign they were waiting for.  Finally, the redhead broke the silence.  “Do you think the rumors were true?”

“No,” the brunette replied swiftly.  “They can’t be.”

“But what if they are?”  The blond sniffled.  “What if our lord is…”

“Don’t say it.  At worst, he’s bored with us.  He isn’t gone,” the brunette hissed.  “If it were true, we would no longer be able to affect the emotional states of those around us.  We wouldn’t be able to create such transitory majesty and glory like that,” she finished, waving her hand at the screen.  She took a deep breath, unwilling to voice the last truth that kept their hopes alive.

The newscast flipped from images of the riot to a newscaster standing in front of a megachurch.  The caption across the bottom described a drunken orgy at a singles bible study.  The brunette Maenad sighed and turned the television off—with no more coverage of their riot, they’d never see if their lord sent them a sign of approval or not.

We would no longer exist.

Sibling Rivalry

This story was also cut from my upcoming anthology, not because I didn’t like it, but because it didn’t really work with the plot that had jumped out at me.  Actually, this story was one of the ones that was harder for me to cut because I liked it so well.  So, without further ado…

Apollo wearily climbed out of his Jaguar convertible, and climbed the front steps of the brownstone townhouse.  It had been a very long day at the university—the literature and music classes in the morning were a lot of fun, but the afternoon in the teaching hospital had turned a little tragic.  Half of the patients his small classes of young student doctors had seen were children.  They’d had a new young patient brought in that day—a toddler boy who’d been roughly shaken by a babysitter.  The child would make a full recovery, but the delay in treatment caused by the investigation into who shook the baby made his job harder.

He leaned his forehead against the steel-cored wood front door, fumbling through his pockets for his keys.  He jammed the correct key into the lock and unlocked the door.  He gratefully turned the key in the lock, then twisted it just a bit farther to open the door.  Just as he stepped inside, the sun broke below the cloud cover in a spectacular red, orange, coral, and gold sunset that painted the entire sky.  He paused for a moment, just to drink in the beauty, and gently pushed the door closed, refreshed.

He loosened his tie, unbuttoning the collar under it with the same hand, and reaching into the coat closet for a hanger with the other.  His favorite gray-blue tweed jacket with the gray suede elbow patches (the one he privately thought of as his literature professor jacket) lived in the closet down by the door, because he rarely thought to get a jacket from the closet in the bedroom when he dressed of a morning, and rarely had time to run back upstairs for one, when he finally did think of it.  And Kat, the girlfriend that had recently moved in with him, didn’t seem to mind.

He’d met Kat on campus, when she’d come to interview for an open position in the English department where he taught one section of Classics every semester.  Tall, slim, with gold hair, blue eyes, and long legs showcased in a pencil skirt and nearly-knee high riding boots, she’d immediately reminded him of the one that got away so long ago (stupid Eros and his stupid lead arrows).  So, he’d set about charming her.

Succeeded, too.  They’d had three dates before she’d gone to bed with him, and six months before he’d gotten her to move in.  Surprisingly, he hadn’t tired of her—in fact, he’d only gotten fonder of her the more he got to know her.

Maybe this one would last a little longer than the ones he’d been with before.

He headed toward the kitchen, wondering if there would be anything started for dinner, yet.  It didn’t bother him, if not—there was this new little Greek delivery place that had opened up a couple weeks back.  He’d gotten a menu and slipped it into the drawer with the other fast food delivery menus.  Sometimes both were too busy with grading to even think about cooking for themselves, and Kat didn’t like the idea of having domestic help.  He wasn’t sure if it was a class thing, or a privacy thing.

The stove was cold, but the coffeemaker’s on indicator light still burned green—the burner kept the coffee hot for two hours after the pot had been turned on.  There was still about two cups left in the pot, or about one of the giant mugs that both he and Kat liked for their coffee.  As he noticed the coffee and that it was pretty recently made, though, the light went off.

He shrugged, and reached for his mug, a tall, squared, black ceramic mug from their local big chain grocery/department store, hanging on the mug tree next to the coffeemaker.  He still had grading to do, even after the long day, after all; one mug wouldn’t hurt him.  A whole pot wouldn’t hurt, and if he found he still needed some after the first cup, he’d darn well make it.  He filled his cup and turned around, leaning against the counter and shuffling through the handful of menus in the drawer next to him.  The Greek place’s menu—and phone number—was in the top middle of the stack.  He tucked it under his arm, picked up his cup of coffee, grabbed the phone off the charger, and headed toward the living room, and the door to the study.  He rarely presumed to order for Kat.

As he passed the stairs to the second floor, he heard a soft, familiar moan drift through the air.  He stopped short, grinning, and set the cup of coffee, the menu, and the phone down on the table next to the stairway, and toed off his shoes.  He unbuttoned his cuffs and pulled his shirt off over his head as he crept up the stairs.

If she’d gotten started without him, it was only polite to not keep the lady waiting while he disrobed, after all.

He was down to his boxers and socks, shirt, undershirt, and slacks discarded on the way past the laundry chute, by the time he reached the master bedroom door.  His grin widened as he heard Kat’s breathing quicken and a more guttural moan escape her.  He quietly turned the doorknob and opened the door.

And froze.  Yes, his Kat was in bed.  Yes, she was in the middle of things.

She was not alone.

“Artemis, what the fuck are you doing with my girlfriend?” he sputtered.

Apollo’s dark haired fraternal twin sister looked up from where she was propped up on her left elbow, leaning over the beautiful blond in the bed, right hand busy between the other’s legs.  “What does it look like, dear brother?” she purred.

Kat screamed, scrambling for the comforter bunched beyond their feet, and yanked it up to her chin.  Tears welled up in her eyes—Apollo wasn’t sure if they were from frustration, embarrassment, regret, or something else entirely.

Artemis, on the other hand, was smirking like she’d just won a contest.  She hadn’t moved when Kat had, except to duck back out of the way as the blond had lunged down to grab the pale green comforter, and her right hand was now hidden under the comforter that Kat had just pulled over them.

Kat shoved Artemis flat onto her back, away from her, scrambling out of the bed and taking the comforter with her, and wrapped it securely around herself.  “You were using me!” she snapped.  “Weren’t you?  That look in your eyes and tone in your voice says it all.”

Artemis’s smug expression faded into one of mixed confusion and remorse as she watched Kat’s reaction.  “Kitty-Kat, it’s not just that,” she said softly.

“But it was at least a little bit, wasn’t it?”  Kat’s voice was soft, sad, and trembling.  “You were using me.”

Artemis’s smirk finally totally disappeared, and she sat up, reaching out for Kat, who stepped back.  Apollo reached out and touched Kat’s shoulder, pulling her into his arms and turning her away from the bed.  He kissed her forehead.  “That’s what I’d like to know,” he said, voice hard and glaring at his sister.  He could be mad at her for his own sake later.  Right now, Kat was hurting, and Apollo wanted it to stop.

“Maybe at first,” Artemis said quietly.  “I mean, you tricked me into killing one prospective partner, and have spent our entire lives making sure nobody gets near me.  So, yeah: I came up with this idea to try to get whoever you were currently seeing into bed behind your back.  Just my luck, it happened to be a woman.

“Something went wrong, though,” Artemis finished, looking down.

“I’d be willing to bet that that something was that you fell in love with her, and she with you,” Apollo said softly.

“Yeah.  We—I—have been keeping the relationship quiet.  I didn’t want you to know.  I wanted to stay with her, not just score to piss you off.”  Artemis inhaled deeply, then blew the breath out harshly.  “I may have started out using her, but it’s not like that, not now.”

Apollo twisted his chin around to try to look down at his girlfriend where she had her face pressed against his neck, but she burrowed closer and wouldn’t look at him.  He felt her shoulders quiver a bit, and realized she was crying.  “There’s something you didn’t know.  I think she was trying to work things around to bringing you out of the wardrobe, so to speak.  We’ve been talking about this for a while.  Kat’s bi, I don’t mind, and we were talking about a girlfriend for her, one that I’d know about, but wouldn’t necessarily join her with,” he said quietly.  “I think she was trying to pave the way to bring you in.”

“No, I didn’t know that,” Artemis said.

“Were you just using her to get to me?” he asked, rubbing small circles on her upper back and glaring at his sister.

“Like I said: at first.  Then, I started to like her, and then I fell in love with her.  We’ve been seeing each other for nearly as long as you guys have.”  Artemis sighed.  “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Kat hiccupped against Apollo’s shoulder.  Apollo sighed.  Usually about this time in the fighting over something, one or the other would try to destroy what they were fighting over, so that their sibling couldn’t have it.  He didn’t want that to happen to Kat, and for the first time in his life, was willing to share.  He studied his sister closely, and could tell that she felt the same.  “Well, sis, I think you have an apology to make,” he sighed.

“Apollo, I—”

“Not to me.  Her.”

Artemis climbed out of the bed, not bothering to cover her nudity, and walked over to where Apollo held their crying girlfriend.  “Kitty-Kat,” she said softly, touching the other woman’s shoulder.  “Hey.  I’m sorry.”

Kat twisted around in Apollo’s arms.  But she made no move to respond in any other way.  Artemis took a deep breath.  “I’m sorry; I want to try to make this right.  What can I do?”

“You can start by getting dressed,” Kat said flatly.  “I don’t want to look at you naked, right now.  You, too, Apollo.  I don’t appreciate being the rope in a tug of war.”  She pulled away from Apollo, and gathered her dignity with her comforter, and made her way into the walk-in closet in the master bedroom.

Apollo and Artemis watched her walk away and then looked at each other.  “I really blew it, this time, didn’t I?” Artemis asked.

Apollo sighed, moving over to the dresser that held his at-home clothes.  “I really hope not, sis.  This is the first time I’ve been this happy.”  He fished out two pair of sweats, two pair of socks, and two tee-shirts.  He raised an eyebrow and held up one set of clothes.  Artemis nodded, holding out her hands to catch the clothing Apollo tossed to her.  “If you’ve screwed this up for you, you’ve screwed it up for both of us, and it’ll take me a long time to forgive you for that.”

Artemis sighed.  “It really doesn’t seem like the grudge I’ve been carrying over Orion is as big a deal as I always thought.” She glanced at the door to the walk-in closet.  “Come on, little brother—she needs some space right now.”

He walked over to the closet door.  “Kat, we’re going to go get dressed elsewhere.  Just come out when you’re ready.”

There was no response, but neither Apollo nor Artemis expected one.  He followed his sister out the door, and they split in the hall, Apollo heading toward one of the spare bedrooms, and Artemis heading for the guest bath.

Apollo heard the shower start as he was leaving the guest room, and headed downstairs to make another pot of coffee.  He snagged his mug, the phone, and the menu on his way into the kitchen, and stuck his cooling coffee into the microwave to heat back up.  It beeped as he was rinsing the carafe to refill the reservoir.  He finished setting the coffeemaker to brew, and took his coffee to the kitchen’s four person breakfast nook.

He heard the shower in the guest bathroom stop, and the one in the master bath start, and stared into his coffee, waiting for his sister to appear.  When she did, he nodded toward the coffeemaker and the mug tree beside it.  She didn’t say any more than he did, just helped herself to mug and coffee before drifting over to sit across the table from her younger twin brother.

Together, they listened to the sounds Kat made as she finished her shower, dried her hair, and got dressed.  Apollo glanced up at his sister, and blinked.  She hadn’t bothered drying her hair, but the wet ends dangled at least an inch above her shoulders.  He was used to her hair reaching halfway to her waist, and tied up in braids.   “When did you cut your hair?” he asked.

Artemis’s upper lip twitched.  “You’re just now noticing?” she asked.

Apollo rolled his eyes.  “Well, sis, that didn’t seem really important when I came in.”

Artemis blushed and sighed.  “Look, I thought you were going to be a lot longer—she let me hear the message you left on her voice mail about the little kid.  By the way, how did that go?”

“Kid’s going to be okay.  One of the cops is going to have to recover from a bruised ego, though.  Thought his job was more important than mine, and didn’t want to let me take care of the kid before he was done with his investigation.”  Apollo shook his head.  “I don’t get some people and their priorities.”

“Neither do I,” Kat said from the kitchen doorway.  Both twins looked up and Apollo stood to go to her.  She waved him back into his seat, and headed for the coffeemaker and her own mug.  She ignored the twins as she poured her coffee, then headed for her special flavored creamer in the fridge.  Apollo winced as he noticed she reached for the chocolate creamer—the one she saved for when she was really upset.  She took her time adding the creamer, the sugar, and adjusting each to suit her mood.  Then, she turned around and leaned against the counter behind her, facing the breakfast nook.

“I kind of suspected, on an unconscious level, that you were that Artemis.  That he was that Apollo,” Kat began.  “Not on a conscious level—it’s hard for someone who was raised Catholic, even if they’ve left the church, to believe that you guys exist, and I never really made the connection between the two of you.  That said, you’re so much like him that it felt right, like I wasn’t cheating on him.  It makes sense—how I fell in love with you both, and how both of you, who are more alike than either of you want to admit, fell in love with me.

“What I didn’t suspect was that you were using me.  I don’t know if I can forgive you for that, but I can try.  You are going to start to try to make up for using me by having dinner with us.  We’ll talk—all three of us—and we’ll go from there.”

Apollo and Artemis blew out a breath in a relieved sigh.  Both stood up at the same time, and converged on Kat, wrapping arms around each other in a three-way hug.  They stood there quietly for a moment, then Apollo’s stomach growled, followed by Artemis’s.  Kat giggled.

“Supper time,” Artemis said, looking between Kat and Apollo.  “Are we staying in or going out?”

“Delivery Greek okay?” Apollo asked, holding up the menu.

Organ Donor

Prometheus had been teaching for a long, long time.  He’d seen students come, and students go.  He’d been vilified by the ones who didn’t want more than a rubber stamp on their way out the door, and thanked by those who genuinely wanted to learn.

No single student had made a very deep impression until Matthew had entered his class on the first day of this year.  The kid had the fire in his eyes that Prometheus remembered from the early days of his existence—the fire that built nations.

Thin, pale, with a shock of straw-colored hair that stuck up every which-way, brilliant green eyes that snapped and sparked when his interest was caught, Matthew grabbed Prometheus’s attention from the moment he sat down in the center of the front row, arranged his notebook and took out a pen.  The kid had sat there, taking notes for the entire class, then dominated the question and answer session at the end of the lecture (not that he’d had any competition—no one else really seemed to care).

And then, he’d started missing class—a day here, a day there.  His pale complexion had faded into sickly, and his hair had taken on the texture of straw as well as the color.  His eyes, though, hadn’t dulled.

And Prometheus had worried.

Turned out he was right to.

“Matthew, could you stay a moment, please,” Prometheus had asked earlier in the day.

“Sure, Mr. P,” he’d answered, sinking back down into his seat.

Prometheus stood by the door, waiting silently for the rest of the class to make their escape, and closed the door behind them.  “I’ve been a little worried, Matthew,” he began, sitting on the front edge of his desk, a few feet in front of his student.  “You started out this year with such promise, and you’ve been absent  more than a student like you should be.  You have begun looking…unwell,” Prometheus finished.  “If there’s anything I can do, please ask.”

Matthew’s eyes dropped from Prometheus’s face as he started to speak; by the time he was finished, the boy glared at the floor.  “It’s nothing you can do anything about,” he said, voice low and hollow.  “I look ‘unwell’ because I am.  My kidneys are failing, and the doctors don’t know why, or how to stop it.”

Prometheus sucked in a sharp breath, then moved to kneel next to his student.  “Do you mind if I call your parents?” he asked gently.  “There are all manner of possibilities.  Don’t give up hope, Matthew.”

The boy squeezed his eyes shut, slouching in his seat, ducking his head down to rest his chin on his chest.  His hair, while not long, was long enough to hide his face in this position.  It didn’t hide the drops of water that began falling onto his tightly crossed arms.  “It’s not that I’ve given up, Mr. P.,” he whispered.  “It hurts, and I’m scared.”

Prometheus had knelt there, helplessly, but there, while his student had gathered the shreds of his control, then had stood and written the boy a note for his next class.  Then, during his planning period, he’d called Apollo.

“Hey, Prometheus, long time no hear,” Apollo said.  “What kind of kids will I be looking at in a few years?”

“Same old same old,” Prometheus replied “with one exception.  This kid is extremely bright, questions everything, and has the fire in his belly that’s been so lacking lately.”

“Really,” Apollo said, intrigued.  “You got a world-changer?  Send him on to me or to Athena—you know what kind of scholarships are out there for him, so money shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Money’s not the problem,” Prometheus said soberly.  “Kid’s kidneys are failing, and nobody can figure out why, or what to do about it.  I was hoping you’d make room in your schedule for him.”

“I can do that,” Apollo said slowly, “but I can’t do it on your request.  It has to come either from his parents or a referral from his primary care doc.  Unfortunately, a referral will take a couple months to get through the bureaucratic layers around my office, so that probably isn’t the best way to go to get him to me quickly.  Tell you what, why don’t you give his parents my cell phone number?  I’ll do this pro bono.  Least I can do for a world-changer.”

“Thanks, Apollo.  I owe you one.”

Apollo laughed.  “Sure you do.  That one, as soon as he’s graduated, unless he’s more suited to Athena.”

*

Prometheus slowly stacked the essay tests he had yet to grade, and turned to erase the board.  It was long after school hours, and he wondered if Matthew’s parents were home, or if he’d be interrupting dinner if he called.  He decided to wait a couple hours longer—give them time, and give himself a chance to seek his own dinner.

There was this lovely Italian café, just right on his way home.  He hadn’t eaten there in a while, and their tiramisu was better than ambrosia.  Sounded just the ticket, he told himself.

Seven thirty found him looking up Matthew’s parents’ phone number, and dialing.  A woman picked up, sounding exhausted and distracted.  “Hello, Shepherd residence.”

“Mrs. Shepherd?  I’m one of Matthew’s teachers, Prometheus.  I was calling in regards to his absences,” he began.

“Look, Mr. Prometheus,” she said, voice sharp and angry.  “My son is sick.  He can’t help being absent as much as he has been.  I’ve been assured by the principal and superintendent that, so long as he keeps up with his work, there will be no issues, and I’ve been assured by Matthew that he is doing his best.”

“I agree,” Prometheus said gently.  “He’s doing quite well in classes.  He told me today a bit about his illness, and I was calling to offer the services of a friend of mine.”

“Unless your friend is God himself, I doubt it will do any good,” she snapped.  “The doctors can’t find anything wrong with him, besides the kidney failure.  They can’t find a reason for that.”

“No, not God,” Prometheus said quietly.  “Just Apollo.”

Silence met his statement.  Then, “Apollo.  The doctor that made the breakthrough in treating shaken baby syndrome.  That Apollo?”

“Yes, that Apollo.”

“How soon can you make the appointment?”

I can’t.  I tried this afternoon.  But he gave me permission to give you his private cell phone number so that you can.”

Her voice broke.  “Please.”

He recited Apollo’s phone number, then cleared his throat.  “The other reason I was calling was because I wanted to offer in-home tutoring for the evenings of the days Matthew can’t make it to school.  He’s an extraordinarily gifted student, and I can’t stand the idea of him not meeting his potential.”

A choked sob met his offer, then her voice, trembling, accepted.  He smiled, wished her and her family a good evening.

He waited near the phone, finishing up his grading, for two hours for the call he was expecting from Apollo.  “Yes?” he said.

“I’ll be seeing the kid tomorrow.  I’ll be getting his records faxed to me tomorrow morning—his mother said she’d camp out in the doctors’ offices until it was done,” Apollo said, sounding tired.  “Is there something to this besides what you’ve told me?”

“Besides a boy with the potential to shape the world being deathly ill?  No,” Prometheus answered, insulted.  “I prefer my company much older, as you know.”

“I know, but I needed to be able to justify that to anyone that asked.”  Apollo sighed.  “I kind of miss the old days, when we weren’t questioned.”

“In some ways, maybe,” Prometheus replied.  “But then again, I also like my liver where it is.”

*

Unsurprisingly, Matthew was absent the next day.  Prometheus spent his day going through the motions of teaching—lecturing, answering questions, maintaining classroom discipline, assigning homework—and pointedly keeping his mind off of his favorite.  After classes were over, he made the rounds of the boy’s other teachers, collecting homework, and headed out to his bright red Volkswagen Rabbit.    He navigated through the early rush traffic, headed toward the address printed on the outside of the manila folder holding Matthew’s homework.

He also had collected, as suggested reading, some Dover Thrift copies of some early philosophical works, and early political system treatises.  There was a project coming up in his class, and all of the relevant texts were checked out of the school’s library.

He parked the car at the curb, behind Apollo’s white Jaguar convertible, glad to see his friend was taking the case so seriously.

Then again, Apollo loved a puzzle.

He gathered the bag of books, and the folder, and stepped out of his car.  The medium-sized, grey brick ranch with the burgundy metal roof was impeccably landscaped and maintained—the walk up to the front porch was lined with low-growing flowering groundcover in a similar burgundy to the roof, and white.  The metal railing surrounding the level porch had white climbing roses obscuring the pattern.  The paint on the trim, window frames, and door was fresh and unmarred.

An outsider would never know that their teenage son was so ill, Prometheus noted.

He knocked on the door, waited for a moment, then opened the storm door and knocked again.  A man in his mid forties answered.  He had Matthew’s sharply intelligent eyes, but in brown, and if his salt-and-pepper black hair weren’t cut so unforgivingly short, would likely stick out in all directions, like Matthew’s.  “Mr. Shepherd?  I’m Matthew’s teacher, Prometheus.”

“Tim,” the other man said, holding his hand out.  “Mr. Shepherd is my father, and my wife Angie says that you put us in contact with Apollo.  We can’t thank you enough,” he finished, shaking Prometheus’s hand with both of his.

“Well, your son is too bright of a flame to be doused so easily,” Prometheus said, a little uncomfortable with the urgency in the man’s greeting.  “It’s my privilege to help.”

“Dad?  Is that Mr. P.?”

Prometheus hid his dismay at the weakness in Matthew’s voice.  “Not a good day, I take it,” he murmured as Tim led the way through a sage and tan living room to a small bedroom lined in bookcases near a three-quarter bath.

“Not at all,” Tim replied quietly, then turned to head into a different part of the house.

Prometheus turned away from the door, frowning after Tim’s abrupt departure.  Apollo sat in a rolling desk chair next to the bed, legs stretched out in front of him, reading through a three inch thick file.  “That certainly was unexpected,” he muttered.

“Dad doesn’t like to see me like this,” Matthew said.  “Mom said you offered to tutor me while I was sick.  Is that my homework, Mr. P.?”

Prometheus sat down on the floor next to the bed, nudging Apollo back over toward the desk.  “It is.  I brought some materials for the project due at the end of the year, too.  Since all of the library’s copies were gone,” he said, fishing around in the white plastic bag with THANK YOU printed repeatedly in red down both sides, “I brought you your own copies of some of what I think the most useful texts might be.”

Matthew’s eyes lit up, but his smile was more exhausted than Prometheus had ever seen.  “Thanks, Mr. P.  I think that might be the best thing a teacher’s ever done for me.  I’ll read through those as quick as I can, and get ‘em back to you.”

“You misunderstood: those are your copies,” Prometheus said kindly, pulling the manila folder out.  “How about we go through what your classes did today, and you can ask me any questions you have?”

Matthew struggled to sit up a bit more, and Prometheus rose up onto his knees, lifting him by the shoulders and tucking his pillows a bit more firmly under him.  A sharp inhalation from next to the desk brought both of them to glance at Apollo.

Apollo didn’t notice.  He hunched over one of the later pages in the medical records, finger lightly tracing a line, then another, then another.  “Matthew,” he said absently, “how old were you when you were having these repeated UTIs?”

“I think I was in third grade, or so,” the boy said after a moment of thought.

“Uh-huh.  Several instances, all long-running, of a particular antibiotic—nitrofuranotonin—that can cause renal issues.  Then, methylphenidate.  Long running, again.  Then paroxitine, which I assume is to combat the nervousness—“

“Panic attacks,” Matthew corrected, “if I so much as stepped out of my room.”

Apollo made a note in the file.  “Panic attacks, then.  Caused by the ADHD medication that has since been discontinued, I hope.”

“Yeah, Angie said my mom was full of something I can’t say if I don’t want her washing my mouth out with soap,” Matthew said wryly.  “Mom thought I had ADHD, and wouldn’t hear otherwise from my teachers, the various doctors she took me to, or anybody.  Three years ago, when I started having problems, she hunted Dad down, and dropped me on him.”

“We didn’t know of his existence until then,” a woman’s voice broke in.  “How are you feeling, Matt?”

“Better,” he said, smiling tiredly.  “This is Mr. P.,” he said, waving an eraser toward his teacher before rubbing out an incorrect step on his algebra.

“Charmed,” Angie said, glancing back at Apollo.  “You have an idea about what’s wrong.”

“I do,” Apollo said, looking somber.  “It’s a cascade of issues, really, where each built on the one previous.  I’m afraid that, while I know what’s causing the problem, there’s nothing I can do to reverse it, short of a kidney transplant.”

Angie turned white, swaying, and grabbed the door facing.  Apollo jumped up and took her by the elbow, guiding her to sit down, then pushed her head down to her lap.  “Breathe, Mrs. Shepherd,” he said softly, glancing over toward Matthew.

The boy looked surprisingly unsurprised, Prometheus thought, following Apollo’s line of sight.  “You expected that,” he said quietly.

Matthew nodded.  “Mom said that kidney failure is permanent, and that it was probably something genetic, but not her.”

“It wasn’t genetic, and it was her,” Apollo snapped.  “What was she thinking?”

“That she wanted a girl, and I wouldn’t act like a girl,” Matthew said flatly.  “So, she tried to medicate me into it.  With judicious application of therapy, of course.”

“Why would she do that?” Prometheus asked, aghast.

Angie sat up with a smile of thanks for Apollo.  “Matthew’s biological mother is a big name in feminist rhetoric,” she said.  “Tim left donations at a sperm bank because I can’t have children, he doesn’t want to raise them without me, and didn’t want his genes to die with him.  Matthew’s mother was the one that received his particular lot.  She wanted a girl.  Matt is a wonderful boy, but all she saw was boy.”

“So she tried to ‘fix’ him and wound up nearly killing him,” Apollo said.  “I hate ‘parents’ like that.”

Matthew sighed and laid his head back.  “Mr. P., would you mind coming back tomorrow?” he asked.  “I’m kind of tired.”

Prometheus smiled gently.  “Of course, Matthew.  Get some rest.”

Apollo stood, closing the file sharply.  “Let me get a blood sample, and I can start looking for preliminary matches,” he said, pulling a syringe out of nowhere and approaching the bed.  He wrapped his hand around Matthew’s wrist, expertly slid the needle into a vein on the back of his hand and quickly drew blood.  He was done before Matthew had time to flinch.

Angie Shepherd ushered both men out of her stepson’s room, closing the door behind them.  “Thank you so much for your help, gentlemen,” she said, trying to smile.  “I hope you don’t mind if I show you to the door.  Matthew isn’t the only one tired.”

Prometheus grabbed Apollo by the arm, smiling at Matthew’s stepmother.  “Of course we don’t mind.  Please give Matthew’s father our regards.”

Before Apollo had time to say anything, the two of them were out on the front porch, and heading down the walk to their cars.  Prometheus climbed behind the wheel, and followed his younger friend down the road, around the corner, and through the interesting little dimensional shift that Hephaestus had come up with for travel in vehicles.  He parked on the street, paralleling his Volkswagen between Apollo’s Jaguar and Artemis’s Hummer.  And then he did a double take—yes, that was Artemis’s car.  “I guess the rumors are true, then,” he muttered as he climbed out of his car.

“What rumors?” Apollo asked, absent-mindedly.  He glanced up, then noticed the behemoth parked behind the Rabbit.  “Oh, those.  Yes, those rumors are true.  Now.  Why did you follow me?”

“I want to be a compatible donor to my student,” Prometheus said.

Apollo waved a hand toward the front door.  “Why don’t you come in?  And what gave you that crazy idea?”

“Think about it, kiddo,” Prometheus said kindly, brushing a thumb over the bottom of his ribcage, reminding Apollo of his long punishment.  “I can give up a kidney and have it back the next day.  Matthew’s are gone.”

“So, what: are you planning to donate a kidney to every kid that needs it?” Apollo asked, unlocking the door.

“I certainly don’t see why not, since it’ll grow back,” Prometheus replied.  “And why limit it to a kidney?  I’ve got a perfectly good liver, too.”

Apollo let out a sudden bark of laughter, shoving the door open.  “Come on in.  Kat’s got a night class to teach, and Artemis is cooking.”

“Beats yours,” Prometheus agreed.  “If you said you’d fix me supper, I’d have turned you down flat.  Now, about my student…”

Apollo held up the vial of blood.  “Already assumed you were going to offer.  I can’t call and tell the Shepherds that I’ve found even a partial match for a few days, and won’t tell them it’s you when the ‘testing’ is done.”

“Probably for the best,” Prometheus said, grimacing.  “Stupid, cockbiting pedophile perverts creeping into education,” he growled.

Slim arms slipped around his waist from behind and Artemis propped her chin on his shoulder.  “Tell us what you really think, Prometheus,” she said, smacking him on the cheek.  “Long time no see.”

Prometheus shrugged Artemis off his back and turned to hug her.  “Indeed.  Maybe if you were more likely to go near a school, I’d see you more often.”

Artemis shuddered.  “Not likely.  So, what did you have Apollo off doing today?”

Apollo started hopping in place with excitement.  “Prometheus found a world-builder, and brought him to me for help.”

Artemis eyed the two worriedly.  “Help?  He’s sick?”

Prometheus grimaced.  “Some people shouldn’t be permitted to care for their own children.  His biological mother nearly killed him.  He needs a new kidney.”

“And Prometheus is going to provide them,” Apollo finished.

Prometheus raised an eyebrow and looked at Apollo carefully.  “Them?”

“Why not?  You’ll grow them back, the kid’s body won’t reject them, and it’ll give him a better chance to fully grow into his potential,” Apollo reasoned, ticking off the reasons on his fingers as he gave them.

Prometheus shrugged.  “Guess you’re right.”

“So…”Artemis drawled.  “Anyone up for Chinese tonight?  I promised Kat I’d take her some when I picked her up after her night class office hours.”

*

Apollo fast-tracked the testing for compatibility, partially because it seemed Matthew worsened by the day, partially because there were no compatibility issues—Prometheus made sure of that.  Once he got a good sample of Matthew’s blood, he aligned his own body to be more compatible than almost any organ donation could possibly be, short of an identical twin.

Apollo scheduled the transplant for early morning—long before dawn—and had the procedure finished before noon.  He woke Prometheus not long after, looking thoughtful.  “Did you know,” he said slowly, “that you already have regrown your kidneys?”

Prometheus, still groggy from the sedation shrugged, then winced.  “I s’pose I’m not s’prised,” he mumbled.  “Vultures ate my liver all day.  Shoulda known that medical help would make it go faster.”

“Let me help you roll over, and I’ll heal your incisions.  You can go home and sleep a bit, and come back later to visit Matthew after he’s been awake awhile.  We’ll talk about other possible beneficiaries of your particular ability later.”

Prometheus grunted assent, and cooperated, flopping down onto his stomach.  “How am I to get home?” he asked, face half buried in the pillow.

“Athena is coming to pick you up after a bit,” Apollo said distractedly as he worked his magic in Prometheus’s wounds.  “She wants to pick your brain about students, and how to inspire them into what they could be, instead of what they are.”

Prometheus groaned as the warmth of Apollo’s healing washed away the lingering discomfort in the swiftly healing incisions, basking in the comforting sensations.  Then the sense of Apollo’s words filtered through the fog in his head.  “What?  Why?”

“Because we think the world is going to need them,” Apollo answered.

“I don’t have any ideas,” Prometheus confessed.  “Why do you think I was so desperate to save Matthew?”

“I’d kind of guessed.  Try sitting up, now.”

Prometheus rolled slowly onto his side, then over onto his back.  “Still too dizzy,” he said.

“Let’s raise the head of the bed, then.  We need to get you out of here sooner than later.  I told the Shepherds you’d called in to work today to come see him when he gets out of surgery.  I was supposed to have called you,” Apollo said, pressing the button on the bed’s railing.  He dropped one of the rails, and perched his hip on the edge of the bed, reaching out for Prometheus’s head.

Warmth enveloped his ears and his balance abruptly reset, then spread throughout the rest of his body, chasing the last effects of the anesthetic from his system.  “Thanks for covering for me,” he said.  He gingerly sat up away from the bed’s support, then scooted forward to swing his legs around to the edge of the bed as Apollo moved out of his way.  “I think I’m good, now.”

“Good,” a cool alto said from the doorway behind him.  “Might want to change into street clothes, though.  Doubt you want to be showing that much off, nice as it looks.”

Both men turned to face Athena, Prometheus with a blush he could feel to his toes.  He reached around behind himself and held the gown closed.  “Ever heard of knocking?” he asked, irritated.

Athena smirked.  “I have, but the door was open.”

Apollo rolled his eyes.  “This area is supposed to be restricted to medical personnel only,” he said patiently.  “You were supposed to wait for Prometheus to come out.”

“I only have so long before my next batch of office hours, which I really need to be there for,” Athena said, shrugging.  “Ready to go?”

“I will be in five minutes,” Prometheus snapped.  “Starting when you at the very least turn your back so I can get dressed.”

“You know, I think he was less short tempered when the vultures were eating his liver without anesthetic,” Athena whispered loudly to Apollo.

“Anesthetic does affect some people like that, but then again, you do, too,” Apollo replied, taking Athena by the elbow and steering her into the hall.  He reached around behind him and slid the curtains across the sliding glass door of the recovery wing, and slid the door shut.

*

Prometheus walked back into the hospital four hours later, as a visitor, this time.  He and Athena hadn’t come to any conclusions, except for noting the possible factor that the cultural disregard for intellectual achievement and curiosity that started in middle school.  Prometheus had shrugged helplessly and said he couldn’t stand children much younger then the young teens he saw in his high school freshman classes, and suggested they recruit Charion for his district’s middle school, where he could watch for any improvements in the students’ attitudes toward school and learning.

It wasn’t much, but it was the best the two could come up with in a twenty-minute car ride between the hospital and Prometheus’s home.

He shook off the slight depression that that discussion had brought on as he stopped at the information desk to ask after Matthew.  He listened attentively, then headed for the elevators and the third floor recovery wing, room 30.

He stood outside the door, out of sight, for a few moments, listening to see if Matthew was awake.  He heard a low murmur of a woman’s voice, then a man’s, before he heard his student’s voice in a cracked mutter.  He raised a hand and knocked.

Angie answered the knock, and smiled brightly, tear tracks still tracing her cheeks.  She stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind herself, then flung her arms around Prometheus’s neck.  “Thank you, so much, for putting us in contact with Apollo,” she whispered.  “Matthew’s only been in our lives for three years, but I can’t imagine a world without him anymore.  Neither can his father.”

Prometheus smiled, gently disengaging Angie’s arms from his neck and taking her hands.  “It was my pleasure to do what I could.  Truly.  Matthew is a very special boy, and the world would be a poorer place without him.”

*

The rest of the school year passed uneventfully, but for the project Matthew turned in at the end of the semester: a sixty page thesis about the cycle of civilization that was far beyond the scope of all of the projects handed in by the seniors, much less those handed in by the freshmen in Prometheus’s Western Civ-style world history course.  More telling was that Matthew projected, based on past civilizations, the direction that current Western thought was taking.

Of course, he sent it on to Athena, and she was eagerly awaiting the boy’s arrival into her own class.

Wrapping up the year hadn’t taken any more or less time than usual, but it was finally all over until fall brought the children back to his classroom.  He knew he’d have Matthew for his AP Western Civilization class, and likely in his Classics class the next year.

Night had fallen, and Prometheus sat out on his small patio behind his modest ranch home in the suburbs near his high school, listening to the neighborhood children chasing fireflies.  The air felt like silk against his skin as he sighed, relaxing into his padded patio lounger he’d pulled out only that day.

A twig at the side of his patio snapped, and his eyes drifted back open to see Apollo standing at the edge of his patio, glancing around his back yard in obvious approval.  “So, this is why you didn’t answer your phone,” he said.

Prometheus nodded, then sighed again, completely boneless in his post-teaching relaxation.  “Go on in through the French doors and take the doorway on the left.  There’s beer in the fridge.”

“I could use one,” Apollo agreed wearily.  “I need your help.  I’ve got a patient that’s six, and desperately needs a bone marrow transplant.”

“What do you need me to do?” Prometheus asked, sitting up.

Apollo held up a small vial of blood.  “Same thing you did with Matthew, only we need a sample of bone marrow from your femur, not an organ.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Apollo sighed.  “We’ve been looking for a match for a while, then I thought of you.”

“Why didn’t you think of me first?” Prometheus asked.  “I thought I’d made it clear before we took care of Matthew that I was willing to be a standing organ donor.”

Apollo shook his head, opening the door.  “Because I totally forgot that part,” he said, chuckling wryly.  “Mind if I sit a while here with you?  It’s peaceful here, and both Kat and Artemis are having their moon time.”

Prometheus shuddered.  “You know, if you need something stronger than beer, my whiskey is in the cabinet above the fridge,” he offered.  “There’s a reason I’ve never lived with women.  Too high of maintenance, and they never know when a relationship is over.”