Disclaimer: Inuyasha is sooo not mine!
The room that contained the thrones of the twelve Olympians was gargantuan. It had to be, in order to accommodate the sheer size of twelve immense and ornately decorated marble thrones, all of which were situated along the far end of the room in a large semi-circle. But nothing in the world could have prepared Niobe for the sight that had abruptly met her eyes, which bulged in horror from their sockets. What had caused Niobe to emit blood-curdling screams was that she could see nothing there at all. No thrones, no marble columns, nothing. Even the view behind them was obscured, where normally there was an awe-inspiring sight of the earth below.
What had sent Niobe into paroxysm of terror was the sight of her mother, her grandfather, as well as the ten other gods, who were almost completely enveloped in a gruesome, revolting, bubbling mass of black slime. The noxious substance not only covered them, but completely engulfed their massive marble thrones and the entire space behind them. The part of her that was Kagome recognized instantly the handiwork of Naraku.
"What have you done?" she cried, her horrified eyes darting from one pale, pain-filled face to another. "What have you done to them?" She saw her mother turn her head slightly to look at her, a look of silent despair in her dark eyes. Niobe stood quite still, not knowing what to do. Vaguely she wondered if she would be able to do anything at all. But one thing was for certain: she had to help them. "Mother," she whispered helplessly as tears formed in her eyes.
Behind her, Thanos chuckled softly. "You could try to aid them, but I would advise against it. That's really potent stuff they're buried in. I don't want you to get hurt, so please do not touch it." He laid his hand on the back of her neck and squeezed her, a gentle reinforcement of his warning.
"Tell me something, Thanos." She turned to look at her brother. "How did you manage to entrap them?" Niobe could not understand her brother single-handedly took twelve of the Olympians hostage.
He waved his hands in a dismissive gesture. "It was nothing, really. As I have said before… Dionysus really does make the best wine."
Niobe stared at him in horror. "You—you drugged them?" she gasped, although she knew she shouldn't be the least bit shocked. After all, that was exactly what he had done to her.
"Obviously," he replied. "How else could I accomplish such a daunting task?" Thanos shot her an engaging grin before setting his sights on the twelve before them. He looked decidedly pleased. "Well, not all of them were drugged. Aunt Hestia was simple enough to subdue. Not being the violent, argumentative type as the others are, she came quietly enough. She actually sat down for me when I commanded her to." He frowned slightly, his brow furrowing in thought.
Niobe caught the look on her brother's face and wondered why he was looking like that. It was almost as if he were perturbed about something. He had accomplished what he had set out to do, and yet he did not have the look of triumph she expected.
"Inebriates, the lot of them," he went on softly. "It was simple enough to drug their wine and all I had to do was conceal myself in the shadows as they drank the night away. Of course," he added, "it took quite a while before the drug took effect. I had to add quite a massive quantity to the wine in order to knock them unconscious, even for a little while. But I had already prepared for that eventuality, hence the small army of youkai that you have seen roaming about this place. I used them as pack animals, if you get my meaning. Anyway, the lesser gods went first, followed by the Hera, Demeter and Hestia. Zeus was, of course, the last to fall." Thanos looked pleased once more. "I had the distinct pleasure of placing his unconscious form on his throne myself."
She shrugged his hand away and turned around to glare up at him. "What the hell is the matter with you? Why are you doing this? They have done nothing to you! I can't believe—"
"Why? Alright, I will tell you why, my girl." Thanos grabbed her from behind, one arm going around her torso, leaving his free hand to gently grip her throat. "Because I want to take his place, that's why," he hissed in her ear, his finger pointing directly at Zeus. "It's my destiny, you know. But I couldn't very well take over his throne if the he or the others got in my way. And we both know that they would do much to protect their precious leader. That's why I had to take care of them. After all, this is the way of things, isn't it, beloved? Older generations are eventually replaced by younger generations. Old people die to make way for the young. That's how the world works, my precious little dove. And we," he said to Niobe, giving her a kiss on the cheek, "are young, while they are old. Their time has long since passed and it's time they retired, don't you think? I mean, just look at them. They look exhausted."
"If I were covered in all that disgusting shit, I would be exhausted too," she muttered angrily under her breath as he moved them closer towards the thrones.
If he heard her comment, he gave no sign of it. Instead, he released her and backed away. Immediately, Niobe headed straight towards the thrones set on Zeus' right side. Niobe could see her father sitting beside Aphrodite, his right arm extending over his arm rest and clutching her hand as though giving her comfort. As for Aphrodite, Niobe barely recognized her. She was very white and drawn, with dark circles under her once lively blue eyes. Those once incomparable eyes were now heavy-lidded and emotionless, and to Niobe she looked as though her soul had fled, leaving only the shell of her body behind. On the goddess's right side was the throne of her son Eros, who sat slumped over in his chair, apparently asleep.
"Eros? What's wrong?" Niobe asked gently. Her hand stretched out to touch his knee.
But Thanos snatched her hand away before her fingers came in contact with the noxious sludge. "I told you not to touch it, Niobe. Didn't I say not to touch it?" he hissed in her ear. To Aphrodite he said, "Oi, bitch. Can you hear me?" He cocked his arm back and slapped her across the face.
The Goddess of Love did not respond. Indeed, she did not even appear to be cognizant of her surroundings. Taking notice of this, Niobe glanced around the room at the other captive occupants. Aphrodite was not the only one who seemed to semi-conscious.
Ares, who sat on Aphrodite's left side, seemed to be unaffected. He was very much awake and aware of what was going on around him. "Leave Aphrodite alone, Thanos. Hitting her will accomplish nothing. Can't you see she is incapable of defending herself?"
Thanos rolled his eyes. "Shut up and mind your own business. And don't tell me that I can't hit her. You'd be wasting your breath for there is nothing that you can say that will keep me from doing as I please," he informed his father in a low, unpleasant tone. "Only Niobe has the power to stay my hand. But don't worry, my revered father, for I have no desire whatsoever for your whore even though she is helpless enough to have my way with. I have something far more delectable to take to my bed." He reached back to fondle one of Niobe's breasts. "My sister's flesh is the sweetest and purest that I have ever tasted in my life. Why would I want another woman when I have the most luscious fruit within reach?"
Repulsed, Niobe moved away from Thanos and quickly crossed her arms over her chest in a protective manner. In the corner of her eyes, she became aware that her father was staring hard at her. Turning her head, she caught sight of the look on Ares' face and much to her consternation, detected a dark fury burning in his coal black eyes. At first she thought the fury was due to the horrid thing he had done to Aphrodite, but then she realized it had nothing to do with that goddess. She saw her father's gaze slide from her, to Thanos and back again. It took her a minute for the implication to sink, but Niobe finally recalled yet another memory: Her father had not known the extent of the relationship between herself and Thanos. Ares had been completely unaware of what had gone on.
But now he knew.
Her chest squeezed painfully beneath her enraged father's scrutiny. His anger was so great she could feel it wrap itself around her and suffocate her. When his hard gaze silently asked her a question, she shook her head hurriedly. "No, Father," she whispered as tears filled her eyes. Her face burned with shame. "Please."
Her softly uttered denial was all the confirmation Ares needed. A pair of the blackest, most hate-filled eyes settled on Thanos. "You are the most contemptible, the most despicable creature to have ever walked amongst the living," Ares snarled at his son. He struggled against the ebony substance that held him to get at his son.
Casually, Thanos glanced over at his red-face father. "What are you talking about, Father?" he asked blithely, a bored expression on his face.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, you depraved little beast," hissed the war god. "I am speaking of what you have done to your sister!"
The younger god faced his father with cold, black eyes. "You speak as though I have broken some law when all I have done is love her," he countered stiffly. "Where is the crime in that? It is not uncommon in our world for siblings to be lovers." He waved a hand in the direction of Zeus and Hera. "Even though he fucks every woman in sight, Grandfather still manages to squeeze in time for Hera, who is his wife and sister, may I remind you. So again I ask, what crime have I committed?"
Ares was silent for a moment, trying his best to reign in his infamous temper. "You speak as though you and your sister were on intimate terms, yet Niobe reacted to your touch with revulsion. How one is to infer that she slept with you willingly when she cringes from you? Explain that if you please."
But Thanos only smiled. "The explanation is simple. Niobe is your little girl, so of course she would not wish her notoriously hot-tempered father to know of her lovers. You know as well as I that she has always been timid around you, Father, because she was afraid of your over-protectiveness. So why should she tell you of what has passed between the two of us?"
The war god turned his attention back to his daughter. "Niobe?"
With tears streaking down her face, Niobe looked up at her father when he spoke her name. "I'm sorry, Father. Forgive me. I couldn't tell you or Mother anything because— because I was so ashamed."
Angered by her words, Thanos whirled around to look at her but she quickly backed away from him.
"Stay away from me, Thanos! We've been through this time and again and I'm tired of arguing with you." Glancing back at her father she said, "Yes, he raped me. I wanted nothing to do with him and yet he raped me over and over again." Her lips quivered as two large tears slid down her cheeks. "I never spoke a word of it to anyone because Thanos would beat me for telling his secret and—"
"Shut up, Niobe!" Thanos yelled, cutting her off.
"I knew it! You deserve to spend the rest of eternity with Hades in his lake of fire, you abominable, contemptible monster!" roared Ares, whose face had turned purple in an apoplectic rage.
Seeing his father struggle against the ebony barrier, the look on Thanos face softened and he chuckled. With a wave of his hand, the black slime crept quickly upwards to cover his father's mouth, silencing him.
"Just so you know I am the only one who can make and destroy this lovely and poisonous ebony sludge, so do not think you can cozen my sister into releasing you. We all know that her greatest fault is that she is far too tender-hearted." He looked around at the other gods. In a loud, clear voice he said, "Do you all understand? Even though she desperately wants to, Niobe cannot help you."
After casting a triumphant glance around the room, Thanos took a shaken Niobe by the hand and led her from the room. "Come, my love. You look exhausted and we must think of your delicate condition. I think it's time for bed for you."
Niobe dared one last look over her shoulder as she was drawn away.
No one had expected Thanos to take off through a portal with a terrified Niobe in his clutches. The moment the portal closed in Yuki's face, that elf whirled around to face the others when a quiet, but annoyed voice broke the weighty silence.
"Where the hell did he take her?" the irritated voice demanded.
Yuki glowered at Inuyasha, who had already changed out of his tuxedo and was now clad in blue jeans, brown Doc Martens and a form-fitting plain white t-shirt. His long silvery white hair was pulled up into a ponytail. As he spoke, he was in the process of strapping his famed Tetsusaiga around his waist.
"Fuck if I know," was the elf's surly reply. "I'm not omnipotent."
Gripping the handle of his famed blade and sending a dark look at the blond elf, Inuyasha walked up to the group, with Ginta, Hakkaku, Shippo and a large Kirara following behind him. "But you were able to survive the wrath of a god," he pointed out reasonably, if not a little irritably. "There must be something godlike about you. So tell us. How'd you do it?"
"I told you, I don't know." Yuki's green eyes narrowed apprehensively on the silver-haired hanyou.
"You two, stop arguing. Yuki, go find our little goddess, my boy. She will need your help. You too, Hiro. You will need to work together. Or rather, the three of you. Sorry, Inu. I'd forgotten about you. Please bring Kagome back safely."
Cracking his knuckles in anticipation, Inuyasha shot a grin at the elf princess as she proceeded to open a portal to the Elven Realm for them. "You bet," he said as he stepped through to the other side. "After all, no matter what form she takes, she is still my responsibility."
As soon as the portal closed behind the trio, Miranda turned to Sesshoumaru and his generals. An odd look had passed over her features.
Sesshoumaru frowned. "Miranda? What's wrong?"
The elf princess shook her head. "I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps I was mistaken, but I thought I saw something. Right before Yuki was hit with that surge of energy. Did any of you—?"
The others looked at each other and shook their heads.
Miranda turned back to look at the way her nephews and Inuyasha had gone. "Funny. I could have sworn…" She trailed off, with the look of confusion still on her face. "Well, I knew about it already, but this… How curious…"
It was the cheerful sound of songbirds nearby that woke Niobe the next morning. Eventually she opened her eyes and blinked vacantly up at the ceiling. For a long moment she had no recollection of where she was until a sigh beside her interrupted her thoughts. She turned her head to see the face of the other occupant of her bed, although she needn't have looked. She already knew to whom the sigh belonged.
Carefully, she rolled over onto her side and found herself staring into her brother's slumbering face. He lay on his side, his left arm tucked beneath his pillow. His right arm was outstretched and draped limply over her waist. He was very beautiful, she thought sadly. It was a great shame that his personality did not reflect his angelic countenance.
Thanos sighed again and this time his arm on her waist pulled her ever-so-slightly closer to him. "Niobe," he whispered in his sleep. "Mmm."
Hearing her name pass so lovingly over his lips brought tears to her eyes and she was reminded of the days when he treated her tenderly and reverently; the days before he had allowed his love for her to grow dark and obsessive. Thanos had been the best of brothers and he had been her best friend. For a time there had been no other children on Mount Olympus for them to play with, so it had just been the two of them. She knew him better than anyone else. Or at least, she thought she knew him better than anyone else.
Oh, how blind and foolish she had been! How could she not have seen it? How could she have not realized right away that his personality had altered so drastically? He had been correct when he said that he knew her better than anyone else and she knew that if their roles were reversed, he would have noticed right away that something was wrong with her. She also knew that he had always been protective of her; overly so. But so protective of her that he would kill? No, she had to have known something was up then.
Again, she should have at least had some notion – if she had not kept denying the fact that their relationship had altered in the most extreme way. But even had she been fully aware of his disturbing behavior, would she have been able to stop him from going on his murderous rampage? He had told their father that it was her hand that stayed his. But would her hand alone be enough? Would he cease this madness and release the others if she asked him to?
"Good morning, beautiful."
Niobe jumped and found Thanos watching her lazily from underneath half-opened eye lids. "Thanos! You startled me!"
"So I see," he replied and laughed softly. "I was having the most wonderful dream, Niobe. Shall I tell you of it?"
She had little interest in his dream but she had an inkling of what it may have been about. Graciously, she said, "Of course, please tell me."
His laugh was a little louder this time. "You already know what I was dreaming about, don't you? It is the same thing I only ever dream of, my love. But this time, instead of endlessly pursuing you, I dreamed that you had finally submitted to me. Wasn't that a lovely dream?"
"If you say so," she murmured resignedly and got out of bed. Slipping into a diaphanous gown, she glided out onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air. Pushing her tousled hair back from her face, she let loose a sigh of relief. Being so close to him was making her decidedly uncomfortable.
A slight fluttering in her belly startled her and a sad smile flitted across her lips. Large drops rolled down her cheeks as she glanced down at her belly. Her baby. Kouga's baby. Their baby. How would she raise this child all alone? From the moment she had been informed of her pregnancy, she had planned on having him with her, to help her. But now—
Oh heavens, what would she do without him?
"It's a very misty morning, isn't it?" murmured Thanos, coming up behind her.
Niobe nodded and agreed it was so. She did not need to turn around to see where he was; the heat of his body warmed her back. When his arms slid around her, instinctively she tensed. He noticed the slight change in her body and leaned his head against hers with a sigh.
"This has been a long time in coming, but I want to apologize for all the times I've hurt you," he told her quietly. "Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I know this is a poor excuse, but I was so incredibly jealous." He chuckled mirthlessly. "You have no idea of just how jealous I got."
"Oh, I think I have a good idea of how jealous you get. You don't hesitate to show me whenever you lay a hand on me."
"I said I was sorry about that." Thanos gripped her shoulders and forced her to face him. "I hope you don't think that I found amusement in what I have done to you. Honestly, Niobe, I love you more than anything. Even more than my own life."
The misty morning was overcast and cool with a slight breeze which carried a slight scent of rain and the fragrance of numerous quantities of flowers from the vast garden beyond her balcony. For a long moment the only sounds Niobe could hear were of the wind and the birds.
After a long moment she said quietly, "You are so adept with pretty words, Thanos; and so skilled at the art of manipulation. It would be utterly foolish for me to trust any words that tumble out of your deceitful mouth. Do you honestly believe that what you are telling me now will make everything all right?" She glared angrily up at him. "Telling me that you are sorry and that you love me… Did you really think that will take back all the pain you have caused me? That your words would repair my broken heart?" she demanded shrilly, being very careful not to mention her beloved mate. She wanted nothing more than to fling Kouga's name in her wretched brother's face. But that would be very unwise. Now that her beloved was dead, she feared that if she pushed Thanos too far he would kill her baby. And if that were to happen, she would lose the last connection to her husband. That must not happen!
His broad shoulders slumped and he shook his head sadly. "No, it doesn't make everything better. For me to apologize like this does not make everything right between us. It certainly doesn't bring us as close as we used to be," he said. "I hate feeling like this, as though there were a great yawning gulf between us." He frowned delicately. "It doesn't feel right. I want things to be as they were. No angry confrontations, no hate. Just you and me, and the closeness and love we once shared."
"After what has happened? After all you have put me through?" she cried incredulously. "No, Thanos, we can never go back to the way things were—"
He broke in, "But if you give me enough time— an eternity, let's say— I believe that would be sufficient time for me to make up for all the wrong I have done to you."
"You can start making up to me by letting me and the others go."
Thanos shook his head again. "You know I can't do that."
"You can't or you won't?"
Her brother sighed. "Both. The others I can't release for obvious reasons—" He shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands in a helpless gesture.
She broke in abruptly. "You mean because they will retaliate? Well, I don't blame them. Wouldn't you?"
"I don't care about them. They mean little to me, but you… You are the world to me, Niobe. I won't release you because if I do, I know absolutely that I will lose you forever." Thanos leaned down and pressed his forehead against hers. The gesture wrung her heart, for it was a painful reminder of the tender and gentle brother he had once been.
"I wish for all the world that I could do as you ask, but in doing so, that would kill me."
He lifted his head from hers and Niobe could see the wild play of emotions across his face, which swung from blinding fury to confusion to utter desolation. It startled her when his face crumpled and he began to sob. "Damn it all, why can't I make you understand? Why can't you see how much I need you? All I ever wanted was for you to love me and me alone!"
A moment passed and by then the expression on his face hardened. "But no, oh no. That was just too much to ask, wasn't it? Timeus, Timeus, fucking Timeus. The only name that ever seemed to fall from your lips was that bastard's name! All you ever loved was him! Why couldn't you love me that way? Why couldn't you look at me the way you looked at him? That fucking sonofabitch, who had done nothing to deserve you! He wasn't even one of us! Damned half-breed upstart! You have no idea how much I hated him, or how much I wanted him dead! I dreamed many times of ripping his head from his body with my bare hands—"
Niobe could only stand there and stare with horror up at Thanos as he ranted and raved. She dared not move for fear he would harm her or her unborn child in his rage.
At long last, Thanos took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, gathering his composure. Quietly he told her, "So you see, if I lost you then I cannot be blamed for the consequences."
Gently pulling away from him, Niobe glared up at her twin. "And what would you do, precisely? Lose your mind and— oh, I don't know— start killing people?" she bit out sarcastically, unable to hold her tongue.
Returning her cold gaze with a steady one of his own he replied, "Yes."
A tense laugh burst from her lips. "I can't believe you have audacity to say that." Balling up her fists, she slammed them against his chest. "You've already murdered people, you fool! What's worse, you've murdered them because of me! Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"
She tried to take a further step back, but he brought his hands up and gripped her head to keep her from moving away. "Do you have any idea what you do to me, little sister?" he whispered, his eyes narrowed.
"Oh, I'm pretty certain what goes on inside that sick mind of yours," she shot back, her voice low.
"Even though I have given you a taste what it's like inside my head, you still haven't the first notion of what I go through because of you. It would be so easy to let you into my mind and allow you to experience all the savage emotions that assault me when I think of you with other men. Do you want to know how I really feel about your pregnancy?" He shook her slightly. "Well, do you?"
Fear gripped her, quickly replacing her defiance. "N-no, please—" She winced in pain as he tightened his hold on her.
He clutched her head harder in an attempt to control is growing rage. "I could end it right now if I so desired, so do not push me! The knowledge that you are carrying another man's child… It's more than I can bear already." Seeing the grimace on her face caused him to release her before he could hurt her any more. "Shall I show you the images that flash across my mind whenever I wish to cause harm to those other men? Let me tell you that it gives me the greatest pleasure, slaughtering them repeatedly in my head. You know, I relish reliving your lover's death. I've closed my eyes and watched it over and over again—"
Shaken by his gleefully spoken words, Niobe squeezed her eyes shut against the sudden wracking pain at the memory of her beloved. "You bastard! Don't you dare speak of him anymore! The last thing I want is to hear you talk of him like this!"
There was silence following her cries and soon she found herself wrapped up in the warmth of his arms. "Then do not speak of leaving me, Niobe. Do not dare even think it! It would be best to remain exactly where you are, am I right? I realize that you don't believe what I say, but I want to protect you from all that is ugly; especially from the ugliness in my head that plagues me. If you recall, I have much to make up for." He scooped her up in his arms and smiled into her angry, defiant face. "Now let me show you just how sincerely I want your forgiveness."
A fierce battle was waged in her bed moments later and Niobe, as usual, lost the war.
Several hours later, Thanos and Niobe were sitting outside in the gardens when a misshapen, humanoid creature approached Thanos. The young god, who had been speaking in warm, honeyed tones to his beloved, instantly became angry at the interruption.
"What do you want? Why are you here? Have you done what I asked? And did I not tell you that I do not wish to be disturbed?" Thanos demanded angrily.
The ugly creature bowed awkwardly. "If you please, my lord, there is a spot of trouble. No, we have not been able to locate—" He looked askance at Niobe before continuing, "— that particular individual. But it appears that we do have company." He gave his master a meaningful look.
The look on Thanos' face turned grave. "I see. I shall have to greet our visitors then." His brow smoothed as he turned back to Niobe. "Do not be alarmed, my love. I will take care of this." He leaned forward and gave her a deep, delving kiss. "I'm ordering you to stay right here and for heaven's sake, do not attempt to escape. Remember that I will always be able to find you, no matter what." Biting her gently on the neck, he reached over and gripped the front of her belt, giving it a good shake to remind her of their unbreakable connection. Then his hand slid lower, causing Niobe to draw a sharp intake of breath.
Much to her mortification, his hand had slipped between her thighs and rubbed her the most provocative manner. She attempted to shut her legs, but he would not allow it.
"And when I return, I wish to explore your lovely body with my tongue yet again. I love you, my most precious queen."
It was all she could do not to shove him away from her and show him just how much he repulsed her. But she dared not. Not after their little confrontation earlier that day. However, she could not suppress a look of distaste and a grunt of revulsion as he licked the side of her neck. As soon as he moved away from her, she grabbed the hem of her dress and used it to wipe his saliva from her skin. After she had done so, she sent up a small prayer of thanks to the unexpected guests her brother had gone to meet and was joyous that he was finally leaving her side.
She watched her brother and the disgusting little creature exit the garden. Once they had gone, she heaved an enormous sigh of relief. She had begun to wonder if he would ever leave! Glancing down at her wrists, she willed the gold bracelets to appear. With a scowl, she ripped the annoying trinkets off of her arms, soon followed by the necklace that had begun to lay heavy on her chest. How she hated them! Gathering the pieces up and balling them in her hands, she tossed them onto the ground. The moment they touched the grass beneath her feet, the gold jewelry began to melt away with a quiet hiss and soon nothing was left save a puff of smoke. She'd wanted to rid herself of them but had not known when or if she would have been able to remove them. But it wasn't as if it mattered anyway. This ridiculous belt ruined any chance of escaping him.
With her fingers, she gingerly touched her throat. Her throat and wrists still bore the mark of his brutality. So much for his apologies, she thought bitterly. Why had he even bothered opening his mouth at all? Did he think that a few sweet words would make her forgive him? That a look of anguish would make her want to open her legs for him?
Anger burned hotly with Niobe's breast. She despised Thanos with as much hatred as she could muster. Her mother never taught her how to not hate her own brother. Indeed, her mother often told her to be kind to everyone, no matter if they had hurt her terribly. But she could not follow her mother's words. Not this time.
She would find a way to save her mother and the others no matter what. After all Thanos had done to her, she would defy him—even at the cost of her own life.
Just to be certain that the coast was clear, Niobe waited several more minutes before slipping from the garden and running through the palace to the throne room, where all the gods were held captive.
As she reached the enormous double doors that led to the room within, she saw with great dismay that the entrance was guarded two large, winged monsters. Demons, she thought with dismay and was immediately annoyed with her short-sightedness. Naturally he wouldn't leave the occupants of Mount Olympus unguarded. She could only hope that there were no unwelcome guardians on the inside, keeping the gods company.
But how to get in! Niobe pulled back then paused. She thought a moment on her predicament before striding forward. Well, there was one way to get in, but one required a serious amount of nerve and someone in her condition shouldn't be attempting to scale a cliff face. She and Thanos had entered the throne room many a time in this manner when they were children. The longer she considered the alternate route, however, the more her heart failed her. After all, it couldn't hurt to try to get in the normal way!
Swallowing her trepidation, Niobe walked towards the doorway and the two fearsome looking demons sentinels. As she feared, two pairs of blood red eyes glared at her with hostility as she approached them.
"Hi," she said, attempting to hide her uneasiness.
They growled low in their throats.
Desperately she wished they could understand that she needed to get inside. "Please," she began, "let me go through these doors. I need to see my loved ones."
Another set of growls, lower in register this time, and much more menacing. With a feeling of overwhelming helplessness, she felt something dark rise in her. She was tired of being unable to do what she wanted! Her family was in that room and they needed her help. Damn these idiotic creatures and their pitifully low intelligence!
For the moment she decided retreat was the best option and headed quickly back down the corridor. On the way to her room, she passed through a long, windowed hallway. She was in such deep thought, wondering how to get into that cursed room, she ran into a slim girl carrying a jug of water.
"Ah! Forgive me!" she exclaimed apologetically and put out a hand to steady the girl, who appeared to be a maidservant.
"If you please, my lady, it is I who should beg your forgiveness."
Niobe glanced sharply at the girl's face. "Annis?"
The maid bowed. "Yes, my lady."
Niobe took a step back. She remembered quite clearly the maid's duplicity in Thanos' plan to bind her to him forever. Seeing the goddess's reaction, Annis straightened and studied Niobe's face somberly.
"I do not expect you to trust me after what I have done to you, but I can help you," the maid murmured softly.
Annis looked cautiously about them. After ascertaining that the coast was clear, she eyed Niobe steadily. "I can get you into that room to see your mother."
Niobe tilted her head to the side and waited for Annis to continue. "Go on."
"I attend to your mother, you see. Your brother allows me to enter that room, but only because I have served the Lady Athena for so long. I am so devoted to her. She has been so terribly kind to me and I felt it was only right to remain by her side since I betrayed her beloved daughter."
When Niobe did not reply, Annis went to the nearest window and set the jug on the sill. "You are probably wondering why I drugged your wine that night."
Niobe shrugged. "I understand. You did it for money. I heard the clink of coins and saw him hand you a small purse."
Annis shook her head dejectedly and burst into overwrought tears. "I despise your brother, my lady! He is so cruel and hateful and manipulative!" She sat down beside her water jug and wept into her hands. "We were lovers, he and I. He asked me to drug your wine because he said that he wished to be rid of you! He swore to me that he loved me— but he needed you out of the way because you were obsessed with him and would not let him be with anyone else. The reason he wanted you drugged was to allow Aphrodite to reverse your passionate feelings for him. At least, that was the story he told me." She sobbed loudly for a moment before wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. "Then later on I heard of the belt he had Hephaestus make for you and then of the death of your lover Timeus. That was when I knew he had lied to me! I realized that it wasn't you who was obsessed with him; it was he who was obsessed with you! Whenever he was around you, I desperately tried to ignore the look of passion in his eyes and on his face when his gaze fell upon you. Oh my lady, I would have killed you if I could, I was so jealous. All I wanted was for him to look at me the way he looked at you. But anyone with half an eye would have known of his feelings with just one glance. I—I can't believe I fell for his deceptions. I'm such a fool."
Moving the water aside, Niobe sat down beside the distraught girl and hugged her. "You aren't a fool, Annis. You were deceived in a malicious and insensitive way. It is my brother who is the fool, not you. He is a heartless, malevolent and vindictive man and he tricked you into helping him. I do not blame you."
Hearing the tender-hearted goddess speak to her so, Annis threw her arms around Niobe and buried her face against Niobe's neck and wept even more bitterly. "I don't deserve your kindness! You have been through so much and I only added to your pain! My life is yours, my lady!"
Rocking the distraught young woman, Niobe smiled against her head. "I do not ask as much as that, Annis," she replied gently, "Although I will take you up on your offer of getting me into that room. Now please don't cry anymore. You should never cry over this. Thanos does not deserve your tears and I have long since forgiven you."
The two women had sat in silence for several long moments when a thought struck Niobe. "Annis, tell me. What happened to Eros? The others appear to be awake, but why is Eros the only one who deeply slumbers?"
Taking another swipe at her eyes, Annis sniffled. "Well, Lord Eros only recently returned to us. He lived amongst the mortals for a time, you know."
Niobe stared in surprise at the maid. "No, I didn't know."
Annis nodded. "Oh yes, my lady. He announced his intentions to his mother before he left. She begged him not to go, but his mind was firmly made up." She twisted her hands in her lap.
"But why?" Niobe frowned. "Why would he leave heaven to be amongst the mortals?"
The youthful maid turned her face up to the goddess. "Why, my lady? In order to find you, that's why. Lord Eros wanted to protect you from Thanos. He felt responsible for not aiding you that night." Annis paused before adding quietly, "But he was not the only one who went in search of you."
Puzzled by the young woman's words, Niobe pressed for her to elaborate but Annis would not speak further on the matter. Instead she finished regaining her composure and told Niobe how she planned to get her into the gods' throne room.
Soon Niobe was meekly following Annis down the large corridor that led to the throne room. Annis had asked another maid to stand guard in the hallway and instructed her to whistle when she heard Thanos was nearby. The other maid nodded and curtseyed to Niobe.
Dressed in a plain white tunic and carrying a pile of linen that was high enough to hide her face, Niobe kept close to Annis as the two women swept right past the two winged guardians. As soon as she passed the threshold, Annis turned and closed the massive double doors, leaving one opened slightly in order to hear the warning signal.
"Forgive me for making you carry these," Annis said regretfully, taking Niobe's burden from her.
"It is alright," Niobe said, allowing the maid to relieve her of her burden. "I'm in, in any case."
Annis turned on the lights and Niobe dashed across the room towards her mother. "Mother!" she cried softly as she reached Athena's feet.
Athena, who had been asleep, opened her lovely eyes and smiled lovingly down at her daughter. "Niobe! I thought Thanos would never let you back in to see me!"
"He could never keep me away from you," she reassured her mother and gingerly touched the part of her hand that was free of the black slime.
She smiled benevolently down at her weeping daughter and clutched at her hand. "How I have missed you, my sweet child! And how I have worried for you! It is I who should ask for forgiveness, Niobe. Had I stopped that evil brother of yours from doing what he did to you and that poor boy—?"
"That poor boy indeed!"
Niobe whirled around, startled.
She saw that it was Aphrodite who had called out indignantly from the other side of the room. When had she come out of her trance?
"The very least you could do is say his name, Athena! After all, it was your son who murdered him!"
Athena lifted her noble head and glared at the goddess of love. "It sounds as though you believe I had a hand in that nasty affair, Aphrodite. And I will have you know that I did all I could to discipline my son's wild ways, so I will thank you to blame his father for that!" She glared pointedly at the darkly handsome god of war on the opposite side of the room. "I begged him not to allow the boy anywhere near a sword!"
Ares, who was eyeing the drooping figure of his daughter with remorse, sat up as straight as he could. Earlier, at Niobe's insistence, Thanos had allowed their father the freedom of speech once more. "Athena! Don't you dare put the blame on me for Thanos' mistakes!"
Aphrodite turned her head as far as she was able and scowled at her black-haired lover. "Well, you are his father, Ares. The least you could have done was kept him in line! Then perhaps my son would never have met his fate!"
Niobe, who was still grasping onto her mother's hand and sobbing, sat up straight and turned her tear-stained face in the direction of Aphrodite. "Wait a minute. Your son? Timeus was… He was your son?"
"Yes. Didn't you know? Couldn't you see the resemblance?" she bit out resentfully, tearfully. "Timeus was my son by a half-god, half-mortal man. A demigod." Her face relaxed and she wept a bit. "I must tell you that I always blamed you, Niobe. For his death, I mean. But to be fair to you, it was foretold to me by the Oracle of Delphi when I was pregnant with him so I knew all along that he would die. And in an attempt to cheat Fate, I sent Timeus to live with his father in the mortal realm, hoping that he would be safe from you. But when I found out from him that he had fallen in love with a beautiful, black haired goddess…" She trailed off, her blue eyes misting. "For the longest time I had believed that you would be directly responsible… But it was only right before his death I had a feeling it would be your evil brother and not you, who would commit such a heinous deed. After all, you are far too much like your mother to ever take another life."
Niobe, shaken by Aphrodite's revelation, rose and went over to that goddess and knelt at her feet. "I never knew who his mother was. Forgive me, Aphrodite! If I had known about the belt Thanos had given me I never would have allowed Timeus to pursue me. I would have kept as far away as I could from him!"
"Belt?" Aphrodite stared down at the girl with puzzlement. "What belt?"
"The one that Thanos forced me to wear. He told me that right before you and Eros came to my chambers to perform—" Niobe shot her father a nervous look before she continued, "—to perform the marriage ceremony, he slipped a special belt on me because he knew that whatever magic you cast on me would not endure."
With a grim smile, Aphrodite nodded. "I told him as much, but he did not seem to care. I now see that he was far better prepared than I gave him credit for, the sneaky bastard." She paused then asked, "This belt that you speak of. Where did he obtain it?"
The younger goddess grimaced and looked down at her feet. That was all the confirmation Aphrodite needed. Raising fearsome blue eyes, she sent a withering glare across the room at her estranged husband. "Damn you, Hephaestus. How could you even fathom aiding that monster? You know what he's like! So tell us. What did the bastard promise you in exchange for this unbreakable leash and the eternal imprisonment of his sister?"
The great Lord of the Forge straightened a little in his chair, discomfort written plainly on his homely, rugged face. Niobe, who had turned her gaze to her quiet, kind and loving uncle, felt her heart breaking at the sight of him. He was a large man and crippled, his lower half shriveled and weak in comparison to his upper body, which was as broad and powerful as any of the other males in the room.
Hephaestus gaze weakened underneath Aphrodite's harsh stare. In a soft voice he replied, "He promised to persuade you to return to me. He said— he said that he would make you see sense so that you would treat me as a wife should treat her husband." He looked away from her, his entire being radiating humiliation.
There was a moment's silence before Aphrodite burst into peals of harsh laughter. "And you believed him? You actually believed that lying scumbag?" More laughter. "Oh my! I knew you were a fool, Hephaestus, but I never thought you would be that much of a fool! At least I knew I had half a chance of success when I agreed to help him. I knew that he when it came to Niobe, he would do his damnedest to keep her all to himself. And before you accuse me of being a hypocrite, I did it in an attempt to save my son's life while you aided him purely for selfish reasons! As for me returning to you, you of all people should know better! I never wanted to marry you in the first place, you great ugly oaf! You repulse me! Gods, you're such a gullible fool!" She laughed again, only this time it was a laugh bordering on hysteria.
The distressed, tormented look on Hephaestus' face was too much for Niobe. As indignation prickled up her spine, she turned on Aphrodite, marched up to her throne and slapped the laughing goddess hard across the face. So angry was she that when she got some of the slime on her hand, she never even felt it burning her skin. "Stop it, damn you! Can't you see you're hurting him?"
The laughter died on Aphrodite's lips, her big blue eyes blinking rapidly. "I—"
"You are so cruel to him always," Niobe bit out accusingly. "You laugh and mock him, but for what reason? I, for one, understand why he did what he did. He didn't do it out of malice; he did it for Thanos simply because he loves you and wants you back. Of course he would believe my brother's false words. Wouldn't you, if someone promised you they would be able to return the one you love to you if you were desperate? Uncle Hephaestus only did as my brother wished out of love for you. I find it odd how the Goddess of Love does not know what real love is, even though it is staring her in the face."
A look of guilt spread across Aphrodite's face in a scarlet stain. "Well," she began, directing her words at her husband, "did you at least make the belt so she could break free of it?"
Hephaestus, shooting his little niece and defender a look of gratitude, nodded. "Of course I did. I didn't fully trust him and I told him that I did not like what he was planning to do with it, so I made it in such a fashion that there would be a way she could free herself."
"And which way is that?"
Niobe looked at Aphrodite. "It was your son Timeus. He was the key. I'm afraid that is why Thanos murdered him. Thanos said that he had to get rid of him because he was the only one who could break the belt."
Hephaestus cleared his throat. "Excuse me, Niobe, but is that what Thanos told you?" The black haired goddess turned her attention to her uncle again and nodded. "Were those his exact words?" he asked.
Niobe frowned. "Well, no, but he inferred that Timeus was the only one who could release me from the belt. Why do you ask?"
The blacksmith of the gods nodded slowly. "I see. Well, I am afraid he did not tell you the entire truth concerning that. Come here child, and let me tell you how to remove that wretched piece of metal from around your waist." When Niobe was standing before him, Hephaestus smiled tenderly down at her. "Whoever loves you and one whom you can return that love to in equal measure; only they would be able to free you from that cursed belt."
As his words sank in, Niobe lowered her head sadly. For her, there was only one man who fit that bill. "Only Timeus ever loved me so greatly. So that's it then. I'm attached to my brother for all eternity. That doesn't help me at all, uncle. Thank you anyway."
"It doesn't matter, since Timeus is dead again. I don't know if he'll be reborn or if I'd even be able to find him…"
"Dead again?" This time it was her mother. "Sweetheart, what do you mean, he is dead again?"
Wiping away the tears that fell at the memory of her beloved, Niobe said, "I found Timeus in this life. He was reborn as a wolf demon named Kouga." She smiled softly to herself. "Oh my, he was so handsome! He had long black hair and the most amazing blue eyes I'd ever seen and—and he loved me more than life itself." Niobe turned to face Aphrodite and walked towards her. "We got married only… Was it yesterday? Or the day before? I can't remember…" She began to weep in earnest and rung her hands in agitation.
A whistling sound came from outside the double doors and Annis whirled around. She waved frantically at Niobe. "My lady! Please hurry! He is returning!"
Niobe ran across the room to her mother, who was trying very hard not to cry. "I will be back as soon as I can," she assured her mother. "With Annis' help, I will be able to see you as often as possible."
Athena smiled brightly and nodded. "Yes, that would be lovely. Now go, and be careful, my love."
Giving her mother a brave smile, Niobe quickly followed Annis from the room.
Dinner that night was uncomfortable.
The twins sat alone in the great dining hall, save for a handful of servants who served them their food and refilled their bejeweled goblets. At least, they replenished Thanos' food and drink for Niobe had little appetite. Under the circumstances, she would have refused to eat at all, but she couldn't. She had to think of her unborn child and made sure to eat enough to keep up her strength.
Her lack of appetite did not go unnoticed.
"You have scarcely touched your food, beloved," Thanos remarked casually. "What's wrong? Are you feeling unwell?" He took a bite of succulent roasted turkey leg.
"I'm fine," she replied curtly.
He set the turkey leg down on his plate and reached out to grab his golden chalice. For a long moment he sipped at his wine and all the while his dark eyes studied her over the rim of his cup. "I really wish you wouldn't lie to me," he said, setting down his drink.
Niobe bristled. "I'm not," she muttered irritably.
"Oh, but you are. I can feel it," he said, poking his chest with his thumb. "Right here."
"Do not be absurd. You could not possibly have any idea just how I feel," she retorted sharply.
Thanos leaned over suddenly and grasped one of her hands in his. His dark eyes glowed with tender emotion. "But I do. Indeed I do. You forget that we are twins and as twins we have a very… special… connection." He pulled her forward and kissed her gently.
"Please don't," she protested weakly, turning her head away when he attempted another kiss.
"Why not?" he asked, his gaze fixed on her.
She shook her head. "It doesn't feel right when you kiss me. I really wish you wouldn't. If you truly felt everything I feel, then you would know that." When he reached for her face to turn it back to his, she jumped up quickly and moved so that her chair was between them. "I'm exhausted, Thanos. I want to retire for the night."
He watched her as she turned to walk away. "I have not yet dismissed you."
She turned to look at him. "I do believe I'm old enough to decide when to leave a room without permission," she informed him stiffly. "I am not a child."
"I never said you were. But I do not want you to leave me," he told her, getting to his feet. "I want you to stay and converse with me."
"I told you," she said, backing slowly away, "I am tired and wish to go to bed."
Thanos wiped his hands on a napkin that was sitting beside his plate then set it back down on the table. "Wait for me," he said. "I shall retire with you."
Niobe bit her lip uncertainly. That was the last thing she wanted. "N-no, that's okay. I'd rather sleep by myself tonight," she stammered and hurriedly began to make her way out of the dining hall.
When she reached the doorway, she had to bite back a sob. The feel of his hand on her waist let her know that she was not going anywhere without him.
"But I wish very much to sleep with you," he whispered, his breath hot against her ear.
As she held back her tears, she felt his arms encircle her when she tensed. She had just been about to run away from him but he had sensed her desire to fly from him… and had successfully stopped it.
They made their way to her bedchamber but he did not want to go to bed immediately. Instead he led her over to her balcony, his arms still wrapped securely around her. The moon was bright and as beautiful as ever, but seeing it only brought heartache to the part of her that was Kagome. When she could not stand the sight of that gentle, glowing orb any longer, Niobe turned her head away.
"Something is wrong. I understand the pain you must be feeling."
She laughed derisively. "You understand nothing, Thanos."
"Don't I?" He turned her face up to his. "I told you that we have a special connection. Do you doubt me?"
"Yes. Always. No matter what you do, I will never believe a word you say."
"Cruel child." Tilting her head up higher, he bent down to kiss her. His lips drifted away from hers, across her cheek and traced a path down the side of her throat. As he dipped to kiss her shoulder, he lifted a hand to press against her bosom, just over her heart.
"I feel the same things you do," he told her quietly. "Whether you like it or not, our hearts beat as one."
She slapped his hand away from her chest. "Nonsense."
"Then let me prove it."
Before she could say a word, he had whirled her around to face him. Each of her hands he had covered with his own; her left hand pressed against her heart, her right against his heart.
He allowed a few minutes to pass before he spoke. "You see?" he whispered. "They beat as one."
Niobe could only stare in horror at him. "No," she breathed. He had been right. Their hearts did indeed beat in perfect rhythm. Even when her heart began to race in her breast, his heart began to race exactly when hers did.
"Even if you manage to escape me and find love with another, you will never find a man who knows you as well as I do." Stifling a groan, he pressed his forehead to hers. "I love you more than I do myself, Niobe. Whatever you think or feel, I am aware of it."
"Then why do you keep pursuing me, knowing that I will reject you repeatedly?"
A small smile curved his lips. "Haven't you figured it out yet?" At the shake of her head, he continued. "It's because I can sense that a part of your heart still belongs to me."
Speechless, she stared at him.
"I am right, am I not? A part of you still loves me, Niobe. I can feel it. And that is why I will never give up on you, no matter how badly you treat me or how rudely you speak to me."
"But wouldn't most men walk away from a woman who would do that to them? Wouldn't that be an incentive to find someone else?"
He released her hands and took hold of her upper arms. "And that seems to be the crux of the matter, doesn't it?" He shook his head regretfully. "As you well know, I am not most men. I don't want anyone else, Niobe. All I want—all I have ever wanted—was you."
As his dark, fathomless eyes peered into hers, a memory surfaced in her mind. A very old memory, she thought with some astonishment. But the astonishment quickly passed. Why should she be surprised by an old memory? There were, no doubt, many more memories that she had yet to recall. And yet, this one was quite old and seemed to be a memory she had buried away deep in her subconscious, as though it was hidden there by her. It was certainly different from the ones Thanos had erased from her mind.
From the time they emerged from their mother's womb, Thanos and Niobe had been inseparable. As the older they grew, the closer they became. They could not bear to be parted from one another, not even at night. During their entire childhood the twins shared the same room, the same bed even, so close was their bond. Every moment, be it waking or sleeping, must be spent together.
So it was with much astonishment that one day, not much past their fourteenth birthday, that Niobe woke to find their bed empty and her brother already awake and fully dressed.
"Thanos?" she asked, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "What are you doing?"
Her brother, whose back was to her, stiffened at the sound of her voice but he did not turn around. "Packing my things," he said shortly.
Niobe frowned. Thanos never spoke to her like that.
"Why?" He turned around and with a wave his hand, dismissed the servant who had been helping him with his things. The servant picked up the box and exited the room in silence.
"Yes, why?" she pressed him.
Thanos sighed. "I've been doing some thinking the past few weeks. Don't you think we are a little too old to be sleeping together? I mean, we've been doing that since we were infants. All I want is a room of my own and some privacy. Surely you don't begrudge me that?"
His words stung. She hadn't known he was so unhappy.
"N-no, of course I don't," she told him. "I just wish you had talked to me about this when it first began to bother you. It would have given me time to adjust."
"I'm sorry," he said. "You're right. I should have let you know first." There was an uneasy pause for a moment. "Well, I must be going. See you later." He turned to go.
"Wait!" cried Niobe, scrambling out of bed. "Wait, please wait. Tell me, what have I done to drive you away, Thanos? I feel as though I am to blame for this."
He came to a halt in the doorway but did not turn around. Niobe sensed that he did not want to look at her.
"You haven't done anything, Niobe. If you must know, I am in need of female company and Father said he would provide me with some."
"But," she pleaded, and stretched out a hand to him, "I am a female. What's wrong with my company?" She just did not understand.
This time, Thanos did turn to look at her. The pitiful look of longing in her eyes tore at his heart. "I don't think you understand what I am saying, Niobe, so let me be as clear as I can. I prefer the company of women. And by women, I mean adult females with womanly attributes." His black eyes coolly skimmed her up and down. "You are still in possession of a child's body. Goodbye."
Her large eyes filled with anguished tears as he departed their bed chamber. No, not their bed chamber. Not any longer. It was solely hers now.
As her tears fell, she went over to the full-length mirror that stood near the dressing room and stared at her reflection for a long time. He had been correct about her body. She had nothing, no breasts, no curves or firm, rounded limbs… nothing to show that she was a woman.
She sank to the floor and wept violently. Never had she felt such loneliness.
But Thanos had not completely abandoned her. A week after he had moved into his own chambers, he took her out for a walk, just the two of them. He held her and assured her that he had not ceased loving her; he always would. They talked just like they used to, which pleased Niobe greatly. She had been fearful now that he moved out that he would grow away from her and leave her all alone.
Outings like this occurred often, much to Niobe's delight. But her body still remained child-like. She loved how attentive he was to her, as though he was trying to make up for leaving her behind and growing up before her.
Inevitably, during their conversations amidst the nature around them, Niobe began to fall in love with her twin. She had always loved him, it was true, but this was a deeper, more complex feeling. She wanted nothing more than to spend eternity at his side as his wife, for who else knew him better than she?
On their fifteenth birthday, Niobe took her courage into her own hands and decided to tell him of her feelings that evening. She dressed with care and stared proudly at her figure in the mirror. A year after he had moved out of their room, she had developed somewhat. Her breasts weren't the size she'd hoped they be for they were only small buds yet, but at least he couldn't say that she hadn't grown.
After applying some rouge to her face, she took a deep breath and went to his rooms. She knocked on the door.
A tall, buxom redhead who was decidedly inebriated answered the door. "Yes?" she asked suspiciously. "Who are you? This is a private party."
"Who's at the door?" called Thanos from within.
The redhead turned and shrugged. "I don't know. It's some girl in a dress, trying to show off tits she doesn't have." The woman burst into laughter suddenly, as though she could no longer contain her mirth.
"Ah, that will be my sister. Tell her to come in. After all, it's her birthday too."
The woman at the door turned her attention back to Niobe. Her heavily painted face held a decidedly sour look. "Come in, your highness," she muttered sarcastically. "Hell, you look nothing like Lord Thanos. How can the two of you be twins?"
Niobe ignored the red-haired female and swept past her into her brother's room. He was lying on his bed, quite naked, while a petite blonde female straddled his thighs seductively. She, too, was naked.
Thanos took a swig of wine and looked past the blonde to his twin, who stood, horror-struck, at the sight before her. He chuckled and setting down his cup, turned his attention to the nude female on his lap. While his sister looked on, he grabbed the blonde woman's breasts and squeezed them.
"See, look here, Niobe. These are what breasts are supposed to look like," he told her, his eyes never leaving the smooth, buoyant globes in his hands. "Although mentioning that you have nothing like this would be exceedingly rude of me." He and the blonde giggled. "Ah well, that is neither here nor there. What is it that you want?" he asked while attempting to affix a serious expression on his face.
Feeling a deep blush spread over her cheeks, Niobe bowed her head in an attempt to hide the look of embarrassment on her face. "I wish to speak with you, brother. In private if you please."
"In private? Don't be absurd, Niobe. I have nothing to hide from my two charming companions here. So spill it. What's the big secret?" He poured himself a fresh cup of wine.
But Niobe could feel the hostile glance of the red-head from behind her. In front of her, on the bed, the blonde was performing fellatio on her brother. Niobe could not think anymore. She could only feel… and all she could feel was misery. She knew at last that what she had feared most had come true. Her brother had indeed grown away from her. The connection that she had with him for so long was gone and most painful of all— he had been the one who had severed it.
"No. It's nothing. I am sorry to have disturbed you." Niobe turned away and began making her way to the door.
The cry pulled Niobe up sharply and she turned, half-expectantly. Perhaps he would send these two disgusting females away?
Still naked, Thanos had risen from his bed and made his way towards her. "Look, Niobe, I know why you came here."
"You do?" Hope dawned in Niobe's soul. He had seen the hurt he had caused her and he would now apologize.
Thanos nodded. "Yes. It's not hard to figure out. After all, you've been giving me the signs for the past few months now. I can tell you're in love with me, Niobe. I'm sorry, I should have said something to you earlier."
She beamed up at him. "It's alright, Thanos. And I am sorry too. I should have told you from the outset of my feelings for you—"
"Doesn't matter," he said abruptly. "Now you know that I know… was there anything else?"
Niobe stared up at him, confused by his cold manner. "Well, no, not really."
"Good. Then good night, sister. I shall go back to my party now."
"But what? There is nothing more for me to say, Niobe." When she did not reply but instead, only looked up at him with a bewildered look on her face, he groaned. "Look, dammit! Do I have to spell it out for you? Honestly, you're so slow! I… don't… love… you! Do you understand now? I don't love you in the romantic sense; only as a brother. Now please, go away." With an impatient hand, he shoved Niobe out of the room and slammed the door in her face.
So deep in her recollection was Niobe that she did not notice Thanos taking her head in his hands. When she came to herself, she stared up at him in utter disbelief. He smiled.
"You remembered at last, didn't you?" he asked gently. When she did not reply, he brushed his lips against her forehead. "Silly thing that you are, you imagined that I had no memory of that night. Well, I did." He pulled her close to him. "I wish I could erase that memory from my own mind. You have no idea how badly I wanted to run after you and beg your forgiveness, Niobe. I behaved like a complete bastard to you. Gods above, I never meant any of the words that I said to you."
The expression in his eyes was one of wretchedness when he saw her burst into tears. "Oh honey, please don't cry!" he exclaimed and cradled her trembling body to his chest. "Forgive me! Say you forgive me! Do you see why I can't let you go? Do you see why I am unable to move on? Because you loved me! You loved me and no other. Have you any clue as to how happy that makes me?"
"I don't love you like that now," she gasped between sobs. "Let go of me, damn you!"
His hands moved upwards to grip her head and tilt it upwards so that she was forced to look at him. "Never. As long as you hold me in your heart, even a little bit, I will never give up. As long as there is love for me inside you, I will never lose hope. Would you like to know why I spoke to you so harshly that night?"
"No!" cried Niobe and struck Thanos on the chest.
He ignored her. "The reason was simply that I did not want to appear to be a weakling in front of those women. I was a teenager and you know how teenagers are. You can't lose face or everyone will think you are a loser. They expected me to be a man, just like Father. I couldn't let them see me otherwise. I let my pride get in the way and allowed you to be hurt. I am so sorry, my darling."
"But you left me!" she shrieked at him. "You wanted your own space and you… you deserted me! Do you know how I cried when you separated us?"
Anguish contorted his face. "Of course I know! I heard you crying after I left the bedroom. All I could do was stand there and listen to you. It was an unspeakable feeling, knowing that I had hurt you so deeply. I have never forgotten that day, feeling our hearts breaking as one. My arms ached to hold you until you ceased to cry."
Niobe let out a hiccupping sob. "Then why? Why did you do it?"
Thanos stood quite still and stared off into space. "There has never been a time when I have not loved you, Niobe."
"What are you saying, then? That the whole thing was an act?"
"Why?" she demanded sharply.
Broad shoulders heaved a sigh. He ran a weary hand through his hair. "Simply this: I left because I was beginning to feel my hormones kicking in. Sex was all I thought about."
"So? What has that to do with anything?"
His dark eyes sought hers. "Well, don't you see? How could I possibly…? Look, I've never told anyone this, but when you slept beside me, I would turn over and watch you sleep. You… you were so sweet and lovely, and wholly innocent. Forgive me, Niobe, but all thought about was turning you over on your back and fucking you senseless."
Her eyes widened. "Thanos…"
Shamefully, he hung his head. "But I couldn't. How could I? Your body was still undeveloped. Even though we were the same age, in my eyes, you were still a child. I was in agony each night as I lay beside you. Towards the end, I took to watching you sleep while I masturbated. After that last night together I got up early, thoroughly disgusted by what I was doing. I knew that I could not spend another night in close proximity to you without ravaging you. You were so pure, so perfect… I just couldn't ruin your sweet loveliness in such a brutal way." He paused. "Anyway, that is the story. That is why I left so suddenly."
A revolted look passed over Niobe's face. "You're sick, you know that? Sick and twisted and perverted—" She shoved him away from her when he attempted to touch her. "Don't touch me, alright? Don't you fucking touch me."
To her surprise, he moved a few steps back. "Yes, I am. You're right. I am a sick, twisted pervert. That was exactly why I left. I was afraid of what I might do to you, of hurting you. Please believe me, Niobe. I never meant to hurt you."
But Niobe wanted to hear none of it. Remembering her love for him, recalling how hurt she had been when he suddenly broke their close relationship— it was too much for her to take. Wrapping her arms about her she said quietly, "And yet you did it anyway. Only you waited a few more years before you decided to burn your odious touch into my flesh. Oh, for heaven's sake please leave. I want to be alone now."
Thanos studied her pale, pinched face. "Alright, Niobe. As you wish." He turned to go, then paused. "I will let you alone this one night, but no more. And your chambers will be carefully guarded so you can't run away. Understand?"
She turned her face away from him.
"I did a lot of things to you which I regret. I wish you would relent and allow me to make it up to you."
"Get out, I said."
He closed the door softly behind him as he went.
The next day Niobe stayed in her room as long as she was allowed. After the second tray of food was turned away, Thanos broke down her door and demanded to know why she was not eating. She, in turn, demanded to know why the hell he even gave a shit. He ranted and raved about her not caring about his feelings. She told him in no uncertain terms to get fucked.
An hour later, Niobe found herself sitting in the gardens with her still-fuming twin. When she refused to respond to him, he stormed off, leaving her alone with her thoughts. But she felt that something was not right. Her mind kept returning to the collection of memories she had recalled and examined them. The more she scrutinized them, the more she felt that something was a little off. There was something amiss with the whole setup. But what was it?
Night soon descended upon them. At dinner, Thanos, who was feeling exuberant at having his beloved by his side once more, drank a cask and a half of Dionysus's wine all by himself. So drunk was he that Niobe ordered his youkai slaves to take him to bed. An hour later, after ascertaining that her twin was indeed out cold, she snuck off with Annis to see her mother and hopefully find a way to free her and the others.
Acting as Annis' assistant yet again, the two women got past the winged youkai sentinels with no problem. While Annis was giving fresh water to Athena, Niobe made her way over in the darkened room to where Eros sat, confined as all the others were, on his throne. All the gods were sleeping save her mother.
Holding her lamp high, she stopped at the love god's throne and stared up at his sleeping face. He certainly was very beautiful; there was no doubt of that. A beautiful man whose face eternally appeared to be that of a teenage boy.
As she studied him, the god with the boyish features stirred and opened his eyes slowly. When his gentle grey gaze lit on her, he smiled. "Niobe," he whispered and closed his eyes again, his curly blond head falling back against the back of his chair.
Niobe frowned. "Yes?"
He remained still for a moment before he too, frowned. His eyes opened and he stared hard at her, his fair brows knitted in consternation. "You— you're here."
She nodded then became instantly alarmed. He sat up straight in his chair, his eyes welling with tears.
"No! No, no, no, you're not supposed to be here! Why are you here?" he rasped agitatedly. "What are you doing here?"
"Eros?" Niobe wanted to get close to him, to try to calm him down but he began to sob. Frightened that he would make enough noise to bring her brother running, she tried hurriedly to silence the agitated god. "Shh! Hush now! Please don't cry!"
"It wasn't enough! Oh Niobe, forgive me! I tried— I really did try to protect you! Please believe me!" he cried. "Oh gods, I failed! I failed!"
Ignoring the poisonous substance that enveloped him, Niobe grabbed Eros by the shoulders. "Eros! Calm down and tell me what you're talking about!"
Lifting distressed eyes to her, Eros shook his head disconsolately. "I was supposed to find you and protect you, but it seems that I did not do what I set out to do. Worse, we parted on bad terms. I never meant to let you down, Niobe. Honestly I didn't." He looked so pitiful she had to turn her gaze away.
Averting her eyes, Niobe shook her head. "I still have no idea what you mean."
He lay his head back against his chair and gazed miserably up at the ceiling. "It was a real tragic twist of fate, wasn't it? Being born as his son." Eros chuckled mirthlessly and shook his head. "Now I understand why I hated him so much."
Her head whipped around. She stared in silence at Eros for a long time before it hit her. His eyes. She had never really paid much attention to Eros' appearance before, but now that she was studying him, she realized that his eyes looked very familiar. He had beautiful eyes; they were kind eyes, a soft smoky shade of grey. Grey eyes—
She released him and backed slowly away from him, her hands covering her mouth in disbelief. "You—you were—" Niobe felt her mouth go dry. "Gil," she whispered just as tears slid down her face.
He smiled sweetly at her. "It took me a long time before I regained all of my memories and remembered who I had been. Apparently, that is only natural when one is re-born. Unfortunately, I did not fully realize it until the day before my death. But you… I knew you were something very special to me from the moment I first saw you. Even all those years before we met in person… I knew by your eyes. I remembered your eyes, Niobe."
Feeling suddenly overcome, Niobe sank to the floor and sat there, trying to catch her breath. "You remembered my eyes?" she whispered.
"Yes. I noticed that one's eyes remain the same, no matter into which body you are reincarnated in." He smiled at her. "You have the kindest, sweetest eyes. I've always loved your eyes, even from the moment I first saw them when you were a mere infant." His smile faded, faltered, then vanished. "I knew Kouga by his eyes too. Timeus had those same icy blue eyes." A scowl set in and he gritted his teeth together. "I have always despised my half-brother," he told her candidly. "He was not even fully god, yet Mother treated him specially. Plus, he had you. Lucky bastard." Eros glared at Niobe for a moment before his face relaxed. "Tell me something, Niobe."
She nodded. "Certainly."
Eros was silent for a minute. When he spoke again, his voice was bitter. "What was it about him that made you turn a blind eye to every other man who ever desired you?"
His query took her by surprise. Akira— or rather Xander— as well as her brother had both asked her a similar question.
"I don't know," she answered quietly. "All I know is that whenever I was with him, I felt complete, whole. His love warmed my life; no, my entire world." Niobe looked away, her face glowing with joy. "I remember the first time I realized that I was in love with him. He touched me lightly with his hand, and I knew that if he wanted, I would give my body to him. When he smiled at me, I surrendered my heart to him. And even though I knew I should have guarded myself more closely than that, I knew without a doubt that he felt the same about me." She smiled brilliantly up at Eros. "Timeus and I… We were meant to be together. That's all."
"He never deserved you, Niobe. Timeus was nothing more than grasping upstart who felt that it was his right to live among us on Olympus—"
Niobe turned around at the sound of Annis' frantic voice. "Annis? What's the matter?" she asked of the maid. One look and she pressed her body back against Eros's throne, almost as though she wanted to vanish into the massive marble structure.
One of the giant double doors shut softly. "Yes, my dear, what is the matter?"
Niobe's heart skipped a beat. She felt faint. Oh gods, no, he was not supposed to be here!
Her twin crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the doors. "Yes, here I am, miraculously sober once more. But if I may be so bold, what are you doing here, Niobe? I thought that when I would awaken from my drunken stupor, I would find my beloved queen at my side. But no. When I wake, what do I find?"
"I find that the woman whom I would make a queen of heaven has deserted me, and for what? The cherubic-faced god of love!" He laughed nastily, but the laughter evaporated quickly. "You will never be true to me, will you, Niobe? Even though I desire no other woman but you, you would leave me for him?"
"Oh, for crying out loud, there's nothing between us!" Niobe cried, outraged.
Thanos' face grew an angry shade of red. "Silence! You will remain silent until I give you leave to speak, woman!"
Niobe ignored his red-faced rant. "I most certainly will not!" And pulling together as much courage as she could muster, Niobe eyed him steadily. "I wished to see if Mother was alright. Is that a problem?"
Moving away from the doors and further into the room, Thanos glared furiously at his sister. "No," he replied stiffly. "Seeing Mother would be fine. I would not have a problem with you visiting her from time to time." He came to a halt beside Athena's throne. "Only— our Mother is here and you— well, you are way over there," he pointed out with a wave of his hand.
Without missing a beat, Niobe answered him. "I was worried about Eros. Is it so wrong of me to be concerned about him?"
"Get away from him, Niobe," Thanos told her quietly. He was obviously doing his best to control his growing temper. "You are allowed to see Mother only and no one else. Is that understood?"
"You can't order me about. I'm not your slave." Niobe scowled darkly at her brother. "Or will you imprison me as well?"
"I could not imagine a more delightful suggestion," he told her with an engaging grin. "In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like it. I believe that I shall take you up on your offer." He took a couple of steps forward and laughed when she attempted to hide between the thrones. "That would not be advisable, my love. There's more of my poison back there and I would not want you to be harmed in any way. Besides, if you go back there, you won't be able to play a little game with me."
Niobe moved away from the thrones. "What little game?"
"Oh, it's one I invented just now. Come here, beloved. Come. I will not harm you; I promise to behave." Thanos waved her over to him, motioning for her to stand at his side.
She did not trust him a lick, but did as she was told. When she came to stand beside him, he slipped an arm around her.
"Someone in here is missing. I would like for you to tell me which one it is. Can you do that?"
Niobe turned to look. Twelve thrones, each containing a god or goddess.
Her brother moved closer and whispered in her ear. "Yes, Niobe. Take a good, long look and see if you can solve this little puzzle."
All the main gods that were supposed to be here were here, except of course for her uncles, Poseidon and Hades. Zeus, Hera, the other set of twins Apollo and Artemis, Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Eros, her parents Ares and Athena, Dionysus, Demeter and Hestia.
Niobe paused. There were twelve alright, but…
The young goddess frowned. Hestia? What was she doing here? The gentle and sensitive Goddess of the Hearth, Hestia… That was what was wrong. She did not belong here. Hestia did not possess a throne for the simple fact that she gave hers up in favor of Dionysus.
But then who—?
Niobe then recalled what the maid Annis had told her. Eros had not been the only god to depart from Olympus in search of her.
"Hermes," she breathed with a sudden realization.
"Yes, Hermes," he whispered. "Very good."
"But, what about him?"
"Yes, what about him?"
Niobe frowned. "Thanos, what are you going on about? What is the point of your little game?"
Thanos sighed. "You see, Niobe," he began quietly, "I have it on good authority that you and Hermes were on— shall we say?—intimate terms. And quite recently, I believe."
Puzzled, she shook her head. "No, you are mistaken. I haven't seen Hermes since I departed from Olympus—"
"I think you know where he is."
Again, she shook her head. "I don't know where he is. I told you I haven't seen him since—"
A clawed hand gripped the back of her neck angrily. "You're lying, Niobe. I know that you know where he is."
"Do not dare lie to me!" he roared furiously in her ear. "I am giving you a chance to help yourself so tell me where the fuck your lover is!"
She squeezed her eyes shut against the pain of his hand on her neck. "He isn't—he never was my lover!" she whimpered. "Please, you must believe me!"
"Why should I?" With a grunt, Thanos flung her away from him. "All you have done since our arrival has been to lie to me. With each breath you draw is only saved up for a future lie that you will tell to me."
Carefully, Niobe sat up and faced her wrathful brother. "I swear on my honor that I am not, nor have ever been the lover of Hermes, and that I have no clue as to where he might be." She trembled as her twin walked over to her, hands balled into fists. When he reached her, his right arm cocked back. She shut her eyes.
But the blow did not come. When Niobe opened her eyes, she found her brother's arm restrained by a large, calloused hand. Her startled gaze slid over to look at the owner of the hand. It belonged to an enormous, powerfully-built, half-naked man with close-cropped black hair and look of fury on his ruggedly handsome face.
"You don't listen very well, do you, Thanos?" asked the man, who possessed a surprisingly silky smooth and cultured voice for one who looked as untamed as he did.
"What the—?" Thanos stared wildly at the man who held him. His mouth hung open in disbelief.
The dark-haired male shook his head. "What am I saying? No, of course you don't." When his captive continued to goggle at him, the man said, "I told you not to lay a hand on her. You never were a gentleman, much less a decent brother."
Meanwhile, Thanos had managed to regain himself and sent a withering glare at the man. "I thought it was you, but I couldn't be sure. Now I am." He attempted to shake himself loose from the man's grasp. "Damn it, release me!"
The newcomer laughed scathingly. "What? Is this mighty and powerful god begging to be released? Why not simply remove my hand from your arm? Or are you too weak to do so?"
While Thanos blustered and attempted to pry the man's hand from him, the newcomer turned his head and glanced over at Niobe. "Are you alright, my lady?
Niobe could not answer right away. She was taken, not by the sudden appearance of the dark man, but by the large feathered objects on his back. Wings, she thought with astonishment. The man had wings!
With eyes the sizes of saucers, Niobe pulled herself up off the floor. "By the gods, you have wings!" she exclaimed, echoing her thoughts. She gawked at them. "Are you an angel?"
The man stared at her for a moment in serious contemplation, then burst into raucous laughter. "Me? An angel? Ha! That's rich! How would you describe me, Hector? Would you describe me as an angel?"
Movement behind Niobe caused her to turn suddenly. Another tall, winged man stood behind her with a broad grin on his face. "Angelic is the very last word I would use to describe you, Leander."
The one called Hector took hold of Niobe's arm and pulled her back behind him. "Let me take you to a safe place, my lady."
Leander and Hector? Niobe shook her head. Who were they? They seemed to know her and her brother but she had not a clue as to who they really were.
"I'm afraid I don't know you," she managed to say just as Thanos and the one called Leander drew their swords. "Are you gods?"
Hector shook his head. He too had dark, close-cropped hair, but it was curly. Almost like Thanos' own crown of shining coal black curls. "Not fully. You see, our father was a god and our mother was a nymph."
"But," cried Niobe fretfully, "if that's so, then your brother will be killed if he goes against Thanos!" She peeked around one of Hector's wings and watched as the two men eyed the other warily. Thanos had his sword and on his face was one of dire concentration.
She shot a glance over at his opponent. The man named Leander looked familiar, she thought vaguely, and then glanced at the sword held lightly in one powerful hand. It was not a typical sword. No, oddly enough, the blade was glowing with a gentle golden light. It almost appeared as if the sword was made of pure energy and not of metal.
"I wouldn't worry about that, Lady Niobe," Hector told her quietly.
"How can you be so certain?"
Hector shrugged. "Well, once upon a time, Leander was Thanos' sparring partner. As you know, Lord Ares had a private indoor arena where he trained daily. When your brother was old enough, he began his training with his father. But when Lord Ares was away, Leander took over his training." Hector chuckled. "My brother was also the sparring partner of your father. Other than Lord Ares, Leander and one of Ares' other students were the only people that Thanos could not defeat in battle."
A wave of relief washed over Niobe. She looked over to where Leander and her brother were locked in combat and stared at the former with new eyes. This feral, partially nude male with the shining sword stood between her and her psychotic brother.
"And of course, that drove Thanos crazy with frustration. He could never figure out how to beat Leander and would always demand that Leander fight him. Leander would always willingly oblige Thanos, but unfortunately for that young man, his ass was always handed back to him by my brother."
"Shut your face, Hector!" roared Thanos and quickly dodged the swinging, glowing blade. "You're next!"
Leander threw back his head and let loose a shout of laughter. "Ah, that's fine, but you need to get past me first!" He blocked Thanos' thrust easily.
Niobe watched Leander's movements in silence. After a couple of breathless minutes had passed, she cocked her head to the side, a thoughtful expression on her face. Hector noticed her puzzled look and asked her if something was amiss.
"Well, it's curious," she mumbled. "Earlier I could have sworn that your brother looked familiar. I may be mistaken in this as well, but your brother's movements look very familiar. I'm almost positive I've seen those moves before."
The tall male beside her smiled. "You have. But I suppose you never got a good look at his eyes."
"Eh? What's that got to do with anything?"
He turned to her and bent down, sticking his face close to hers. "It's all in the eyes, my dear," he told her with a laugh and a wink.
"In the eyes?" She stared hard at him, wondering what on earth he was talking about.
That was when she remembered Eros's words. One's eyes remain the same, no matter into which body you are reincarnated in.
As she gazed at the man standing before her, she studied his eyes hard. Yes, she thought as a light went on in her mind. She knew these bright brown orbs with their eternally gentle gaze. These eyes she had seen so many times before that she could not be mistaken.
The clash of metal against metal drew Niobe's attention back to the bout in the middle of the gods' throne room. But she paid her brother no mind; it was the male with the bulging muscles that drew her attention. While her twin struggled to get in a good shot, Leander turned his head to look at her and sent her a saucy wink. His eyes— she noted with weakening knees and growing sense of overwhelming joy— were feline-shaped and a brilliant, very distinctive emerald green.
Before anyone could say anything, she let go a sob and threw herself at the male in front of her and flung her arms around his neck. "Hiro! Yuki!" she wailed. "You came for me!"
"Did you think we would let you go so easily?" Hiro chuckled, his big, beefy arms returning her nearly frantic embrace.
"So these were your forms before you were reincarnated?" she asked. "I mean, before you were born as elves?"
Hiro nodded. "Yes. We hadn't realized it until we were brought here, though. That's when it sort of hit us. A bit of a lightning bolt to the gut, eh, Yuki?"
"A bit yeah," responded Yuki as he nearly sent Thanos into diving onto the marble floor, face first, with an outstretched foot. "Oi, Hiro, get our little goddess to safety, will ya?"
"Get your filthy mitts off her!" screamed a red-faced and extremely frustrated Thanos. "Just because you are our half-brothers does not mean you are deserving of a goddess like Niobe!"
"Half-brothers?" Niobe leaned back to stare hard at Hiro. "What is he talking about?"
"Do you remember when I told you that our father was a god? Well, he," he said with a nod in the direction of Ares, "is our father."
"My father is—is your father?" Niobe gaped up at him. She glanced sharply over at her father, who nodded as much as he was able.
Again Hiro nodded. "Yes."
"But," Niobe blurted out, unable to keep silent on the matter, "you have wings! We don't have them, so how come you do?"
The battling pair moved closer towards them. Before the fighters could reach them, Hiro's massive body jerked around and for a split second Niobe firmly believed he had moved just so in order to shield her from her brother's flailing blade.
But instead, his muscle-bound arms wrapped themselves securely about her and with eyes open wide, Niobe watched, startled, as the sword fight and the floor beneath them fell away.
The first thing she wanted to do was to demand that he put her down right this instant. But even as the words began to form on her lips, Niobe's eye was drawn to Hiro's massive wingspan. The sheer size of them was astounding.
A smile curved her lips. Surely this was how the tales and myths of angels had begun. Hiro's wings—or should she say Hector's?—looked exactly as she felt that angel wings should look like. They were beautiful, simply beautiful, with lots of pure white feathers and when they at last came safely to rest his lovely wings fluttered oh-so-gently, reminding Niobe of a swan.
It was with some amusement that Hiro regarded the young goddess in his arms when he realized that she was staring so rapturously at his feathered appendages. "Enjoying yourself?" he quizzed her gently. "Interesting gear I have back there, don't I?
Embarrassed to be caught staring so openly at his flying equipment, Niobe looked quickly away, her face burning. "Ah, yes," she mumbled. "I'm afraid I couldn't look away when they were outstretched. They are very beautiful."
"So I have been informed," he agreed. "Although I regret to say that they are not nearly so impressive when compared to the ones on my elven body," he murmured somewhat ruefully.
She glanced up at him sharply. "What? Are you saying that elves have wings too?"
He looked rather sheepish. "Well, yes. This will sound odd, but Yuki and I are our own descendants. The creature that Yuki and I are spawned from had offspring with wings and so on down through time, meaning that the people who share my lineage run the chance of being born with wings since they are descended from us or another of our kind."
"Sort of like the cursed faces, you mean?"
Hiro nodded. "Yes, exactly, although now the wings are a bit rarer than cursed faces. The cursed faces are due to the immortal side of our genes. The gods, as you well know, were known for their supernatural beauty. To my knowledge, Yuki is the last elf in recent history that has been born with both and that is taking into account of all the elves in the royal and noble families, which is where the only winged traits have presented themselves. Naturally, that points to my descending from a creature not unlike the one you see before you. One of my kind obviously mated with an elven-like female, or vice versa, thereby embedding the trait for wings into the elven blood even as my other charming characteristic— i.e., my extremely buff and bulky physique— were bred out into obscurity. Elves, as you may have noticed, do not possess large frames."
"Neither do youkai."
"Exactly. As with elves, youkai also have wings. Although instead of feathers they possess leathery wings, not unlike those of bats but at one time they were reported to have had wings with feathers. That fact points to elves and youkai having shared a similar ancestor. Both races have retained the height, but instead of having large powerful frames, we have slim, elegant builds. Of course, in regards to youkai, I am speaking solely of the humanoid set and not of the lower class of youkai. Anyway, before Yuki was born, my great-grandfather Kin was the last in our direct line to be born with both wings and a cursed face. You can see how rare it is for both traits to appear together."
"Oi, Hiro! Don't be so long-winded!" called Yuki with grunt.
Hiro chuckled. "Yeah. Sorry about that, Kagome."
Niobe turned her head to watch Thanos and Yuki fight it out. Elves had feathered wings while youkai's wings were leathery. Elves and youkai. Angels and demons. So that's how people came up with the idea of heavenly, ethereal beings and leathery winged devils, she thought to herself. At one point in time, humans had managed to get a glimpse of them. They wouldn't know what these magnificent creatures really were, so they had to come up with myths and legends in order to explain them. A moment later, a thought struck her.
"Why did you never tell me that you guys had wings?" she asked pointedly, turning back to him. "I thought you would have at least told me something about it."
Hiro shrugged. "We never told you because we're not allowed to. Humans aren't allowed to see them or indeed, be aware of their existence."
"Well, think about it. You know that many humans are fervently religious. What if they were to see that winged creatures truly did exist? We wouldn't have a moment's peace. Selfish of us I know, but really, we have more important things to do than cater to humanity's every fleeting whim. Besides, what if they realized that youkai have wings too? What then? These same silly, superstitious humans would target every youkai and make their lives a torment. Worse, they might even kill them. No, it is best to keep the wings hidden. That way, neither race would be accosted unnecessarily."
"But now I know," Niobe remarked. She smiled. "Will you have to kill me now?"
Warm laughter washed over the young goddess.
"No, no, my lady. Not that we now know you are part of the race that we serve. It is only right that you know."
A sad smile curved her lips. She reached over and took one of large, calloused hands in hers. "I don't want you to serve me. Besides, didn't Thanos say that you and your brother are our half-brothers?"
There was a loud crash and a grunt from the direction of the warriors. Hiro and Niobe both turned just in time to see Thanos sprawled on the ground and Yuki leaning down to look at the former's unconscious face. The large man chuckled and kicked his opponent's sword across the room. Then he glanced over where his brother and Niobe stood.
"The poor boy is sadly out of practice and steam," he quipped jovially, strolling up to the pair.
Niobe noted that while her brother was drenched with perspiration, while Yuki had barely broken a sweat. He sheathed his glowing sword and with great chivalry, took her hand and dropped to one knee before pressing his lips to her knuckles.
"My lady," he murmured. When she protested feebly and begged him not to treat her so, he lifted his head and stared intently up into her eyes. How different he looked in this body, she thought with an amazed fascination. In the body of Leander, he was desperately handsome and extremely masculine; his large, powerful frame was accentuated with sweat-slicked, rippling muscles.
Heavens above, she thought weakly. Could this man get any sexier? Be he an elf or winged demigod, Yuki was simply— and divinely— beautiful. It just wasn't fair.
"Ever since you were a small girl, when you and your brother snuck over to watch Lord Ares and I spar, I believed you to be the loveliest creature I had ever laid eyes on." He kissed her hand again, his green eyes glowing with adoration. "My mind has not changed on that score."
Her face flamed. "Ah. Thank you, Leander. Or should I call you Yuki? Oh dear, I'm so confused." She fluttered her free hand, but he caught it easily and kissed that one too. Niobe's face grew redder.
"Either will suit me, for I am one in the same." He rose and released her with a smile. The smile vanished when he glanced back at thrones and took a long look at the gods, unable to move or speak. "Damn you, Thanos," he growled and strode over to the closest throne, which just so happened to contain Dionysus. He leaned over and peered at the black substance that covered the god and took a sniff. Immediately he jerked back, hand cupped over his nose and mouth. "Hades' balls!" he cried, gagging a little. "What the hell is this?"
"Something that you will never survive if you touch it," an amused voice replied.
Hiro instinctively pulled Niobe behind him; Yuki swung around. Although swaying a good deal, Thanos managed to get to his feet, and had one of his hands outstretched. One of Thanos' malformed little underlings had retrieved his sword from across the room and handed it to his master before backing respectfully away.
"Did you think we were done, Leander? Come on. I will defeat you this time. I promise."
The winged male shook his head disbelievingly. "You'll never learn, Thanos. Every time you have spoken those words to me, you have ended up on the floor panting like a whore."
Thanos grew red. "I said come on! Fight me!" he roared.
With a shrug of his broad shoulders, Yuki unsheathed his blade once more and headed off to battle.
"If you don't mind, my lady," Hiro began quietly, "I feel I must tell you that he won't be able to fight Thanos off indefinitely."
"What? Why not? He's doing beautifully," Niobe reasonably pointed out.
Hiro sighed. "My aunt and I already told you. The only one who can defeat your brother is you. You must be the one to confront him."
"Yes, please, confront me."
Hiro and Niobe turned to look at the speaker. Thanos was holding Yuki at bay with the end of his sword.
"I think it only fair to tell you all the truth about our relationship. Mine and Niobe's, I mean. There is something you should know; something that no one knows, not even our own mother."
"And what is that?"
Niobe was about to reply when a terrific crash came from across the room where the combatants were fighting. Thanos had managed to send Leander tumbling into a massive pillar. The pillar wobbled slightly, sending down a spray of stones that had come loose from the ceiling above.
Hiro pushed her back, in order to protect her from falling debris and in the process, Niobe knocked the back of her head against another pillar. She gasped once then went limp, slipping into semi-consciousness. Vaguely she could hear Hiro calling out to her, asking her if she could hear him. Groggily, she sat up and rubbed her head. But it was not Hiro's worried face in hers that arrested her attention. A voice called out… a voice she knew.
"Niobe! Niobe, can you hear me?"
Blearily, Niobe blinked and attempted to focus her eyes. A new face had appeared in her line of sight and a very handsome face it was, too. Soft brown curls framed a determined face with bright eyes. She frowned. The color of his eyes were odd. Brown with flecks of gold. How beautiful…
"Who…?" she murmured.
The face turned away for a moment. "Thank heavens," he was saying to Hiro, who had ripped off part of his tunic and was holding the cloth to the back of her head. "How bad is it?"
Hiro shrugged. "Well, it won't kill her. She's immortal. But it's a nasty-sized bump. She'll have a headache for awhile." To the patient he said, "Kagome? Can you hear me?"
Niobe? Kagome? She was confused. Which one was she?
Aloud she queried with a slight slur to her words, "You call me two different names. Which one am I?"
As the two men exchanged worried glances, a figure appeared past their head; a figure that she knew.
"You… you're Kagome," she whispered, unable to look away from the misty, insubstantial female form before her.
The figure smiled. "Yes. I am Kagome, but I am also part of you. We are one in the same." As she finished speaking, another figure came to stand beside her. Kagome and the other woman joined hands and stared at Niobe.
Niobe stared at the two females in confusion. "And who are you?" she asked, not paying any attention to the two men who were still there and asking her to whom she was talking to.
Kagome glanced at the woman beside her and smiled gently. "The last piece of our soul, which explains why we felt so incomplete. This is the priestess Midoriko."
"Midoriko? But how? I don't understand… I thought her soul was trapped inside the Shikon no Tama."
"Simple." Kagome turned her attention back to Niobe. "No mere human would have had the capacity to create a jewel of such powerful proportions. So it stands to reason that the one who created it, and from her heart no less, was not human. So what else could she be? There was only one explanation. Midoriko was an immortal. A goddess."
"But she could have been youkai or an elf. They have the powers to do that."
"True, but the energy from the jewel is pure and that automatically rules out the possibility of her being youkai."
"And only a goddess would be able to separate her soul, which were able to become each its own entity. It is impossible for an elf to do to." It was Midoriko who spoke. "When I was trapped in that cave—and by I, I mean the three of us as a whole— I knew I could not keep searching for my beloved if I was stuck in a jewel for all eternity. That was when I decided to keep the portion— the personality— that was me, Midoriko, inside the jewel to battle the youkai spirits while the remainder of my soul would be free to escape. So I stayed behind."
"I see." Niobe nodded, but stopped immediately and grabbed her head. Such a motion was agonizing. Then a thought struck her. "Um, about those youkai spirits inside the jewel…" The two misty forms began to fade and Niobe lurched forward. "Wait!" she cried. "What are you doing? Where are you going?"
"It's time," Kagome replied and closed her eyes. Midoriko did the same.
"Time! Time for what? What about the youkai spirits!"
But they did not answer her. Instead, as Niobe watched with growing amazement, the figures of the two women shimmered crazily as they merged into one being. The newly created being then shot forward and slammed into Niobe. The force sent her reeling back against the column, and once more did she bump her head against the unyielding stone.
Hiro and the other man jumped backwards, for the movement had startled them.
"What the hell was that?" cried the curly headed man.
When Niobe opened her eyes she blinked once, twice. She could feel the change in her immediately. The other two personalities within her could be distinctly felt and she smiled. At last, she felt complete. The spirits of the trapped youkai had already gone from the jewel and in fact, had been gone for quite awhile now. Midoriko had set them free, allowing them to make peace with their fate.
Now that her head was cleared, she turned to look at the brown haired man with the unusual colored eyes. "Now then," she said, "who are you?"
He was about to answer when a piece of stone came hurtling at them from across the room. The trio fell away, Hiro pulling Niobe away with him while the other man dove out of the way. Niobe's eyes flew open when the man dived out of the way very swiftly. So swiftly, in fact, that she wondered if he had had wings on his feet. She looked again.
"Hermes!" she cried as her brother, with blinding fury in his black eyes, sped after the winged messenger god. "Look out! Behind you!" But she need not have been worried, for Hermes moved like a hummingbird, zipping along at a blinding speed. His quick movements were sending Thanos into an even greater rage.
Hiro moved away from Niobe and the two watched as Hermes deftly evaded the fuming younger god. A small smile curved her lips upward. She had not seen Hermes in so long that she had forgotten how quickly he could move. Thanos would not be able to catch him.
But when Hermes slowed down just enough to taunt Thanos, something on the winged god's belt caught her eye. Out of habit, she reached over and touched Hiro's arm. "Hiro? What's that? On his belt?"
Hiro narrowed his eyes. "What are you talking about?" he asked her.
But her answer was lost as a raging blur raced towards them and Niobe was gone. Hiro let out a yell. He whirled around to catch sight of Thanos holding his sister hostage, an evil-looking dagger digging into her belly. Yuki surged forward, but Hiro put out a hand to stop him.
"No, don't!" Hiro cried. "The baby!"
The wild-eyed god stared at the three men with nothing short of lunacy. "Keep away from her! You come any closer and I will kill the thing growing inside her!" He tightened his grip on her.
Hermes and the brothers felt completely helpless as they watched Niobe tremble and weep in her brother's cruel embrace. They felt even more so when Niobe spoke.
"I can't do this anymore, Thanos. You win. Alright? You win. I submit to you. I am all yours. Just please—please—don't hurt my baby. I'm begging you."
Beside Hiro, Yuki was growing increasingly furious. She was giving up? Not Kagome. Never Kagome. Kagome was a tough woman. Yes, she was human and had human failings. But to submit wholly to another was just not her. And not Niobe, either. It was pretty obvious that she had forgotten her past.
Very well. He would just have to refresh her goddess's memory.
"Oi, Niobe," he called out quite calmly.
Niobe and Thanos both looked at him. But Yuki only looked at Niobe and their gazes locked. "Stay calm and stay focused," he told her quietly. "It will be alright." With those words, he nonchalantly rubbed the left side of his nose with his left index finger.
"What the fuck are you going on about?" Thanos demanded suspiciously.
She stared at him blankly for a moment, before comprehension dawned in her tearful eyes. Yuki relaxed. Yes, he thought, yes, you do remember!
Upon hearing Yuki's words, Niobe automatically dropped her left hand to her side. Thanos' arms loosened when her body relaxed.
Before he could do anything, Yuki had flung his sword at them. Niobe caught it deftly with her left hand and with a swift motion she brought the butt of the sword around to catch Thanos on the right side of his face. At the same time she shoved his dagger-wielding arm away from her body. There was a cracking noise and his grip on her loosened even more.
She twirled the sword around in her hand and sliced the blade across her brother's chest with such speed that she nearly recoiled at the movement. Her brain was in a whirl, wondering how she knew how to do that, but then the confusion cleared and everything came rushing back.
Keeping the point of Yuki's blade pointed at Thanos' throat, Niobe spoke.
"Very good, brother. I applaud you for attempting to throw me off the trail. And many thanks to Leander here for reminding me of the days when he taught me how to defend myself."
"What trail?" he gasped, his face lined in pain.
She smiled. "The real reason you tampered with my memory."
He shook his head. "I told you the reason why I did it."
"Fine. Then the other reason why you did what you did." She paused for effect. "It's because I am the stronger twin. I always was. I am right?"
Thanos scowled up at her. "No."
"Yes. I remember it all now, Thanos. That's why you were so obsessed with the idea of forcing me to submit to you. Because if you could finally bend me to your will, then you would, at last, be the dominate one. You never hated me, but you hated the fact that I began learning to fight well after you did and even in that short of time I learned more than you ever did. There were only three people you could never beat in hand-to-hand combat. Father, Leander… and me. Me! The little girl who grew up slower than you, who was never as smart as you, but who could wield a sword better than you ever could. I'll just bet that that was enough to keep you up nights."
She risked a glance at Hiro. "So you were right. I am the only person who can defeat him."
Thanos laughed hollowly. "But you just said there were two others who can beat me," he pointed out bitterly. "Why would you say you are the only person if there are actually three who can?"
Niobe regarded him silently for a moment. "I loved you once," she said quietly. "I loved you so much that my heart was near to bursting every time I looked at you. There were times I would like awake at night and imagine what it would be like to be your wife and to be by your side for always. I even imagined the children we would have."
Hearing the sadness in her voice, Thanos ignored his wound and sat up. "We can still have that, Niobe. You know how much I love and worship you. I want to be yours forever, my darling."
The sound of pleading in his words sent tears spilling down her face. "But you hurt me deeply and I'm afraid I created a monster in you, Thanos. A horrid, green-eyed monster… and I am so sorry for what I've done to you because I enjoyed driving you to insanity. I savored the fact that I could drive you to madness whenever I would have trysts with other men. But my actions ended up harming the man I loved most of all. That is my biggest regret. So now it is up to me to lay that monster to rest. You see," she began and pulled the Shikon no Tama from around her neck and showed it to Thanos, "Father and Leander do not possess this. That's why it must be me who must win this final battle—"
"— and restore the balance of power to Olympus." She moved back a ways when Thanos got to his feet. "Thanos, I hereby sentence you to spend the remainder of eternity within this jewel. You will never leave its confines for I will remain always vigilant to make certain you never see the light of day again!"
As she held the jewel up, a loud, sucking sound came from the direction of the jewel and all could see Thanos' clothes and hair being blown about wildly around his body. But he was not going to go so easily. He held onto a column and refused to let go.
"Shit, let go! Let go!" Yuki was muttering under his breath.
Hiro chuckled, then ceased, his brow furrowing in consternation. What the hell was Thanos doing?
Thanos, who was trying to cling onto the vertical stone column, stared off into space for a moment. Then an evil smile crossed his face. He turned to look at his traitorous sister. Suck him into that jewel, would she? So be it. But he would not be going there alone…
He grabbed onto the belt that joined them and began pulling her towards him.
Niobe, who had completely forgotten about the belt, began to scream. "Yuki, Hiro help me!" she shrieked as she felt herself being dragged towards her brother. Momentary relief came when she felt Yuki's arms go around her and she was no longer moving forward. But the relief was only momentary when she realized what her brother was planning to do. The look in his eyes said it all.
He was going to be sucked into the jewel… and take her with him.
"Damn it! Hiro! Now's the time to use that huge brain of yours and think of something!" cried Yuki over the sound of the wind tunnel.
"Wait…" Hiro murmured, thinking hard.
"Hurry up!" screamed Yuki.
Hiro's brain was racing. Of all the times to have absolutely no idea to help save his best friend…
Then his eyes caught a glimpse of something. Something familiar… and his brain began racing again, every neuron clicking along and instantly the pieces of the puzzle flew together. The picture was now complete.
"Hermes! Grab her! Now!" he cried, shoving the god towards Kagome and his brother.
Hermes, seeing Thanos let go of the column, sped towards his target. Knocking the one named Yuki out of the way, he took his place behind Niobe and held her close, his large hands gripping her waist firmly.
"Nooooo!" Thanos bellowed just as he was sucked into the jewel. The roaring of the wind tunnel died away and everything was still.
Niobe stood frozen on the spot; her eyes squeezed tightly shut and her body tensed in readiness to be sucked in...
But nothing happened.
Cautiously she opened her eyes and glanced around, then down. Hermes' large hands were still about her waist. Her gaze slid to the ground. Circling the floor at her feet was a broken metal chain.
Slowly she turned around and stared with wide-eyed wonder at Hermes. "The belt. It's been broken."
Hermes, not really understanding himself, glanced down at the floor at her feet. "It seems so." He frowned.
Something about his frown intrigued her and she glanced down at his waist. Circling his waist was a belt and on that belt…
She stared. She stared hard. "What," she began slowly, "are you doing with the Tetsusaiga?"
"Be quiet, Hiro." She returned her attention to the male standing before her. "I asked you a question, Hermes. What are you doing with that sword?" she demanded.
"Oh my god!" She backed hurriedly away from him. "What have done to Inuyasha? If you've harmed him in any way—"
Hermes said nothing and heaving a sigh, slipped the Tetsusaiga from its sheath and turning, sent kaze no kizu shooting towards the thrones behind him. The energy from kaze no kizu instantly destroyed the noxious substance, setting all the gods free.
When he re-sheathed the sword, Hermes turned back to face Niobe. "I haven't done anything to Inuyasha. I am Inuyasha."
"What?" The part of her that was Niobe slid away and she was now Kagome again. "If that's so, then how did you destroy that belt? Only one who loved me as I loved them could have broken it."
He eyed her anxiously. "Do you really have to ask that question?"
"Yes!" she cried. "I want to know how you managed to do it, because you never loved me, Inuyasha! It was always Kikyo! Never me! So tell me… tell me… how the hell you did you do that?" When he did not answer, she swung on Hiro who looked like he wanted to say something. "Well, Hiro? Pray explain all this to me!"
Hiro grinned slyly and began to speak, but Kagome heard nothing. A sharp, stabbing pain in her abdomen caused her to tremble like a leaf. With a groan, she slid to her knees on the floor, her hands wrapping around her belly.
"Oh god, please no," she panted, tears streaming. "Please no! Not my baby!"
Hermes, who was standing nearest to the stricken woman, immediately scooped her up and ran off, calling for Hera and Apollo to aid him. Hiro and Yuki could only watch in stunned horror as the three gods disappeared from the room.
Without a word, they quickly followed suit.
When Kagome awoke, she found Hiro sitting by her bedside, reading quietly and rocking in comfortably padded rocking chair.
"Where am I?"
The elf started slightly and smiling, closed his book and set it aside. "You're at the Elven Imperial Palace. We thought it best for you that when you woke, you should be in familiar surroundings." He leaned forward and touched her forehead. "How are you feeling?"
She shrugged. "I feel fine physically." She paused then added a little nervously, "Did I lose the baby?"
Hiro smiled. "No. Kouga's offspring is made of tougher stuff, I fear. The baby is fine."
Kagome frowned. "Then why did I have those stabbing pains?" she asked.
"Oh, well, that's easy. Am I right in thinking that you and Kouga never discussed how your pregnancy would go? I mean, a human female being pregnant with the child of a youkai is not bound to have an easy time of it, is she? Youkai fetuses grow much faster than human fetuses, and they grow larger. Those pains you experienced were merely your body trying to accommodate the child inside you. But since you are a human female and not a demoness, whose bodies can grow and stretch with ease, it was very painful for you." He patted Kagome's hand when he saw the worry in her dark eyes. "I hate to say this, but your pregnancy will only get more difficult for you. For the actual birthing, I'm afraid you will have to be completely sedated. This child will be too large for you to handle while you are conscious."
Kagome rolled her eyes upward. "Oh dear gods," she muttered.
He chuckled. "Do not worry," he said. "We will take good care of you. But anyway, I am here on a mission."
"Yes. While I was attempting to explain some vital information to you, you started having your pains and therefore, could not finish what I was saying. If you don't mind, I would like to do that now."
Kagome nodded and Hiro went on.
"You wondered why Inuyasha was able to sever the chain which bound you to Thanos. Of course Yuki and I were both well aware that Thanos had commissioned Hephaestus to create that belt and we both knew of it one weakness. But first let me tell you how I figured out who Hermes was. If you recall, you had brought my attention to something on Hermes' belt. Later, when I finally caught a glimpse of what you saw, I remembered something. Before we three left the mortal world, I saw Inuyasha strap the sword onto his belt, so I knew he had it with him. But upon our arrival into this realm, he vanished, leaving Yuki and myself to wonder where he had gone. Time was of the essence, so we didn't wait to find out what had happened to him. When we arrived at Olympus, we saw Hermes arriving at the same time as us, but Yuki and I remembered that Thanos never cared for him, so we created a diversion to allow Hermes to sneak in. Some nasty youkai were sent as a welcoming committee of sorts and we fled, only to return later. But then he arrived just as I accidentally knocked you against that column—I still feel really bad about that— and I had completely forgotten about Inuyasha with all the action going on. Then of course I noticed Inuyasha's sword on Hermes' person and that got me to thinking: No one would ever be able to take the Tetsusaiga away from Inuyasha. He would defend that sword to the death and of course, no one else is able to wield it but him. Therefore, I knew Hermes and Inuyasha were one in the same."
"But how could you know for certain? And what about Kikyo?" Kagome sniffed. "He never did love me. He always preferred her to me, even when she was nothing but clay and bones."
"Ah yes, Kikyo. She was the protector of the Shikon no Tama, was she not? Hm." He rocked in his chair a bit. "Okay, he never loved you and yet he was able to release you from Thanos' grip and the only way to do so was to love you as much as you loved him. For you did you love him, Kagome. If there is one thing I do know for absolute certainty is that you were terribly in love with Inuyasha. So much in love that you tried to commit suicide twice. Yes, I remember you telling me these things. And in that moment, right before everything became clear, I knew that not only Kouga would have destroyed the chains about your waist, but Inuyasha too. You see, I remember when Hermes left Olympus to find you. He had deemed himself your protector and went in search of you to find you and bring you home. He wanted to marry you, you see."
"Yes, but what about Kikyo?" Kagome demanded. "You've told me nothing about that bothersome pest!"
Hiro smiled and shook his head. "I gave you a clue just now, sweetheart. You should know of what I speak."
Kagome shook her head. "I do not. Tell me now or get the hell out."
"Alright, alright. As I said, I gave you a clue. Kikyo was the protector of the Shikon no Tama, correct?" Hiro leaned back in his rocker.
An impatient sigh burst from Kagome's lips. "Yes, I know that. What of it?"
"Well don't you see?"
"No, I don't! Will you quit stalling, already? Son of a bitch…"
It was Hiro's turn to let out an impatient sigh. "The jewel, Kagome. That was the clue. A portion of your soul was in the Shikon."
Hiro shook his head. "It was your soul and you still don't see." He chortled softly. "After you bumped your head, you began speaking to someone who wasn't there. You said your name and the name of Midoriko. Now, I only know of one Midoriko so I knew you meant the priestess. And that got me to thinking: Midoriko was an extremely powerful priestess. But what if she wasn't human after all? What if she was something more?"
Kagome froze. "Yes, I thought of that too."
"She was not an elf, nor was she a youkai. The only other explanation was that she was an immortal. Only immortals have the capability to divide their souls. Or so I've heard."
"Yes, yes I know all that. But back to Kikyo."
"Yes, back to Kikyo. As I've said she was the protector of the jewel and she was in possession of it when Inuyasha arrived on the scene. He ended up falling for that girl, did he not?"
Kagome looked away. "Yes, he did. You don't need to remind me."
"I must. For it's important. Now remember, Inuyasha is Hermes, reborn. And Hermes, don't you forget, had left his grand home to search for the woman he loved. He is born as the hanyou Inuyasha and one day, he comes across a young girl who possesses a jewel with that contains the soul of a goddess."
Startled, Kagome glances sharply over at her friend. "What are you saying, Hiro?"
Hiro leans forward and drops his voice. "It was not the girl that attracted him. It was the jewel. A jewel, moreover, that held within it the soul of the woman he had been searching for, for a very long time." When Kagome's eyes widened with sudden understanding, Hiro nodded emphatically. "He could sense you. That's why he wanted the jewel so greatly. But unfortunately for Inuyasha, he could not tell exactly why he liked Kikyo so much. All he knew was that he associated feelings of love for a human girl who held a special jewel. He believed himself to have been in love with her before and after his confinement, but in reality, it was the presence of Niobe's soul which was true object of his affections. The god within him knew that."
"But… but everyone said that I was Kikyo's reincarnation. They said I looked just like her."
Hiro waved a dismissive hand. "Coincidence. Merely that and nothing more. But in Kikyo's defense, she truly was a person to be pitied. She fell in love with a man who was not in love with her, but with the person whose soul she carried."
They were silent for a long moment while Kagome digested this new information. "So that is how you knew Hermes, who is Inuyasha, was the one who could break the spell."
"Yes. My train of thought ran something like this: Hermes, who carried the sword of Inuyasha, had to be Inuyasha because he would rather die than give up his sword. A sword he had protected you with time and again, and according to you and what he said just before we departed the mortal realm, was that no matter what form you took, he was still your protector. Hermes vowed to be your protector too. He loved you more than anything, and other than Kouga, Inuyasha was the only other man whom you truly loved. But how to be sure Inuyasha loved you equally in return? Who had gotten in the way of the relationship between you and Inuyasha? Kikyo. Who was Kikyo? The protector of the jewel. Of course. The jewel was the connecting factor between you and Kikyo. Only you turned out to be a re-incarnated goddess and it could only have been a goddess who could have created such a powerful weapon as the Shikon no Tama. The Shikon no Tama, which housed the partial soul of the goddess Niobe, who was greatly loved and desired by the god Hermes. Hermes, who was reborn as Inuyasha, became greatly attached to Kikyo, who held the jewel. But it wasn't Kikyo whom he loved, it was presence of the soul he could feel, for he had been scouring the earth for it. Thusly, Hermes, who was Inuyasha, who was loved by Kagome, who in turn was Niobe and loved equally by Hermes—he was the one to destroy the belt and break the spell."
Kagome looked stunned. "Holy crap. All that went through your head in the space of those few seconds?"
He nodded. "Yep. But let me tell you, I've never had to think so fast in all my life! I had a headache for several hours afterwards."
"I see." Kagome stared up at the ceiling. "Where is he now? Inuyasha, I mean."
Hiro rose and headed for the door. "He's been fraught with worry every since Apollo put you under. He hasn't been able to leave your side." He shot her a wink and opened the bedroom door. Inuyasha stood outside, his golden eyes frantic with worry.
"Yes, she's fine," Hiro said, clapping Inuyasha on the shoulder. "I explained everything for her. I think now she'll talk to you."
He shut the door behind him and walked away, a tender smile on his handsome elf face. Poor Inuyasha, he thought. Right now, Kagome is the only woman he wants, but since she is newly widowed, she will rebuff his advances, if he was unwise enough to make any. Perhaps one day they will make a go of it. But right now, Inuyasha should be exactly what Kagome needs.
The day was bright and sunny. Birds fluttered and sang in the trees, butterflies flitted here and there, buffeted on the warm breeze.
It was always warm in the Elven Realm, Kagome thought vaguely as she walked along a newly made path through a large, open meadow. A path, she thought sadly, made just for her.
A sudden wave of grief washed over her and her feet halted in their tracks. It had been nearly three months since her husband's death, and the very thought of him still sent tears spilling down her cheeks. Oh gods above, she hurt so much! Clutching her chest, she squeezed her eyes shut. When, oh when would the pain stop? When would she finally be able to move on?
At last she managed to compose herself enough to continue onwards. The elves, with the help of Sesshoumaru, Inuyasha and Shippo, and Kouga's pack mates Ginta and Hakkaku, designed and set up a shrine in the elven world in honor of their fallen comrade. It was a tenderly created tribute to Kouga; his own handsome features lovingly and painstakingly sculpted into pure white marble by the finest elven artist, who was commissioned by the new emperor, Hiro.
After the whole nasty affair with her brother was over, Sesshoumaru and the others immediately set to the task of recovering Kouga's body. But they never found it, just as Kagome knew they wouldn't. Damn you, Thanos, she thought angrily. Damn you!
The shrine was situated in the center of the meadow, sheltered from prying eyes by a circle of poplar trees. And as always, the sight of his statue as she entered the circle gave her a start. The statue was such a perfect replica of him that every single time, without fail, Kagome staggered and sank to her knees, sobbing bitterly.
This time, however, she managed to make it to a nearby stone bench before collapsing. Her pregnancy was coming to an end and as she was alone out here in the meadow, she was afraid that since she was so big, she would not be able to get back up were she to fall on the ground.
After a few minutes of crying, Kagome dried her eyes with a handkerchief and glanced up at the statue. "I'm afraid I won't be back to see you for a while," she told the marble statue. "Our baby is due in a few days and I will have to remain in bed. The doctors are worried about my state of mental health—" She paused, her lower lip trembling, hot tears dripping over her lips and down her chin. "But you know all about that, don't you?" Her face crumpled and she leaned forward, covering her face with her hands. "Forgive me! I'm so sorry, Kouga! I never meant to put you through so much! And I never meant to hurt you! I can only imagine what you went through when I tried to— to kill myself."
She sat back and instead of wiping her eyes with her hankie, she sat it on her lap and fiddled with it. What good would it do when the tears refused to stop flowing?
"Something has happened recently, since I last came to see you. Inuyasha has asked me to be his mate." She twisted the soft material between her fingers and looked uncertainly up at Kouga's sculpted face. "Unfortunately for him, I just can't. I love him dearly, but—but he's not you, Kouga. But the elves want me to marry Yuki, so that our child will have a father and the protection that comes of having his family name. Akira has been very ill of late, which means he cannot ask for my hand."
Standing up, Kagome went over to the life-size statue and touched the cold, white face. "Our child will have your name, because this baby is yours and no other's. But what should I do? The reality is that you are not here to help me raise this child and as of now, I know that I am not ready to do so alone." Her vision blurred and she gripped the statue's face with both hands. She wanted to strangle him, to slap him, but what good would that do to a piece of stone?
Shaking, she screamed, "Why? Why didn't you run when I told you to? Why didn't you listen to me? God damn you, Kouga! Why did you leave me? What am I supposed to do without you? We were supposed to live out our lives together!"
Kagome continued to scream at the statue until she could do so no longer. When she finally was able to catch her breath, she slid down to the marble feet and leaned her pounding head against one of the cold stone legs.
"What do I do? Please tell me, Kouga. What on earth am I supposed to do? How could you leave me when I needed you most? Damn you—"
It was nearly twilight before Kagome had the strength to get up and walk back home.
A decision would have to be made and quickly. Would she choose Inuyasha? Or would she choose Yuki? Or neither?
What, oh what, should she do?
A/N: Heh. Nice unsatisfactory ending, isn't it? I like it.
But seriously though, it ties in nicely with the sequel, which should be coming out soon. I have some kinks to work out in the story line, but for the most part I've got good ideas for it. If anyone has any issues with this last chapter, please, by all means, point them out to me! I know that going back and forth between characters was confusing. It confused me! I spent so long on this chapter that I may have forgotten key points from earlier on in the story. I will correct them, if pointed out to me. ^_^ You guys rock! Thank you for all your wonderful reviews during this agonizingly long story! It has literally taken me years to finally finish it. Whew! So glad I'm finally done. I hope this last chappie was satisfactory! Reviews will be most welcome!
Lots of love and peace,