Episode 2, Part 4: Renardian Ethics

June 2000-The Underworld

"...how am I supposed to do that?" Theodore prompted Aeon.

"Recall the story of Orpheus?" Aeon replied with a small smile. "Hades has a high admiration and appreciation of the arts, especially music..."

Theodore was once again face to face with the intimidating Hades. Though, this time was much different; the god was watching him skeptically, a hunger and yearning reflected in his facial expression while Eris sat next to him, her reaction angry and impatient. Eris was the only observer of Theo's three-person audience that wanted nothing to do with Theodore's new deal with Hades.

A smile tugged at the edges of Theodore's mouth when he noticed Rio holding her mother's hand, looking at him with the same reverent patience that Hades was.

Nervously, Theodore turned his gaze towards the white violin in his hands. The surface was sleek and glossy, golden floral designs on the front and along the sides; this violin belonged to the Queen of the Underworld, Persephone. She'd picked up playing the violin from a desire to create music both for her own entertainment and her husband's; she'd been inspired by the tragedy of poor Orpheus.

Taking a deep breath, Theodore closed his eyes and tried to center himself. He'd learned how to play the violin when he had been with Sandy so many years ago. Oh, how her face would light up as he made the violin sing happy songs, a sighing promise of sweet nothings conveyed through chords and gentle coaxing of the strings...

Playing the violin had never really been one of Theodore's major strengths, but he had to try, right?

He raised the bow and let out a breath, swearing he'd be able to hear a pin drop in the room's new-found silence. Sandy's smiling face fixed in his mind, he leaned into the movement of the bow, making the tip kiss the strings with the featherlight touch of an angel's wings.

Slowly and gracefully, he remembered the positions and arrangement of Sandy's favorite piece, Moonlight Sonata. As he swept through the lilting, almost melancholy melody, Theodore tumbled in himself, inevitably remembering just how tender his musical interludes with Sandy had been:

She'd be sitting across from him, fingers clasped as tears collected at the edges of her eyes. Every time he played this very song, she'd burst into tears while wearing a ghost of a smile. Theodore never understood why, of all the songs he knew how to play, she chose this the most often, even after she told him her reason why.

"It reminds me of a recurring dream I had," Sandy had admitted. "A dream that was enough to scare me away from falling in love...I'd dream about seeing the world through the eyes of a young man. I felt his bitterness, his hatred, his yearning and desperation. He'd scream,'Te amo!' at a raven-haired girl as she turned and walked away. Never looking back...No matter how many times I experienced this particular dream, I always awoke in a cold sweat and crying my eyes out. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest and stomped on. It felt like my soul was intertwined with his...I can't explain it without sounding crazy... "

Sandy sighed, lips trembling as a new wave of tears began. Tentatively, she reached up and ran her fingers through her thick, sandy blond hair. "I...The depression was so strong and so real that I didn't want to live. For a few short moments, I knew what it was like to live for love, just how horrible it'd be to give a piece of yourself, only to have it stripped away from you..."

Then she smiled at Theodore, a very warm and affectionate smile. "I never want to forget that dream," she went on. "It ruled my life for so long until you came along, Theodore. You taught me that love isn't something to fear, but to embrace instead. That it's worth the gamble, the risk. I won't let it consume me, but empower me."

"Is that why you were so...mean to me?" Theodore asked. "Calling me a human walking stick...?"

"Yes," Sandy admitted, looking at him through her eyelashes. Then she clasped her hands. "I'm sorry...I know I can't erase the pain, but I wish I'd given you a chance sooner," she said breathily. "Your soul is a bright beacon in a dark, dark world."

"It really doesn't matter now anyway, though, does it?" Gently, Theodore reached over and placed his hand on her knee. "We're together now and that's what counts..."

"Theodore?"

"Yes, Sandy?"

"It does matter," she whispered, her eyes closed. "Sometimes, I imagine that you don't look like what you really do. That you're...a redhaired male model instead of a human walking stick." Sandy shook her head. "I like seeing you for who you really are."

"I am a redhaired male model..." Theodore protested, trembling slightly.

"No." Sandy smiled and chuckled softly. "You're my walking stick; an intelligent and caring man with a heart of gold. You don't have to be a looker, Theodore. You'll have the world at your feet because of your virtue..."

[[

"Why are you crying?" Hades asked softly.

Carefully, Theodore pulled the bow away and lowered the violin, the space between his chin and chest feeling as empty and hollowed out as his rib cage. That song dredged up intense guilt every time; his heart had sprouted wings and flown away in search of his one true love...

When he opened his eyes, he was met by Hades' sad, sympathetic expression.

"...You'll have the world at your feet because of your virtue..."

"Was my performance satisfactory?" Theodore asked around the lump now lodged in his throat. "Is it enough to trade for my father's immortality?"

"Yes," Hades replied without hesitation.

Breath caught in his throat, Theodore watched as Hades reached into the sleeve of his suit jacket and withdrew that familiar ball of pulsating blue light. On closer inspection, Theodore could see the shifting sands within, the ticking numbers.

"You'll willingly give Theodore his father's immortality?!" Eris trumpeted, standing up and looking absolutely furious. "You could get music for a far more reasonable trade from Apollo! Think about your human son, Hades. What if he wants to become immortal?"

"You like the complex, dramatic solutions, don't you?" Hades sighed. "I was going to keep Cupid's immortality as a back-up if I couldn't appeal to Zeus, but there are always other ways."

"Music softens you up like wax under flame..." Eris groaned, narrowing her eyes.

Carefully, Theodore took Cupid's immortality and held it gently in his cupped hands. He remembered Aeon's instructions, to steal the apple when Hades was distracted, but something felt incredibly off to Theo.

"Will I be able to reinstall my father's immortality?" Theodore asked in a hushed voice, feeling like he was throwing the proverbial wrench into Aeon's plans.

"Of course!" Hades assured, reaching out and placing a fatherly hand on Theodore's shoulder. "I can only imagine how pleased and proud he'll be with you."

"Sap!" Eris coughed.

"You'll make a wonderful addition to Aphrodite's court..." Hades added, smiling.

Now, as he witnessed an entirely different dimension to Hades' personality, Theodore couldn't help being caught between fear and indecision. From what little he knew, both Hades and Aeon were imposing, untrustworthy figures. Common sense vouched that Theodore should take Aeon's side since Aeon was an older, far more powerful god. No matter who got bowled over by the other's sinister schemes in Olympian politics, Theodore only, truly held allegiance to himself, right?

Before he could stop himself, Theodore blurted: "Are you trying to overthrow Zeus?"

"What in the world gave you that idea?!" Hades scoffed in disbelief, frowning.

"The silver apple," Theodore sniffed. "What's the silver apple for?"

"Mind your manners, boy," Hades grunted. "I'm feeling merciful right now, but I can very well change my mind."

"What's the silver apple intended to do?" Theodore pressed, looking directly into Hades' eyes.

"Quit trying my patience, boy!" Hades hissed.

Heart hammering against his chest, Theodore wrapped his fingers tightly around Cupid's immortality. It was his stress ball; his true, sought-after prize in the midst of all of this utter madness. Blowing out a breath, Theo decided to take a risky gamble: "What do you know about Aeon...?"

The very mention of the name made Hades suck in a breath. From the way the Underworld King was reacting, an extreme epiphany occurred to Theodore.

"Aeon wants to steal the Underworld from Unkie Hades!" Rio piped up, making her mother's face turn white. "He thinks Unkie is a power-hungry douchebag!"

"As if Aeon's one to judge?!" Hades growled angrily, gnashing his teeth. "He's overstepping his boundaries again...Every so often, he feels envious towards Ananke and feels the need to interfere with politics. The man can't seem to understand the true facets and responsibility attached to his role!"

"The silver apple is a buffer against Aeon, isn't it?" Theodore gasped, eyes wide.

"Yes," Hades spat, glaring at Theodore with eyes like burning coals. "Aeon used to keep his distance, but he's started having remorse about the current state of the universe, especially Mt. Olympus. If not for Ananke, he'd destroy us all and recreate everything from scratch. He's pretty much doing so as we speak. Chipping away at us all, slowly but surely, like a human sculptor at a plaster mold..."

"Wouldn't it make more sense for Ananke-?"

"Ananke always understood the inherent consequences and nature of how her inhabitants would behave," Hades grunted. "She knows that she's the bigger picture. Something that Aeon seems to forget, considering he started viewing us gods and humans alike as his personal entertainment. He realizes his power and knows he can change things if he wants to..."

Letting out a breath, Theodore plopped down onto one of the couches, feeling the weight of concepts and variables he couldn't sway or control bearing down on him. He sank back into the couch cushions, longing to get away from Hades and his new set of daunting politics, just let the Underworld King do what needed to be done to ensure the future stability of the Underworld and Mt. Olympus. That was his and Zeus' responsibility.

Though part of Theodore was concerned, he could accept that he couldn't do anything. He could save his father now. That was all that mattered...Theo looked down into his hands at the pulsating ball again.

"Aeon sent you after the apple, didn't he?" Hades rounded on Theodore again.

"Yes," Theodore said simply, shoulders hunched. "He convinced me that you were going to use it to stage a coup against Zeus..."

At that, Hades barked a short, sharp laugh. Then the god shook his head, his face a collage of amusement, condescension, and disbelief.

"You poor, gullible kid!" he roared. "I have my own kingdom to attend to! I stay as far away from Olympus as I can; I hate it there! As if I'd want to waste time and energy trying to conquer that piteous cotton ball of delusional bureaucrats!"

"Hey!" Eris griped. "Those 'delusional bureaucrats' are my biggest source of fun and entertainment! They're worth that at least..."

"You're just upset because I'm lumping you in with them," Hades quipped back, smirking.

For some reason, Theodore felt like bursting into tears and rolling into the fetal position. Helplessly, he pulled Cupid's immortality closer towards him, gripping it like a security blanket.

"Get out of here!" Hades demanded, waving a dismissing hand.

As Theodore was about to protest, Hades held up a hand and clucked his tongue.

"Oh, Tartarus, you're a lucky one," Hades warned as he folded his hands behind his back and glared at Theodore in an elitist, condescending way. "Since you're an unsuspecting pawn in Aeon's plans, I'll be merciful and let you go. But, I'd highly suggest that you stay as far away from Olympian politics as possible, Theodore. Pray that we never cross paths again, even when Thanatos brings you here for the last time..."

June 2002-Delmont Summer Camp in Toronto, Ontario

"Olympian politics can be quite the headache..." Cupid chuckled softly, his cheeks a pair of bright red cherries. "I...I'll stop pressuring you to become a god, okay, Theo?"

"Thank you," Theodore said softly, smiling in utter relief. "I'm staying on Earth from now on. Permanently..."

"I'm coming to visit on the holidays," Cupid insisted. "Your grandma may want to tag along every so often, too...And she might bring Ares with her."

"Fine..." Theodore groaned.

"Another thing, Theodore..." Cupid raised a delicate finger, smiling. "Do you still intend to become a counselor?"

"No!" Theodore tapped his chin thoughtfully. "I've been thinking about that quite a bit since I left the Underworld...I'm going to become a doctor, Dad! That way, I can save people and keep them from Hades' grasp just a little bit longer than otherwise." The last bit elicited a very churlish, somewhat devious smile from the young man.

Sandy had once mentioned that she was a Canadian immigrant, and that one day she wanted to return to her hometown of Toronto.

Toronto. For the last two years, Theodore had felt compelled to come here, driven by yearning and insatiable curiosity. Every night, he wondered who his daughter was, what she looked like, how she was doing, what her hopes for the future were. She'd be at least ten years old now...

Sighing, Theodore steeled himself. This summer, he was taking a break from his rigorous medical school classes and had found a part-time job as a summer camp counselor. For the millionth time, he watched the herd of ten-to-fourteen-year-olds scramble into the cafeteria, yelling, cheering, and talking amongst themselves. The other counselors smiled, announcing to the kiddies what the other day activities would be; Theodore was the only one that was stoic and silent.

There was no little girl named Gwen in this group. But, if she were here, would she have her mother's hair, her dark eyes, or his red hair? Silently, and selfishly, Theodore wore a reserved smile hoping that she'd inherited his red hair and Cupid's glamour. That way, she'd never be the butt of cruel jokes and taunting that he'd suffered through; she'd be a beautiful butterfly instead of an awkward, unseemly walking stick...

Just as the thought crossed Theodore's mind, he noticed something off about the cafeteria of happy, chattering pre-teens. His stomach was twisting in knots, horrible memories rolling like film through his mind's eye. Pupils shrinking, he noticed a group of skinny, fashionable girls circling another girl, jeering and teasing. None of the other counselors noticed; they were all busy trying to get some dumb kid to stop sticking peas up her nose on some ridiculous dare.

Something snapped in Theodore as he stomped over. He seemed to be hyper-aware, hearing every taunt they launched at her: fat-ass, Porky, loser...

"Hey, it's the human walking stick!" Sandy jeered at Theodore as he crouched down the hall, hiding behind his books...In the locker room, Theodore avoided taking showers, since the last few times, another boy made a show out of pointing at his "pecker" and making snide comments about the size...In middle school, a dark haired boy in glasses beat up Theodore every day and stole his lunch money until he finally summoned the courage to tell a teacher...It's the human preying mantis!...It's the stick figure with a tiny dick!...Keep up! Do you have any hand-eye coordination, you freak?!...Only a weirdo would know something that obscure...

So many bullies' faces taped to his eyelids, Theodore was living in the past for a brief few seconds. He clenched his fists, anger swimming and bubbling. "Shut up," he said in a low, brutal growl.

All four girls looked up at him with fear and shock. The three that had been picking on the other girl backed away, seeming to shrink in the presence of Theodore's age and authority. Taking a deep breath, Theodore made himself return to the present and calm down. "I'll make sure your parents know exactly what you were doing just now," he threatened, eyes steely. "For now, go sit somewhere else. Your punishment is that you don't get to swim today and you have to help clean up the pool until your parents come to pick you up."

All three girls glared, muttering insincere apologies followed by long strings of cuss words as they turned and walked away. Now Theodore was getting fixed by an indignant glare from the girl that had been getting teased. She had short dark hair and black eyes, wore a pink T-shirt, and clutched at a cheap wallet covered with sequins; she was a bit chubby, too.

"They'll never let me in their group now!" she cried as tears collected at the edges of her eyes. "Thanks to you, you big meanie!"

"They were bullying you!" Theodore protested. "Those girls were calling you such mean, rotten names..."

"Words don't hurt!" the girl said stubbornly, chewing on her bottom lip. "My mom told me that that's how the popular kids behave! I just have to put up with it. If I put up with it long enough, they'd accept me...maybe..." Her eyes trailed towards the floor and from the way she furrowed her brows, Theodore knew she didn't believe in her mom's advice.

"That's a load of crap," Theodore replied bluntly. "Words do hurt. They chip away at your emotional well-being and self-esteem."

"You ruined my chances of getting accepted!" the girl cried.

"What's so great about those girls?" Theodore grilled. "Why are you so determined to be part of their inner circle that you'd willingly degrade yourself?"
"They're cool. Everybody likes them. If I were one of them, everyone would like me."

Blowing out a breath, Theodore started tapping his knee as he remembered that fateful night back in 1991, when he'd gotten tired of his drudgery at the bottom of the social ladder. His solution had been fairytale magic: Cupid gave him looks and charisma, the two tools that had, pretty much, given Theodore everything he wanted and needed. He could tell the young girl the sentimental "believe in yourself" and "rise above the crowd" spiel, but he didn't really understand or believe in the merits of such tripe himself.

Of course she needed to stand up for herself, but after that, she needed something else to help her continue to do so. Self-confidence came with feeling like you had some sort of personal strength or advantage; for Theodore, that was his glamour, his spellcasting mask.

What could he tell this young girl? What was the equivalent of his father's gifts that he could give to her...?

"What makes them cool?" Theodore asked with a half-smile.

"They're fashionable," she replied, confused.

"How do you know that's the case?" Theodore countered, looking into the young girl's eyes.

"They say so..."

"Think about it: Those girls labeled themselves cool and fashionable," he reasoned. "It's a label, a label that can be peeled off just as easily as it was applied."

Smiling, Theodore watched as the girl mulled things over, the gears whirring in her brain. After a full minute, her eyes widened with an epiphany. "Mom doesn't get called names by her friends!" Her brows furrowed. "She tells them what to do. How things work..."

"There's one girl that calls all the shots, isn't there?" Theodore followed.

"Yeah, Hope," the girl conceded. "Rachel and Lily dress and act like she does. If she likes something, they do, too. Just like Mom and her friends..." Following this logic, she smirked. "If I took Hope's place, I'd be in charge. I'd be like Mom. It wouldn't be me getting rejected, because I'd be the one calling the shots!"

"How will you take over their group?" Theodore asked, raising an eyebrow.

This is where the girl deflated, retreating back to her original, helpless state. Gritting his teeth, Theodore remembered when he'd been in her place.

"Figure out their weaknesses," Theodore whispered, regressing to his fifteen-year-old self. "What makes them tick. If Lily hates bugs, cover her with bugs. If Hope has a crush on another boy, flirt with that boy. Exploit their weaknesses and lever yourself. They'll fear you."

"...Hope has a diary," the girl said, her eyes shining with realization. "I know where she hides both it and the key..."

"Find that diary," Theodore encouraged. "Read it. Watch what Hope does then..."

"I never even thought about doing that!" she reveled.

"Hope will be kissing your feet," Theodore agreed, eyes shining as he smiled sinisterly.

Glee erupted in the pit of his stomach. Right now, he was living vicariously through this young girl, delighting in the notion that she'd triumph over her harassers, a feat that he'd never been able to pull off. He'd charmed his opposition; he knew how people could bend like bamboo, how they could molded with sweet, gentle words or brutal blackmail.

Part of Theodore knew how perverse and wrong this approach was. Though, really, these girls deserved a taste of their own medicine, right? Some people deserved to have evil inflicted upon them. Besides, Theodore himself wasn't an entirely rotten apple; he imagined that once this young girl took command, she'd be a better leader than Hope, right?

"You're a genius, Mister!" the little girl gushed.

"If you ever need any other advice, I'm here," he acknowledged, hearing a slight waver in his voice now. "You can call me Theodore."

"My name's Heather," she said, her eyes glowing with an all-too-familiar malice.

February 2007-Kate Litwick's Apartment in New York City

"...Man, where did you learn to do that?!" the brunette crowed, her blue eyes shining.

"So...you're a satisfied customer?" Theodore smiled in a cat-like way, rolling his shoulders.

Sighing contentedly, the young woman took a few steps back then tumbled into bed, reaching for Theodore's arms and wrapping them around her lithe, slender body. The two cuddled up under the tangle of sheets and blankets, the woman a warm and refreshing candle light.

Pulling her closer, Theodore kissed her cheek. His heart was beating slow and steady. When was the last time he'd felt such timid, sparking attraction?

When she kissed him back, realization hit Theodore like a crashing wave: He was falling in love. For the second time in his life, he was getting to experience that sweetness, those wonderful moments akin to a dark red rose unfurling its' petals. Gently, the new meaning in Theodore's life reached up overhead at the light switch and tugged it, drowning the room in darkness.

"Kate Renard," Theodore whispered.

"Theodore Litwick," she replied, giggling.

Sleep came very easily anymore. Because of Kate, Theodore felt like an entirely new man. When he looked into her eyes, he felt like his past was a million miles away. With her, there were no ghost desires to return to Sandy, no keening or guilt for past transgressions, only a bright and wonderful future with marriage and-

"Welcome back, Theodore!" Aeon crooned in a sing-song voice.

All of a sudden, Theodore found himself in Aeon's stark and blinding white twilight zone. Gasping, he realized he was naked; feebly, he tried to cover his privates while the time god just stared at him, utterly bemused, as he folded his arms. Next to Aeon stood Kate, looking guilty as her hair fell in her face and she looked down at her feet.

"What...What's going on?" Theodore asked, his voice cracking.

"This is the daughter I told you about so long ago!" Aeon cackled, placing an arm around her shoulders.

Unnerved, Theodore noticed Kate clenching her fists, the way she corkscrewed her lip.

"You were just thinking about marriage, weren't you, Theo, my boy?" Aeon said grandly, smiling wide. "Well, you have my blessing!" Then he gestured at his daughter. "Aeon, Jr.?"

Silently, Kate lowered her head that much more, her face hidden behind a curtain of hair now. The skin on her right and left shoulders started shifting and bubbling like the surface of boiling water; she started to writhe, moaning.

Horrorstruck, Theodore could only watch as his naked lover transformed: A bull's head sprouted from her right shoulder and a lion's from her left. A tail snapped idly behind her, waving casually through the air.

"Kate...?" Theodore called, reaching out to her with shaking fingers. "Katy...?"

She made a small, incomprehensible sound as she stepped forward. Then she took another step, and another, slowly making her way towards Theodore. The closer she was, the more Theodore noticed that her human side had, more or less, completely shut down; her head drooped and flopped around lazily like a dead daisy's. Any life still present in Kate was expressed in the bull snorting and the lion roaring impatiently.

For the past few minutes, Theodore had been frozen in utter shock, staring with wide eyes and gaping fish lips. His hand was shaking violently as instinct kicked in. Every part of him was begging to turn and run, especially now that Kate was close enough that she was reaching out towards him; the bull's and lion's eyes gleamed in hungry anticipation.

Screaming, Theodore turned and started to run. Even though he had nowhere to go in a blank white void, he ran anyway, going faster and faster as his red hair started to flutter around his face. Briefly, he shot a look over his shoulder; Kate was so close, her strides becoming faster as her human legs transformed into the chunkier, more musclebound equivalent of a bull's.

Helplessly, Theodore tried to pour on more speed, but he knew it was helpless when he felt vibrations beneath his feet.

Next thing he knew, Theodore fell, hitting the ground with a rough 'oof.' He was pinned by a pair of lion paws, the claws sinking into his skin. Gasping, Theodore could feel the air leaking out of his lungs in a steady stream as two pairs of ferocious, bloodthirsty eyes looked down at him. Desperately, he wanted to scream, but that was pretty much impossible when he felt like he could barely breathe...

Kate lifted her human head, the hair falling away from her face. Panting, she looked at him with regretful eyes, her lips trembling.

"What...What...?" Theodore gaped.

"He wants a new world-egg," she explained in a hushed voice. "He wants us to mate and create a new world-egg..."

There were tears in her eyes, sliding down her face.

"If that happens, it means the end of the current universe as we know it," Kate went on in a rush, her voice almost drowned out by the noises her other two animal heads were making.

Theodore swallowed, wishing he could reach up and wipe the tears away from her eyes. Sorrow swelled and rose in his chest, spilling over him as he swallowed heavily. It was such a strange sensation to be caught up in a net of overwhelming fear and irrational adoration all at the same time.

"I love you..." he admitted, despite how inappropriate it was for him to say that right now.

"You have to slay me, Theodore!" Kate squawked, her eyes a pair of watery marbles now. "Kill me!"

"No!" Theodore screamed.

"You have to!" she screamed back.

"I won't do it!" Theodore shrieked. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me...I'm not messing up again! Without you, I-"

"I was your newest replacement for Sandy!" Kate howled back, the bull and lion heads snarling and angry; the lion's teeth were two rows of sharp razors.

"No..." Theodore whispered, shaking his head. "No..."

"Do you really know anything about me?" Kate's claws dug into his wrists as she leaned in closer. Their faces were barely inches apart, her blue eyes the points of daggers as her gaze dug into his soul, dragging razor blades through him.

"I know everything," he gasped.

"You know nothing," she whispered. "What's my favorite color? My favorite song...?"

"Mauve...Moonlight Sonata..."

"Yellow. And I hate classical music," Kate snarled back.

With that last response, her eyes snapped shut and her human head fell forward and limp again. Now Theodore was eye to eye with the lion, his frightened and tear-stained face reflected in the depths of those golden eyes. With a struggling breath, Theodore discarded his humanity for the current instant. Adrenaline flushed through his veins as he, somehow, yanked his arms out from Kate's pin.

Then he reached up past the lion's head, towards Kate's human one. He wrapped both hands around her neck and started squeezing; the lion turned and chomped into his arm, the teeth sinking into his flesh and sending sharp prickles of pain all throughout his body. Gasping, Theodore ignored it and squeezed harder.

Next, the bull head bit into Theodore's other arm, the bite jarring, but nowhere near as painful as the lion's. A few seconds passed; Kate's eyes flew open, the pupils small pinpricks. Fresh tears leaked from her eyes and ran down her face as the light started fading. As Theodore persisted in his grisly task, the lion and bull heads, along with the tail, disappeared.

Releasing Kate, Theodore screamed as her body fell forward and, quickly, he wrapped his arms around her, cradling her in his embrace. Hot tears spilled from his eyes and down his face. The bright white started to fade, the last vision Theodore seeing being Aeon's disgruntled and disapproving face.

For the next few hours, Theodore held Kate close to him under the covers, clinging to her like a life raft. When the sun was shining in through the window, Thanatos appeared, his expression sympathetic. Kate's soul stepped up and out of her body, standing next to the god of death and smiling sadly at Theodore.

"I'm finally free from Aeon..." she sighed happily, smiling. "You saved Mt. Olympus, Theodore."

Thanatos grunted in agreement, nodding silently.

...At what cost? Theodore thought bitterly as a tear slid down his face, cold and wet.

December 2007-Hephaestus' Forge

"My repairs ought to have fixed most of the major damage done to your body, Theodore," Hephaestus grunted, wiping his forehead with the back of his gauntlet.

Theodore took a deep, rattling breath; he could feel the newly installed machinery, the click and whir of every last gear. Of course Theodore was eternally grateful to the blacksmith god for rescuing him from the very brink of death, but all he could think about was the unfortunate fate that had befallen the young, blond teenage Total Drama intern.

Closing his eyes, Theodore could remember the scene with far too vivid clarity:

Dark-robed and grim-looking Thanatos looked down at Theodore, his skeletal hand extended. The god of death was getting irritable and impatient; he easily ignored the bloodied and torn open corpse of the intern while it was all that Theodore could look at. The winged and wraith-like Keres surrounded the young boy, squabbling amongst themselves as to who would get to take the first bite of his body.

Next to Thanatos stood the intern's soul, fearful and nervous as he tried to come to terms with the fact that he was now dead.

"Come on, Theodore!" Thanatos grumbled. "I have a schedule to keep."

Barely able to breathe, Theodore looked down at his own mangled body now. A huge pool of blood was spilling and growing beneath him; he could feel his heart pumping more and more slowly with each passing moment. Theodore was barely holding on to his physical body, a hangnail away from death.

"Chris!" Theodore gurgled. "Chris is responsible for this..."

"Yeah, McClain's responsible for most of my jobs this month," Thanatos sighed. "Want me to put your name on the petition going around? Bunch of souls in the Underworld are trying to get Nemesis to put a curse on him or something..."

That response made Theodore's eyes widen and his blood boil. Rage overtook him, such an intense, blinding rage unlike anything he'd ever experienced before. Chris was the key that unlocked the curse that Nemesis had placed on him seven years ago.

Theodore let out a long and keening primal scream; he choked on his own blood shortly afterward, tumbling into unconsciousness. The entire time he'd been floating around in his own mind, all Theodore could think about was the young intern, how his life had been cut short by the callous and careless actions of his employer Chris McClain. How Theodore himself had almost been brought to his own death by those very same actions...

Theodore moaned as he opened his eyes again. Rage flooded through his remaining veins, escalating as he stared at his chest and his arm, met by the gleam of metal and circuitry. Angry tears squiggled out of the grown man's eyes and chased down his cheeks as he flexed his fingers, mournfully remembering the flesh and the knuckles, Sandy's tiny fingers interlocking through the gaps between his.

"I'm hideous..." Theodore groaned.

"Yup..." Hephaestus pulled at the end of his glove, then turned away and wandered into the depths of his forge. Weary, Theodore watched the muscular god as he started prepping a long sheet of metal, the way his muscles rippled and strained with the effort-

"Theodore!" Cupid appeared at Theodore's elbow, his concerned face blocking Hephaestus and Theodore's view of the rest of the forge.

Theodore grunted, grimacing as he started gnashing his teeth.

"I'm so glad you're alright, Theodore," Cupid sighed, leaning in and gently hugging his son.

"I'm not alright," Theodore grunted.

"You're alive!" Cupid protested. " You recently saved Mt. Olympus from Aeon. You're a year away from becoming a doctor. You had a high-ranking job as an executive producer. You have the mortal world at your feet-"

"I'm not alright!" Theodore howled, pushing his father away. Breathing hard and heavily, Theodore could feel the strain between his new mechanical parts and his organic body. "I'll never be okay again!"

Cupid looked back at him worriedly. "Is there anything-"

"I was so close to turning my life around!" Theodore yelped. "I was going to get married and stay loyal to a woman for once in my pitiful life...I was going to save up money to give to my children for college and pay my own bills..."

"You can still-"

"All I want is to be a better human being..." Theodore panted, breaking out in a sweat. "But, every time I've tried to atone for my sins, I've failed. There's only one way I can redeem myself...only one way I can..."

"...what's that?" Cupid asked nervously, eyes wide and fearful.

"I have to kill Chris McClain, of course!" Theodore crowed, breaking out in a manic smile. "From now on, every waking moment, everything I do will be towards the cause of eliminating that scourge from the Earth! I'm going to cripple him. I'll crush him! I'll destroy him...!"

By now, Theodore had lapsed into a manic episode, digressing off on a long, brutal tirade as he gestured and screamed. Only Cupid was deeply scarred and worried, watching closely as a dark black mark appeared on Theodore's cheek: As if burned there by a branding iron there was now a silhouette of Nemesis' winged form, a pulsating green light surrounding it...