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With his cheeks glowing like he had just returned from a day at the beach, Hades made for the gates, carrying with him the memory of Lexi's lithe body and her astonishing ability to bend over and grab her ankles without losing her balance, although it wouldn't be long before her balance was challenged. This thought made his cheeks warm even further.

His horse, Spartan, snorted beneath him, clearly excited to be released from his stall. Spartan had been conceived by Jackie O after her romp with Zenith, and the young stallion quickly became Hades' favorite. Gifted with the fortitude of Heracles and the intuition of Ares, the horse had not failed to deliver Hades anywhere without complaint, even when he and Lexi enjoyed a tour of the Canadian wilderness on horseback. Spartan alerted them to bears while they were distracted with netting salmon.

When Hades reached the gates, Kade and Ink were already there talking to Thanatos. Based on the uncharacteristic smile Thanatos wore, Hades had to assume he was enjoying the company, causing Hades to become suspicious. Their lively banter abruptly stopped when Hades arrived, making him even more suspicious.

"You didn't have to come all the way out here to meet us," Kade said as he greeted Hades with a hearty back slap. "I assumed you and Lexi would be busy getting the nursery ready."

"We still have a few months to work out those details." The reminder of Lexi's splendid news had Hades smiling as he turned to greet Ink, taking in the lean, heavily tattooed body of Poseidon's wayward son. Despite Ink's meager twenty-four years, the signs of his rough beginning were written on his face, and all over his body apparently. "You must be Ink. I'm Hades. Those are impressive tattoos. Is that the grim reaper on your forearm?"

Ink nodded as he held out his arm, giving Hades an eyeful of the art. "I had it done right after I got my birthmark incorporated into a tat." He pulled up his shirt, exposing an elaborate scene on his back of a phoenix rising from an inferno. "I was born with a mark that looked like a phoenix. My mom was convinced it was an evil omen. She wanted to have it removed, but the doctors told her the pigment went too deep. I kept it hidden until I was old enough to get a tattoo. Course, it didn't make her feel any better."

Hades' curiosity piqued at Ink's disclosure. Poseidon had mentioned very little about his son beyond the fact that he existed. "Is your mother unaware of your demigod status?"

An expression washed over Ink's face then vanished before Hades could decipher it. "No. I was just sitting at home one night and Poseidon came to the door, announced who he was, and dragged me off to Olympus."

"Is that how it went, hmm? Poseidon does have a flare for the dramatic."

"He's a dick, and I'd like to forget about him while I'm here."

"That suits me. Do you have anything in mind you'd like to do?"

Ink gestured toward the dark chasm leading away from the gates. "I noticed a soul hiding between a crevice in the rocks on our way in. She looked scared. I thought I might try to convince her to come out. It's kind of my specialty."

Hades nodded. He didn't have to be hit over the head to notice an opportunity. "Be my guest. Thanatos or Kade can carry you."

"I'll take him." Kade stretched out his wings and his arms, allowing Ink to step into them. A moment later, they were in the air and consumed by darkness.

Hades looked at Thanatos, whose amused expression had not left him. "Care to offer your thoughts, Thanatos? Did someone spike your tea this morning?"

Thanatos' eyebrows rose, taking on the air of someone who had been affronted. "My nymphs would never spike my tea."

"You know what I meant. You have an opinion about Ink, and I would like to hear it."

After a moment of silent deliberation, Thanatos spoke. "He reminds me of you, your grace, when you first arrived. You were unhappy with your circumstances. Do you remember?"

Hades easily recalled the day his chariot brought him to the underworld as the new ruler. Granted, the underworld was a different place back then, less secluded, more hospitable, with easy access to Olympus, but Hades had not seen it that way. "Yes, I remember. I was angry as hell."

"Superb choice of words." Thanatos smirked, an expression Hades was used to seeing on him.

"Do you have a point with this theory, Thanatos?"

"I am merely observing that Ink's anger issues may stem from the fact that he has yet to find his calling. With the proper guidance, he could move from being a burden to becoming an asset to the gods, as you have, your grace."

Hades stared at Thanatos as he processed the advice his longtime companion offered. Since when had he started referring to Hades as 'your grace'? Was that Lexi's doing? It wasn't long before Kade and Ink returned with a young female soul in tow. She looked to be no more than ten, and Ink talked to her as they walked toward the gates. Despite her frightened, wide-eyed countenance, she appeared enraptured with Ink, and Thanatos hurried to give them access. As the two disappeared onto the tree-lined path, Hades, Thanatos, and Kade all shared a curious glance.

"Don't get your hopes up," Kade said. "I've seen him swap punches with a goddess after accusing her of having a crater chest. He has a long way to go."

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