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Once the sleigh had been unloaded and the wood stacked inside the shed, Kade took his leave and Hades retired to his bath. Yet, even in the comforting, fragrant waters, Hades could not shake the troubling thoughts spurred by his conversation with Lars. Lexi's gifts were manifesting as quickly as night follows day, and on each of those days Hades felt blessed she had pledged her love to him along with her promise to stay in the underworld. But duty always won with the gods, the benevolent ones anyway, and it was this foreboding that triggered his anxiety, causing his palms to sweat and his head to pound.

The sky was turning when Hades shuffled tired but clean into his bedroom. He detoured past his fireplace, bathing his body in orange light. Despite the constant blaze, the room felt devoid of warmth. He knew the reason why. He was alone. He didn't like the idea of Lexi traveling after dark, and he thought of all the reasons she might have been detained as he continued toward his wardrobe. Maybe she had already arrived home and became distracted by the nymphs and their folly. Surely, someone would have alerted him. Across the room, the scrying mirror tinkled. Could it be her?

Pulling on a pair of trousers, Hades walked to the mirror, touching the glass and triggering the magic. Poseidon stood on the other side, greeting Hades with a smile, although it was not the smile Hades was craving. Far from it.

"Brother, you are looking well," Poseidon offered cheerfully. This made Hades immediately suspicious. Poseidon knew Hades had little to do with him, cheerfully or otherwise.

"What can I do for you, Poseidon?"

"I won't keep you. I am well aware of your desire to sever my head from my body, but I promised Lexi I would tell you she is on her way home. She suspects she won't make the gates until nightfall and did not want to worry you."

Hades nodded curtly. "I was preparing to meet her at the gates, which I should make haste to do if I want to arrive before she does. Is there anything else?"

"There is something... but I expect it can wait." Poseidon's face turned introspective, an expression Hades rarely saw him wear.

"I can spare another moment to hear what you have to say. Does it have to do with Lexi?"

"No, well, yes... You and Lexi."

"Oh? What about me and Lexi?" Hades watched Poseidon's expression change again. This time he seemed removed from himself, like he had been set adrift on a foreign sea.

"I would like to know how you are able to stay faithful to each other. Is there a magic formula? What keeps you from getting bored, besides the Kama Sutra?"

Hades' forehead creased as he scrutinized Poseidon through the glass. Why was his brother asking him for relationship advice? Did Poseidon want to know the magic formula so he could woo Lexi away from him? "What interest would you have in cultivating a long lasting relationship, Poseidon? You are a sworn bachelor with the entire city of Olympus serving as your banquet table."

"That is not exactly true. There are many who wish to see me beheaded, as you do. But, let us say I found someone who stirs me like no other has. What would I do to nurture her love for me?"

"Tell me who it is and I will see if I can help you." Hades held Poseidon's gaze through the mirror, watching intently for a flicker of insincerity.

"Odessa, the progeny of Prometheus. She has bewitched me, Hades. I cannot get her out of my head, nor do I wish to."

"Odessa has sworn an oath of chastity. Are you sure you're not just interested in helping her break her vow?"

"The thought had crossed my mind, but not in the way you're thinking. Odessa is the only chaste goddess who has sparked my interest outside my bed chamber, and I believe it is because she resents her situation. She maintains her virgin status to keep her virtue from coming under scrutiny. She is a righteous and charitable goddess who wishes to be taken seriously, after all."

"I see." Hades bobbed his head as he listened to Poseidon's oration. Was he defending Odessa's virtue?

"All my other relationships started with sex," Poseidon continued. "And most of them ended with a slap in the face... although the punishment Lexi delivered was worse than any physical blow. Her benevolence is greater than all of us. I know now that I do not deserve her. You do."

Poseidon paused to give Hades time to respond, but Hades was still trying to read Poseidon's motives through the impediment of glass. "I was hoping to cultivate something like that with Odessa. She is a uniquely engaging, intelligent, and alluring goddess. I am finding I want more from her than sexual congress."

Hades pictured Poseidon at the mercy of a goddess rather than the other way around and the thought amused him. "I believe you are halfway there," he offered. "You are thinking with your heart and not your dick, for once. A woman wants to know she is adored for more than her body parts. Respect and fidelity will secure a woman's trust, and the devotion will follow as a natural course of action. It has been my experience, however limited it is, that all goddesses have a deep-seated need to be the sole object of our desire, even those who are happy to share themselves without commitment. If both parties find this, neither will seek their pleasures elsewhere."

Poseidon looked agreeable but slightly lost. Hades knew this was uncharted territory for him, and it was likely to fizzle out within a few turns of the hourglass, or at least after he had deflowered Odessa. Hopefully, that would not be the case.

"Thank you, Hades. I am indebted to your generosity, both in advice and in the honorable example you set for the rest of us. Lexi speaks highly of you, and her opinion is something I value even above the opinion of our brother." He glanced over each shoulder before adding, "I ask that you not share those thoughts with Zeus."

"I share only what is required of me. Now, I must take my leave. May the grace of Gaia be with you in your pursuit of answers."

"Pleasant evening, Hades."

Hades heard Poseidon sigh as the mirror went dark, and the sound stayed with him as he returned to his task of dressing himself. Hades had spent the last three years imagining Poseidon dangling over the pit of Tartarus by his testicles. Now, he wished for Poseidon to find the happiness and contentment he desired. If nothing else, it would relieve Hades of the jealousy that plagued him every time Lexi entered Olympus. Of course, Poseidon was not the only handsome god to voice his desire for Lexi, but he had been the most persistent.

Hades and Spartan reached the gates just minutes before Lexi pulled up on her personal chariot, the one Hades commissioned shortly after she had been named peacemaker to the council. Hades could see the fatigue in Lexi's countenance as she made polite conversation with Melinoe from her chariot. Hades only had to step up beside her and she relinquished the reins. Shortly after, they were heading home, with Spartan flying alongside and Lexi tucked under Hades' arm.

Inside the stable, Lexi stood at Jackie O's gate, offering her chestnut-haired friend a scratch on her cheek as Hades stowed the chariot. When he started rolling up the reins, Lexi slipped her arms around his waist.

"I missed you terribly," she said. "I wish you could have enjoyed the party with me. The fact that you couldn't makes me angrier than a hornet."

Hades lifted her chin to look into her eyes. He could see a flicker in their blue depths as something stirred, but he mostly saw fatigue. "You need to stop torturing yourself with things you have no control over."

"But maybe I can control it. Maybe I can find a loophole in the bylaws. I need to compare the originals to the ones written after the war..." Hades pressed his lips against her mouth to quiet her and she began to yawn. "Oh, Hades. I am so sorry. It has been a long day."

"Are you hungry? The nymphs have held our dinner awaiting your arrival."

"I did eat a lot at the palace, but I could eat again."

Hades smiled. "That's my girl."

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