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** SMILES AHEAD **

Dinner did not turn out to be the intimate affair Lexi was hoping for. Melinoe and Hecate decided to join them, along with Ink and Lisbon, of course. Hades had been sucked into a conversation with Ink about how the souls should be greeted from the new port, while Melinoe spent most of the meal giving Lexi the stink eye, which had Lexi wondering how long Melinoe had been jealous of her, but Lexi did her best to ignore the goddess of nightmares.

It was Hades who had been the target of Lexi's gaze that evening. Her body was craving him even as she felt her milk come in for the babies' next feeding. Both Hera and Hecate recommended a three week waiting period before engaging in penetrative sex, but Lexi was different from other goddesses. She had the ability to heal others, which included herself, and she was already feeling as fit as she did when she captained the lacrosse team. Not to mention, her belly had shrunk down to its former size without a bit of exercise.

Lexi asked Hecate to stay after dinner, and when the babies were fed, she requested Hecate perform a postnatal exam in the nymph's oversized bathroom. Hecate met her request, although she prefaced it with a judgmental head shake. The matronly goddess knew why Lexi was interested in her physical condition.

"You're as fit as a goddess of your meager twenty-one years, Lexi," Hecate pronounced afterward. "I should not have expected anything less than a miraculous recovery from you. Now, remember, breastfeeding is not a reliable form of birth control."

"Thanks, Hecate," Lexi said as she dressed in front of the mirror, inspecting her belly for signs of stretch marks. "I will always take your advice over any mortal text, and I have a stack of books to go through that my mother sent me. You know, I used to be afraid of you."

"And you no longer feel this way?" Hecate asked, sounding a touch disappointed.

"Only occasionally, when you're giving me the silent treatment. You're very skilled at it."

Hecate chuckled into her satchel as she put away her supplies. "I admit I have used that tactic successfully for many years, but I finally saw the flaw in such a strategy when I thought you had been taken from us. I was unnecessarily cruel to you that day and felt the painful repercussions of my actions when I sat by your bedside in the infirmary. You have a way of bringing other's faults into the light without making this your intent. Your gifts are far reaching, Lexi, and I am grateful for you."

Hecate appeared to be suppressing tears as she made several adjustments to her satchel at her hip, but Lexi knew she wouldn't spill them in front of her. Hecate had plenty of alone time for things like that. "Will we see you at the construction site for the new port, Hecate?" Lexi asked as she escorted Hecate to the front door. "I hope Hades has listened to your input and made note of it."

Hecate placated Lexi with a smile. "I'm sure he has, but my input is not necessary. I will not be as involved as I have been. This is about Hades and Hermes and the souls who need compassion and guidance."

Hecate took to the bridge, leaving Lexi wistful as she watched Hecate's orange robe flutter in her wake. When the door clicked into its frame, the palace fell into a quiet reverence, like a cathedral after hours. She knew the babies had been put down for a nap, and the last time she heard Hades' voice he was escorting Ink to his study to discuss Ink's future in the underworld. The opportunity was ripe for any number of scenarios, and she pondered these as she walked up the staircase, her feet eager to carry her to the bedroom she shared with Hades. It seemed her body had made its choice already. She would slip out of her dress and call Hades from the speaking tube, requesting his presence. That sounded like a marvelous plan.

When Lexi pushed her chamber door open, she found Hades reclined in his chair adorned in his smoking jacket, the one he wore when he was anticipating being ravaged. She offered him a shy smile as she walked to the cribs to check on the babies.

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