Aphrodite wants to right a wrong from many years ago. Her petty quarrel with Apollo resulted in him being separated from the woman he loved. Until now. With Zeus’s help, Aphrodite has given Apollo and his beloved Daphne a second chance. Will they find happiness together? Or will they find that the years of separation have drastically changed what each of them once wanted?
Aphrodite stood in a field and stared at a very unusual laurel tree, which was not a tree at all. It had once been a girl named Daphne, and soon it would be again. She held her hands over the center of the trunk and concentrated. When she lifted her hands, a large lead arrowhead was there, stuck deep into the tree. Zeus had helped her with the spell once he and Hera had agreed to let her lift the enchantments on Apollo and Daphne without their consents, so this time she trusted her magic. She would not make the same mistake she had made many months ago with the spell she cast on Ares. She wanted to give Apollo and Daphne a second chance since her meddling had ruined their first one.
She tugged on the arrowhead, but it didn’t budge. She wiggled it a little, and that seemed to loosen it. She pulled on it again. This time it came out quickly. Sap began to pour out of the tree. Before long though, it turned to blood.
Aphrodite looked at the arrowhead and threw it down. She tried to stop the blood with her hands. The tree felt hot. She felt the bark turn to soft skin, saw the tree shrink and transform into a girl who immediately began to moan in pain as her knees buckled and she crumpled on the ground.
“Apollo! Apollo!” She tried to support Daphne as best she could. Apollo had the ability to heal all of the gods and other beings of Olympus, and surely he would help the woman he’d loved for centuries. He didn’t answer at all though, and he didn’t appear. Damn it, he must be hurt too!
She looked around, but she saw no one. “Zeus! Help us! Please!”
Zeus immediately appeared. He knelt down and took Daphne in his arms. “Hypnos!”
Hypnos, the god of sleep, appeared within seconds. He looked angry.
“What have you done?” he asked with obvious venom.
Zeus looked shocked, and Aphrodite understood why. No one questioned Zeus, and Hypnos never spoke to anyone like that. He was always quiet and gentle. With a chill Aphrodite remembered that Hypnos was now the god of death again as well as the god of sleep and dreams. Thanatos, whom they had all known as the god of death for centuries, had never been real at all. He’d been part of Hypnos, the darker part, living a separate life at the will of Zeus and the Fates to protect the other Olympians from Hypnos’ ambition and darker desires. Since Thanatos’ duel with Zeus, Hypnos had been made whole again, reabsorbing everything the Fates had extracted. All his powers were fully restored, so Aphrodite couldn’t help feeling nervous about his unexplained anger. She still remembered the days when wondering what he might do had caused great fear.
“I said, what have you done?” Hypnos repeated.
“A spell seems to have gone wrong. We didn’t foresee this,” Zeus said. “Help Daphne, and then I’ll explain.” He looked up at Aphrodite. “Apollo may need help too. Go to him and let us know.”
Aphrodite nodded and snapped her fingers. She had no idea why Hypnos was upset, but she knew Apollo just might be out for her blood if he wasn’t in the same state Daphne was.
* * * *
Apollo lurched forward as he threw up on his living room floor for the third time. His head pounded, and his heart felt as if it was being ripped apart. Something tore at his throat. He looked down and saw an arrowhead in the pool of bloody vomit. He stared down at it in disbelief.
“Eros,” he called, his voice barely audible. Then he stopped. Eros had shot the arrows at him and at Daphne, but he had done so at Aphrodite’s command, her vengeance for Apollo mocking Eros’ archery skills.
He’d thought Daphne was the loveliest girl he’d ever seen. She’d been shy, but he had persisted. Just when he’d felt she might be warming to him, Eros had shot them both. Apollo had fallen madly in love with Daphne in an instant. He’d reached for her, only to see her face curl up in disgust. She’d pushed him off and ran from him. Not knowing what was wrong, he’d pursued her. He hadn’t understood her cries of terror or her disgust at the idea of him being near her. Then she’d called for her father to help her.
Apollo had stopped short, but had still run face first into a tree. He soon afterward learned the tree was Daphne. Her father had protected her the only way he could. The poisonous lead arrowhead had lodged deep in her heart, and she preferred life as a tree to life in a world with him in it. So the spell had never been lifted. He’d loved her and been forced to live without her, thinking only of how much she loathed him, for centuries.
He mustered all his strength. “Aphrodite!”
“I’m already here.”
He rounded on her, though he was too weak to stand. Blood flowed from his mouth, and he could feel the warm liquid also running down his throat. “What have you done?”
“How can I help? I was afraid to speak. I’m sorry. The sight of you shocked me. Please tell me how to help. Then you can yell at me all you want.”
He pushed his rage down as the pain surged. “The bottles, there.” He pointed to the left side of the bar. “The ones on that side aren’t alcohol, they’re potions.”
“Which one?” she asked as she ran over.
He squinted. “Blue. Top shelf, second bottle.” He cringed. “I need to stop the bleeding.”
She rushed over to him, and he gratefully took a long drink.
“Didn’t you learn your lesson with Ares? Zeus should forbid your use of magic.”
She knelt by him and wrung her hands. He could tell she was fighting tears. “It wasn’t my own. The spell was Zeus’, but something went wrong.”
“Zeus helped you?” He puzzled over this, but then thoughts of Daphne sent a jolt of fear to his heart. “Where’s Daphne?”
“With Zeus and Hypnos.”
He struggled to stand. “She may need me.” He braced himself on the bar. She tried to steady him, and he grabbed her by the throat. “If she dies I will never forgive you. Zeus may have to keep me from killing you.”
Aphrodite didn’t seem concerned for herself. “You’re weak. I’ll take us there. Zeus and Hypnos wouldn’t let her die.”
“But she may need something only I can give. Zeus is not omnipotent. I am the only one who can heal. Hypnos could only slow down her death.”
Aphrodite snapped her fingers, and they appeared in the field where Daphne had lived so long as a tree. Hypnos cradled Daphne in his arms. He looked furious, and Apollo wondered what could have happened. Zeus stood watching at a distance.
Hypnos spoke up quickly, cutting Apollo off as he opened his mouth. “Help her. A few more minutes and I will have no choice but to take her back to the Underworld.”
Apollo nodded and allowed Aphrodite to help him to Daphne. The intensity in Hypnos’ voice had chilled him. Apollo knew it was urgent if Hypnos had to fight against his instincts. He touched her forehead. She’d lost too much blood, and her mind was catatonic. He concentrated, and three bottles appeared. Two contained orange liquids, one blue. He took the blue one first. “Hold her up. She has to swallow all of it.”
Hypnos helped Apollo pour it slowly down her throat, pausing to make sure it wasn’t choking her. Apollo rubbed her head, and then her throat, and finally her chest just over her heart. He felt his hands warming as his powers returned. He took one orange bottle and smelled it. He set it down and reached for the other. He smelled it as well and then handed it to Aphrodite. “Cover your hands. It will coat them like honey. Work it deep into her scalp. Rub until it is absorbed, and use the whole bottle. When you are done, there should be no trace on your hands or her skin or hair.”
Aphrodite nodded and did as she was told. Apollo looked up at Zeus, too afraid to be angry now. In his mind he told the king of the gods, She might be insane. She might never be as she once was. She’s only a nymph, not a god like us. I can only do so much.
This should not have happened, Zeus replied.
Apollo picked up the last bottle and gave it to Hypnos. “Make her drink this slowly as well, all of it.” He touched her hand, which was cold. He looked down at her pale face. She was still perfect to him. He wanted nothing more than to see her open her stunning green eyes.
“Tell me about the spell, Zeus. If all this doesn’t cure her, we’ll have to try something else.”
“It was supposed to reverse time for both of you. Removing the arrowheads removes the spells that were a part of you. You should both be as you were before.”
Apollo nodded and squeezed her hand. He smoothed her skirt over her legs. She wore the simple green and brown dress she’d been wearing that day long ago as they’d strolled in the field together. Her feet were bare. He remembered how much she loved walking barefoot in the grass. “That explains why I still care so much for her. I was already falling for her then. I was trying to make her see how much I wanted her.” He felt tears in his own eyes. “She said no to this, to the lifting of the spell. I would rather you’d left her a tree for all eternity!” His voice echoed throughout the valley.
Aphrodite didn’t speak. Tears flowed freely down her face. Apollo couldn’t feel anything for her. After what she’d done to him, he’d become obsessed with her. He’d wanted nothing more than to have her, to fuck her and completely have his way with her. Once he’d done that, he’d been disgusted with her and himself. He’d hurt someone else in the process, Alala, who would soon be Ares’ wife. When they’d been lovers for a time, he’d finally gotten his chance with Aphrodite. The day Alala had found him fucking Aphrodite, she ran from him, just as Daphne had so long ago. Alala was the only one who’d shown him kindness or love in the bitter centuries he’d been forced to live through without Daphne. He blamed it all on Aphrodite.
Daphne stirred. She opened her eyes and looked around. She seemed panicked until she realized Hypnos was holding her. “Hypnos!” she whispered. She threw her arms around him. “Where am I? What has happened? Every inch of my body hurts.” She rubbed her head and then looked up. “Who are these people?”
They all stared at Hypnos, who smoothed her hair and held her close as if none of them were there.
“I can explain. You’re going to have to remember things you’ve forgotten.” Hypnos stood and lifted her in his arms. “Talking to her will only confuse her. She drank from the Lethe years ago to stop the pain of her memories. I couldn’t refuse her.”
“What?” Apollo demanded. “How did you help her? How could she drink from the Lethe? She’d been a tree for centuries. She wasn’t dead. She couldn’t have gone to the Underworld.”
“I am the god of sleep and dreams. She hovered near the Valley of Dreams, alone in her own world, and my friendship is the only reason she is sane. She begged to forget, so I brought her water from the Lethe. It seems the spell hasn’t altered that.”
Apollo felt his rage boil over. “That’s why she stopped talking to anyone years ago. You wanted her for yourself, and you forced her to forget!”
She whimpered and buried her face in his neck. “Hypnos, take me home, please!”
Hypnos glared at Apollo. “I am her friend, only her friend, but I will fight you as though I were more. Let her be with her only friend. She doesn’t remember any of you. I will explain everything to her.”
“I don’t trust you to do that,” Apollo said as he stepped closer.
Daphne flinched as he approached, and Hypnos took a defensive stance. “Back off, right now. You’re frightening her.”
Fierce jealousy filled Apollo’s heart as he watched her cling to Hypnos. “No. I won’t let you take her. She’s mine!”
She jerked her head up. “Are you crazy? I don’t even know you!”
His heart thudded painfully. He saw once again that same look of revulsion on her face. He turned from her. “Go. Get out of here!”
Hypnos nodded to Zeus. “I will explain all, to her and to you.”
Zeus nodded quickly and waved him away. Hypnos and Daphne disappeared.
Apollo turned back to Zeus. “How could you let Aphrodite do this? I am going to lose Daphne a second time. Do you know what that is going to feel like? Do you have any idea?”
Zeus sighed. “Let’s wait until Hypnos has explained things to her. We can do nothing until then.”
Apollo turned his back on Zeus and walked away, slapping Aphrodite’s hand back when she reached out to stop him. “I am going to get rip-roaring drunk! Keep that blonde bitch out of my path, or I will kill her!”
The two remained silent as he headed to the mortal world, ready to make a few bartenders very happy.