Finding Zeus was not hard. For once he was using his Nexus office. I didn't bother with announcing my appearance, I just rushed by his assistants and through the great double doors without knocking. Zeus was meeting with the divine hyperpantheon delegates Xenon and Dione when I entered the spacious corner office, and the two of them looked up with a mix of surprise and irritation. Zeus's expression was harder to read though.
"Zeus, can I talk to you alone?" I asked, tried to sound demanding. This is an emergency. Zeus rose, looking at the two Liberals and hesitated a second before saying:
"If you'll excuse us. This will only take a minute I guess." Then the king nodded to me: "Come, Hera, we'll use the small conference room. Hope this really is as urgent as you say. I don't want to be rude to the delegates."
We entered the not-so-small room to the side of Zeus's office and I skipped the preludes:
"Zeus, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry about everything. Can you forgive me?" I wanted to touch him but I hesitated, feeling tears coming into my eyes. "I'm so sorry, I screwed up. I guess I'm not as mature as I thought I was. I guess I'm still running away from things. "
"What have you been running from now then?"
"From you. I... "
"Peacock, I guess I screwed up too. I should have told you earlier..."
"Hera I love you, I love you, please do believe me! I know I don't have the best reputation around, but I'm sincere about this. "
Zeus embraced me with his left arm, taking my chin in his right hand, having me looking into his deep blue eyes. And I knew he was telling the truth.
"Please, don't cry! I'm going to start crying too and it would take forever until I can finish my discussion with Dione and Xenon. I have to... We must... later... Wait for me, I'll come to you."
"Zeus... I will. I'll be... in my office." I started to pull out but Zeus hesitated:
"One more thing, what made you come back to me?"
"It was my mother."
"But isn't she... "
"Dead, I know. But she came to me in a dream. This is like for real. There's even physical proof, laboratory proof, that the deads souls can come through to the measurable dimensions. Mama did just that. She told me to stop running away from my life. So I took my mother's advice. I stopped and turned around. And there was you!"
"The thing is I don't really know if I fell in love with you that other night at the Olympos," I told Zeus. "Or if I only understood that I was in love with you and had been since... like... since when I have no clue. I only knew that I loved you so bad it scared the soul out of me. I was so afraid of getting hurt."
"Hera... I've been in love with you since the first day I saw you upon your return to Ekarantanni. You remember that night? The Grand Opening reception?"
"How can I not?"
"Zeus, I called. He turned around, looking at me where I stepped out of the door frame. He stopped in his movement.
"We really must get time to talk. There are so many things I want to say to you.
"When I saw you that night... transformed from an insecure war-princess desperately trying to fit in with the concept of peace to a mature, blooming goddess determined to do politics, and when I heard your laughter for the first time in 15 years, then I felt that I must have you. I wanted you so much that night, and it didn't want to go away. If Paladin hadn't interrupted us it might have happened already at that time."
"But what took you so long... the thing with Amaterasu and all that? "
"I was scared - too."
"You, Zeus - scared? "
"Yes, I feared you would turn me town. I feared a repeat of that 15 year old Solstice drama. Then, suddenly, you were together with Kandrios of Elesios. So what started out as a flirt with Ami suddenly became an almost year long relation - and a daughter."
I put my arms around Zeus.
"I'll give you a daughter too. One day."
"I'd love to have a daughter from you. Or three. And some sons too." Zeus held me and laughed, the late afternoon sun shining in through my office window, turning his hair into gold.
"I hope you are aware of what you are getting, Hera," he went on.
"Right. And I'm a father to six children, Divine King of the Union, consisting of 35 provinces and more to come. On top of this a pantheon head. And I have this big, enduring passion for obligationless joy with women from time to time. Nothing but pure sex. But I promise I'll do everything I can to be there for you when you need me, whatever it might be about. That's what you're getting."
"It's OK, Eagle... I guess... "
It wasn't. Really. Amaterasu had been right, no woman wants to share her man with others. (Or at least very few will.) But I could not back out now. It was either this Zeus, who I was madly in love with, or no-one, and I would be alone again. Just as alone as I had been back when I came to Argos. And I was not doing that journey one more time.
No matter that it was Wintermonth, gray and gloomy as always this time of the year in Ekarantanni. No matter that some very dirty fighting was going on in the Nexus, mostly in the mortal wing at the moment. No matter that my workload could feel overwhelming from time to time, it was still wonderful days, some of the best days I have ever had.
I was with Zeus, we were in love and I was getting to know him better than ever before. And – in the process, myself as well. I had never loved and felt loved like this before. Kandrios had been nice, Neario wonderful, but Zeus was overwhelming. Loving Zeus was like somersaulting on the edge of vertigo. Like sending out you heart in zero-g, a constant free fall. Being younger I had used to experiment with jumping off high places and giving up to gravity, falling freely and stopping only in time to avoid impact with the ground. The sensation in the inner organs had been similar to what I was feeling now. Only that this was a fall of the soul, towards the gravity centre that was Zeus.
We stole time from our duties to be together, ran off south to better weather and solitary beaches for breathtaking love-making. Zeus always found those little bays with waterfalls and butterflies I always thought only existed in kitsch paintings. We turned incognito and went for exciting adventures in downtown Ekarantanni including exotic meals, dancing and people-spotting. And we had fun together, with Zeus I laughed like never before.
Probably the most important thing "we spent long hours together talking, opening up to each other in a way I never thought I would do with another human being. Because Zeus was listening, because he asked the right questions, the kind of questions no one had ever asked me before, I found myself telling things, remembering things buried deep in my soul. He had found ores of memories I had thought were unreachable, memories of mum and dad, memories of my first innocent years when I knew nothing of the perils lying ahead of me.
With those memories tears had come. Tears brought up by strange and strong emotions, and Zeus held me close, fed me relief. And at the end of the day, to the sound of rattling rain upon the roof, we fell asleep in each others arms, in comfortable safety.
I had never thought that it was possible to connect so deeply with another soul.
At the same time – the teenager Hera had seen her Neario as flawless, as someone perfect, who could never err. A being not from this world, faiths gift to me to make up the loss of my parents. That would probably had been an unbearable burden for that young man at some time hadn't I lost him too.
However Zeus I knew too well, and I was aware of him as a real being, with all the benefits and faults of a real being. My Zeus is secure, serious and caring and when he believes in something he can dedicate his soul into it. Like our love, which started out as a raw cut diamond, which we polished into brilliant perfection over the years to come. Or the Union and the ideas behind or the Pantheon, the House of Olympos. Zeus believes in honesty and fair play and he values friendship and kinship dearly. When he takes that stand you can do nothing but respect him.
He's mostly steady as the mountain he has built his pantheon upon, but when he loses his temper you don't really want to be around. I've seen his rage scare people really bad more than once. His biggest fault is his somewhat careless attitude towards strangers and loose acquaintances, immortals as well as mortals. They might become pawns in his games if they don't look out. A good example is all those women he takes to bed and then bluntly dumps later on. Often he miss those little signs that should tell him he's hurting people. At the same time "we who are close to him can always count on his care and support. This double-nature also shows itself in the regal distance he tends to take among strangers while he's easygoing and relaxed among his own.
What troubled me most was his enduring passion for beautiful women and physical enjoyments with them. I doubted that he would stay faithful to me, but I kept pushing that knowledge under the carpet, willing it away. I could cross that bridge when I got to it, I reasoned.
Meanwhile I found myself at his lofty Olympos, this luxurious vista where no convenience is missing. I found myself telling him about my years in Argos while we bathed together in a hot pool in a marble vault lit by soft candles in a crystal chandelier.
Or walked hand in hand in a fairytale garden while Zeus told about all this old knowledge to be found in the books he had inherited from the late Metis. Knowledge dating back to the first gods, the founders of the old Grand Pantheons. Treasures that might have been lost if Metis hadn't been obsessed with collecting old books and if Zeus hadn't seen the value in keeping them after her death.
"Who knows when we might need what's in there, he said.
Or feasted on left-over food in the waste kitchen when Zeus asked for advice on:
"What to do with these mortals? They spend their short lives with slander, backstabbing each other with poisonous knifes instead of striving together towards a better world. What is the point in running to the newspapers lying about your enemy? Who does it help, in the long term?"
"Zeus, we're seldom better, I returned, filling up glasses with greenish orange mango nectar. In fact some of us are rather skilled backstabbers too. But I guess we're more subtle, not as blunt. We know that we are not fighting brute but dumb titans with adamantine blades, but intelligent beings of our own kind. We know we can't get away with violence, not even of the verbal kind. We keep our minds cool while the mortals boil over."
Zeus mumbled something unaudible while cutting up cheese and then he looked at me:
"Hera, are we smarter than them? I mean really? The old gods of the lost pantheons ruled by force and number. But what gave them the right, morally? What gives us the right?"
"Our strive to change things, making a better world," I replied, chewing at some nuts. "And the people who helped us to power because they trust us. We owe it to them to rule."
We talked a lot of philosophy like that as well as mere day to day events. And I was enchanted with all the things happening in that brilliant mind of his. Zeus could change subject on a spot and keep his mind on several discussions going on at once, like on those lengthy dinners at Olympos, where more or less all of us met to go over the events of the day.
Then I was slowly getting used to having a family again, to for the first time in years being part of a larger unit. To be surrounded by other people all the time and the interaction and interdependence that came with it. I had left this family years ago, and returning was not like taking it up where I had left. So much had changed, some people had left, others had replaced them, and the rest had matured and changed. My old slot was simply not there anymore. I had never been Olympian. Add to that my new position – as Zeus' beloved and queen-to-be and I had become a piece that had to carve her way into the puzzle again.
Demeter wasn't entirely pleased with my arrival, she still mistrusted me, and Athena was jealously guarding her father's fondness and time for her. But even Leto seemed a bit uncomfortable, even if she got over it fast. Same with Astraios, he had wanted me once, and now I was loving his pantheon head instead. I guess such a notion might take some time to get used to.
The twins on the other hand seemed more cool with my appearance. They were 'used to stepmothers' they said, hinting at the coming and going of earlier loves of Zeus.
"Guess you are of the staying kind," Artemis said. "Dad has never behaved like this with any of the other 'desses.
"How? I asked. "
"So enchanted. He's like totally bubbly in his head over you. I think papa's in love and so thinks mama. The others have just been pals who daddy slept with."
"Pals, hmm... What does your mother think about Zeus being in love then? Is she - comfortable with it? Not jealous?"
"Nah," Artemis shook her dark head and laughed, "She's thumbling with Astraios, you see."
"Yeah, but she thinks no one knows yet?"
"But you do?"
"Affirmative. And Apollon. I came in to mama one morn' and Astraios had been there. Place fizzed of his aura and there was sex in the air."
"And how does Apollon know?"
"'Coz I told him," Artemis stated frankly.
"Although, I don't get it," she said after a while and looked at me while cuddling one of the turquoise pillows of the large sofa, suddenly looking so tiny and almost insecure.
"Get what, Artemis? That your mother is in love?"
"The point. "
"With sex. To me it's just sticky and wet and complicated. And a complete waste of time. I don't get the point. Why do people do it all the time? And when they don't do it they talk about it. Who's doing it, and with whom and who's good and who's bad at it. Why? Why care?"
I met the electric blue eyes of the young girl, remembering my own insecurities at the same age. This tomboy daughter of Zeus was getting to know how it was to become a woman. And she felt it quite awkward. I laid a comforting arm around her, telling:
"Mimi, you're fifteen. I hardly got the point either at your age. You have years and years to find out. Decades! Centuries!! I'm 42 and I still feel like a newbie.
"Apollon think it's fabulous. He's all enchanted, running after those brain-dead nymphs. He'll end up like dad - oh, sorry, Hera, I didn't mean that. "
"No offence taken, I know what you mean. Getting snared by the sex-drive. That can easily happen if we're not careful. "
"I won't let that happen to me! And that's a final!" There was steel in her voice when Artemis said that. Steel masking the insecurity that marked the teenage years.
It was still a classified secret that I was living up here. A love relation between the Divine King and the Nexus Chair Lady was a sensitive piece of information and not to be delivered without delicacy. The Olympians were loyal, they kept their mouths shut, but I was still keeping this secret from my New Dawn party, still trying to figure out a way to tell it without endangering my political independence.
Zeus seemed less worried, although he agreed upon keeping the relation secret for the while, but in a sober way he presented me with the alternatives there were.
"Leave the chair, Peacock! You will become my queen instead, no less powerful, no less respected. And you can still push your own agendas. "
"But Zeus, I want my own position, not depending on you! What if you…"
"You're worried that I will fall from grace?"
"No, not really, no one else can do your job. No one else has what it takes, even if I know some out there who like to believe it. But I – I got elected, even if it was in a strange way. I don't want it to look like you did pull the strings in that election after all. "
"Hera, if I 'pull strings', if I hire someone for a position it's because I respect and believe in the person I place there. People trust my judgement, isn't that good enough for you?"
"I was hired by the Nexus, not by you. And you are the one who push the idea with balance of power, Zeus. Has always been. It would look strange if you broke that golden rule in this case. And besides, on a completely unselfish note, the Nexus needs continuity, which it cn't have if it keeps changing chair lord all the time. "
"You're right, Heralove. I'll think it over."
"But not to long, honey."
"I promise! Come here!"
He had given me a skilful massage in my neck and down my shoulders with his strong, sensitive hands, resolved knots of tension I didn't even know I had, and somehow this dilemma had felt easier, less worrisome. I knew Zeus would be coming up with something given time. He always did. That was why he was the Divine King after all. He had the solutions, he had the ideas, always well thought over and reasonable, but still sounding brave and breathtaking when presented to an auditorium.
"Pleasant enough for you, my clandestine lover," he whispered in my ear when I moaned with joy at his squeezes of my shoulders.
"Than lay down, I'll give your back a complete job."
I did as he told and was rewarded with more of the kind. Zeus buttoned up my dress and treated me like the queen he wanted me to become. It had been sensual in a way quite different than sex, fulfilling and calming and I had almost fallen asleep, drifting away on pink little clouds of pleasure.
Zeus never bothered with those clichés about how beautiful I was and how much he loved me, he took it for granted that I already knew this. Instead, while resting his cheek by my neck, he could say things like:
"Right now, but a million light-years away from here there might be a star exploding, killing its whole star system, terminating all the people living there, finishing their history, their civilisation, their arts, their gods. Nothing will be left of them but cinder and ashes. Not even a memory."
"That's terribly sad, beloved. May it never happen to us."
"It will, in billions of years to come. Then our sun will die too. But then all of us will be gone since long.
"Even us? The immortals?"
"Only time will tell, Heralove, only time will tell." Then Zeus laughed and tickled me, stating:
"But right now I don't care. I have this lovely lady who I want to play around with. I laughed back and kissed him, delighting in our passion kept in secrecy."
The next day I was brutally yanked back to reality. One of my New Dawners was in trouble, her position in the Nexus under threat from a competing god in her province who was playing foul games, and on top of that another grave danger was heading for Ekarantanni.