The coroner’s footsteps ticked down the marble hallway in time with the sluggish beat of Pollux’s cold, near-lifeless heart. In the span of a few hours, Pollux’s blood had turned to tar, beginning the moment his brother’s life had been extinguished.
He was Pollux of the Olympians and his identical twin brother in arms, Castor, was lying dead on a marble slab at the end of the hall. He was awaiting the coroner’s final determination as to the cause of his brother’s untimely demise.
The young demigod stood to greet the bespectacled man clad in a white coat, stained yellow at the cuffs, his frizzy gray hair sticking up around his head like an electrified halo. Pollux swayed, the hallway lights playing tricks on him, dim one moment, brighter the next, casting the coroner’s long shadow in eerie relief against the marble walls.
“Well?” Pollux said, not recognizing the shattered timbre of his own voice. He was hollow, dead inside, staring at the man before him.
The coroner stared at Pollux, his face an impassive shield. The finest of young Olympian bloodstock stood before him; his reputation stood on the line if he passed a judgement in error. His life would be forfeit to the council if he was deemed wrong about the cause of death. The gods did not tolerate inaccuracy.
“I’m sorry, Pollux,” he said. “I deeply regret what I am about to tell you.” The hair on the back of his hands was matted in whorls where sweat had suctioned the latex gloves to his skin.
The preservative smell wafting off him sickened Pollux. His stomach heaved in protest. “Just tell me,” he wheezed, forcing back the vomit coiling up his throat. “I have to know.”
“Your twin was murdered.”
Pollux stood immobile, the words landing in his gut. Murdered? Incipient rage dislodged the tar thickening in his veins, transforming it to molten lead. He clenched his hands; his gaze bore through the coroner to the open door of the morgue beyond, the sheet under which his brother, his twin, lay.
Castor. I will avenge you.
A dark curtain closed around his heart, shrouding the gaping hole of his loss. Anything to ease the pain. The darkness would do.
The coroner cleared his throat.
“By more than one attacker, I’m afraid.” The coroner pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. A fine muscle at the corner of his eye twitched.
Pollux studied him. The coroner fidgeted, running the back of his nails along the stringy hair at his temples, smoothing it behind his ears.
“More than one?”
“Yes, that’s right. The nature of the wounds, the varying angles,” the coroner said, working his hands in the air, squinting as if re-envisioning the corpse before him, “couldn’t possibly have been inflicted by the same attacker.” He dropped his hands at his sides.
“What kind of weapon was used?”
The coroner cut his eyes toward Pollux, a flare of apprehension in their depths. “A knife. Knives.”
Pollux nodded, pressing his lips together. “I want to see him.”
The coroner tilted his head. “I don’t think that’s wise.”
“I don’t care what you think.” Pollux pushed past him. “He’s my twin.”
He strode down the hallway, putting an authority in his steps he did not feel. The open doorway drifted toward him, the walls sagging in time to the slow swell of his heart. The world was dreadfully heavy; he’d become the ragged half of a missing whole.
Pollux entered the morgue and stopped. A marble examining table stood in the center, draped with a crisp white covering.
He forced himself to lift the sheet and disbelief merged with agony. He stared, lingering on the beloved contours of his own face, his own self, mirrored in his brother’s flesh.
In life, his twin would have sensed his presence before he made another move and glanced up with dancing light brown eyes, a smile so bright it rivaled the sun. Pollux could hear the joy in his voice, the playful dance of his feet as they raced each other through the fields, the rich laughter that consumed them over one of their many shared jokes.
His heart pressed tight against his ribcage and a strangled cry lashed though his windpipe. Knees weak, he dropped the sheet, clutching the table for support.
From the doorway, the coroner’s shoes scraped the floor.
When Pollux lifted his gaze, it was to the red phone hanging on the wall: the emergency line direct to the Olympian council.
With a shaking finger, Pollux pointed at the phone, his saliva bitter in his mouth. “Call them,” he rasped. “Get my father at once.”
The coroner gaped. “This is not an emergency involving a deity,” he said. “Castor was mortal. Zeus would nev—”
“Bullshit,” Pollux growled, approaching him. “Castor was my twin, and as such, he was one of their own. They can’t ignore his death.”
The man shook his head and stepped in front of the wall. “I’m not authorized.”
Pollux glared at the coroner, then at the phone, his nostrils flaring. “Fine, then. I’ll handle this myself.”
He strode out of the morgue and passed unnoticed through a lesser used pair of Olympian gates. At five o’clock, the day shift ended. The evening crew hadn’t yet arrived: a conspicuous, albeit a fortuitous, oversight in Olympian security. Pollux descended a set of cloud-stairs to the earth and made his way downtown to the bar he and Castor had affectionately dubbed The Open Flame.
A quick slide onto one of the dozen empty barstools, and Joey served him the darkest Russian imperial stout he had on tap, the inch-thick foam catching on the stubble above Pollux’s lip. He wiped it off and gave the bartender an appreciative dip of his head.
“Fuck the gods,” Joey said.
Pollux snapped his head up. “What?”
Joey tipped his chin toward the end of the bar, to the brunette with the smudged mascara and swollen, tear-glazed eyes. Castor’s girlfriend, Phoebe.
"She told you what happened?" Pollux hissed.
Joey nodded, that’s right, she sure did. He leaned down close, working the towel in circles on a glass he was drying. “You know what? I’d make those bastards pay, if I were you.”
Pollux wasn’t sure whether Joey was talking about the gods who ruled Olympus or the murderers. It hardly mattered. He wanted them all gone, anyone who’d dealt his brother a killing blow, or refused to stand in his defense. Castor had been murdered. Unjustly. Someone had to pay.
He moved down a few barstools and parked next to Phoebe. She turned sad eyes to him and waited for him to speak, running one finger around the rim of her near-empty glass, breath shuddering in her chest.
“I won’t let this rest,” Pollux said, real gentle. “Do you know where they are?” He pinioned her with his scrutiny.
She held it, her pupils twin sparks of fear. “You mean,” Phoebe whispered, casting a glance to either side before continuing, “The brothers? Lynceus and Idas?”
“That’s exactly who I mean.”
“They’ve never forgiven you and Castor for walking off with me and my sister, but you really think they’d stoop to this? To murdering Castor?”
“Coroner confirmed there was more than one. Who else would attack him? Castor didn’t have any other enemies, you know that as well as I do.”
Phoebe gripped her forehead, ran her hand along the side of her face, and stared blankly across the bar. “I don’t know where they are,” she said, her eyes filling, shaking her head. “I wish I did.”
It would be a bad idea to push the issue. Phoebe was a wreck and he wasn’t much better. He finished the drink, slid Joey a twenty, and along with it, the message to call him at the first hint of any word about Lynceus’ or Idas’ whereabouts.
A few hours later, Pollux sat at home on his couch. The sun had set behind the clouds, striping them lavender and orange. Empty beer bottles littered the floor. He drained the last of his drink, and his mind swirled.
Three missed calls from Hilaeira, but he wasn’t ready to talk to her. Phoebe would have told her sister she’d run into him at the Flame; Hilaeira couldn’t know what he had planned.
She’d try to stop him, to talk him down from his anger.
All those wounds. Dozens of them.
Castor’s murderers had made mincemeat of him. He would make them pay.
A knock rattled the door, startling him out of his dark reverie. He shuffled to the door.
“Father,” Pollux said.
Zeus stood before him, curly white beard trimmed to perfection, his eyes piercing and impenetrable. His broad shoulders filled the doorway.
“Pollux,” he said, studying his face. “May I have a word with you?”
His father rarely made personal calls to his sons on earth. Pollux’s mind went wild; he wanted to vent his rage over the council’s silence regarding Castor’s death, but he knew better than to unleash. Zeus wouldn’t tolerate backtalk, not from the other gods, and certainly not from one of his sons.
“What brings you here?” he asked, cool as could be, waving Zeus inside and then closing the door.
Zeus approached the window overlooking the street, then turned to Pollux, deep wrinkles lining his face. “The council convened this afternoon to discuss your brother’s death.”
“Really?” He hooked his thumbs in his pockets, sucked his teeth, stared at the ground. The sickness flared.
“I assume you know why he was murdered. And by whom.”
Pollux nodded, gaze rooted to the tiles, the twisted garland pattern stenciled along the edges. Twin vines interwoven, an unending loop. “I might. I do, yes.”
Zeus drew in a deep breath, exhaled, the sound like a summer storm passing through his chest. “If you choose to avenge your brother’s death, Olympus will hold you accountable for your crime.”
Pollux glared. “You’d throw me in Tartarus, then? For killing a mortal?”
Zeus held up his fingers. “Two mortals.”
Pollux huffed. He pressed his lips together, a controlled release of the pressure valve suppressing his wrath.
“How is that fair?” Pollux burst out. “They killed one of us!”
“You used your godly charms on mortal women to steal their affections. You know the rules, son.” The wall shook as Zeus yelled. “If we want to clean up Olympus’ reputation among mortals, we can’t have sons of gods gallivanting around seducing their women away from them!”
“Hilaeira and Phoebe want to be with us.” His breath caught on the present tense of want. “Just ask them. They’ll tell you. That’ll settle this whole stupid dispute so Olympus ca–”
“Silence, Pollux. I won’t hear any of your excuses. You should have chosen women differently. Your passion has deceived you into believing your status would save you.”
After that pronouncement, he stormed out of the room.
In the middle of the night, Pollux’s phone rang. He woke drenched in sweat, twisted up in the sheets. If Hilaeira wanted an explanation for why he hadn’t called her back, he had his grief to fall back on. He’d gotten drunk and fallen asleep. His thirst for revenge would only frighten her.
He snatched the phone off the side table.
“Joey? That you?” he asked.
“I’ve got your guys,” the bartender said on the other end.
“I’ll be right there.”
Pollux untangled himself and threw off the sheets. He was still dressed, except for his shoes. He reached in the closet for his dagger and hid it behind his belt.
Joey would keep them occupied until he arrived.
The rage simmering just beneath the surface of his skin screamed for release. Tartarus could prepare for another inmate.
What were the fires of hell compared to leaving his brother’s death unavenged? Castor’s lifeless eyes stared back at him from beyond the grave, whether Pollux was asleep or awake.
The murderers stood opposite him in the alley behind The Open Flame: Lynceus, lithe and dark, Idas, solid as a bull. On the other side of the open door, raucous laughter filled the bar, the flashing lights of too many TV screens, the rancid smell of sweat and booze. Mist swirled through the light of a solitary streetlamp, the electric buzz of the bulb humming in Pollux’s mind, drowning out all thoughts but these.
Kill them both. They don’t deserve to live.
“Look who it is,” Idas jeered, elbowing his brother. “Didn’t take him long.”
Pollux roared toward them, flipping crates, lashing out with the knife, catching an arm here, a leg there, a spinning, kicking, whirling dervish of muscles primed for the kill. He took a blow to the back of his head and recovered, spittle flying, stars bursting.
The vision of Castor’s face at the end of the long hallway, the angle of the sheet as he’d slid it over his brother’s shoulders, the cold, blue lips, the blank stare in his twin’s eyes; these fueled his fury.
The scores of wounds. Undeserved savagery. Marks of vicious jealousy that had torn all hope from him, robbing him of his own light at the same time: the light they had shared when Castor was alive, the twin light.
He sank the knife deep into Lynceus’ shoulder, twisted, and pulled back, his rage slackening as, with a grunt, the man sank to the ground. Not a fatal wound, but enough to buy him time to deal with Idas, who was barely winded.
As the brute lunged toward Pollux, thunder boomed across the sky and drenching rain burst forth from the clouds. Deep inside his chest, the rumble resonated. With a shout of exclamation, Zeus split the heavens. “What in the name of Olympus is going on here?”
He descended on the end of a lightning bolt, indignation lighting his face and inflaming his eyes. The moment his foot touched the ground, the rain stopped. He snapped his fingers and the skies cleared.
Idas rushed to Lynceus’ side, stanching the flow of blood from his wound as a gurgle erupted from his brother’s throat, followed by a muffled groan. “My brother could die,” he gasped, “because of your son. Such an attack is forbidden by Olympus isn’t it?”
“Silence,” Zeus bellowed, shaking the buildings. He turned to Pollux. “Is this true?”
Trembling, smeared in mortal blood, the damn dagger hanging from the fingers of his hand, Pollux couldn’t deny anything. Didn’t want to.
Castor. My brother. My twin.
He was choking, his stomach writhing, an acid burn coating the soft tissues of his mouth, swelling inside his esophagus. He turned aside and hurled, retching as he clutched his aching abdomen; great, heaving sobs escaping his lungs. His knees buckled, grit and filth sticking to his face, mixing with his saliva.
“Yes,” he gasped, waiting for Zeus to strike him with a deadly lightning bolt, banishing his soul to Tartarus. “Castor is worth it. There is no price I won’t pay.”
“Sit up, Pollux. Look at me,” Zeus ordered.
He lay still a moment longer, then shifted his weight underneath him and turned to face his father, shielding his eyes, the taste of dirt in his mouth.
Idas quietly tended to his brother, oblivious to the proceedings. Pollux watched them, numb to every compassionate gesture, every life-saving effort.
Zeus glowed with an unearthly light. “They can’t hear us. This conversation is between you and me.”
His white robes swirled in the black night, the golden rope at his waist gleaming. “I’m offering you a deal, because…well dammit, boy, you’re my son and I love you. You can finish what you’ve started here under the terms previously discussed—”
“Mmhm. Or you can relinquish half of your most prized possession in order to save your brother.”
Pollux lifted himself, muscles aching, but not half as bad as the chasm of nothingness he held inside, next to his black heart. Castor had never known immortality, not in the way Pollux had, as the son of Zeus. He glanced at Idas, keeping careful watch over Lynceus, treating the bleeding wound in his brother’s shoulder.
He could choose the way of death, or he could choose the way of life. His immortality could reignite the light within his brother’s soul. Astonishment rippled through him, and his heart beat faster. The tight, black knot of agony inside him began to unwind, a thread at a time, and Pollux took a deep breath.
What wouldn’t he give?
“Yes,” he said. “Take it. Whatever you need, make it happen.” He would see his brother’s face this same day, this same hour, with the color in his cheeks and the dancing light in his eyes. He bowed his head as Zeus laid broad hands over his shoulders, his palms warm, their grip strong.
A great surge of energy coursed through him, as of a high wind over tall grasses; something inside him loosened, freed itself, and took flight. He staggered backward, clutching his chest, struggling to catch his breath. Zeus and the brick walls were gone; the world had simply vanished.
In its place, a midnight sky appeared. The light of the moon fell on Castor, and his brother smiled, the twin smile that he and Pollux shared.
“Brother?” Castor asked, a second, unasked question frozen on his lips. “How—”
Pollux rushed to him and embraced him. He was solid, he was real, he was alive. He’d half expected a trick on the part of the gods, but no, Castor had been restored, and inside him, half of Pollux’s immortality resided.
Never to be stolen from him again.
Castor stretched out his hands, grasping at the substance of their surroundings. Against a backdrop of cosmic blue, millions of speckled lights shot through the darkness, glimmering near and far.
“Pollux, where are we? This place…”
“...is not death,” Pollux finished for him, his heart swelling.
The two of them shone, brighter and more radiant than the other stars around them. Pollux took his brother’s hand, his grip tightening as together, they peered about themselves, awestruck.
“The heavens,” Pollux replied. “Gods above, brother, we’ve been changed. We are…”
They gazed at each other. “...the Gemini,” they said in unison.
Together, they coursed across the midnight sky, running and laughing for sheer joy.