***Please note, this scene does not appear in the book. It's here as a bonus scene for fans.
Acheron sighed in aggravation as he surveyed the empty condo he’d provided for Styxx after his brother had asked to leave Katateros. He’d been trying to catch the bastard for weeks now, but every time he “popped” in, Styxx was gone.
If he didn’t know better, he’d think Styxx had moved out. But the checkbook was still in a kitchen drawer, along with Styxx’s license and credit cards. He couldn’t have gone far without money or ID.
“Ryssa was right. You are annoying.”
Then again, it was their birthday. Maybe Styxx was out celebrating with friends.
Did Styxx have any friends? He paused at the thought. Sadly, he had no idea. As Ryssa’s journals had shown him, there was a lot he didn’t know about his own twin. And the more he read, the more he was desperate to talk to Styxx.
To find the real truth.
Mentally, Ash flogged himself for not cornering Styxx those months he’d been in Katateros. Just one conversation. But he’d been too angry then to listen. Too hurt to care about Styxx’s side of anything.
Now . . .
Closing his eyes, he tried to pinpoint Styxx’s location. Yet all it accomplished was a headache. New York was too big a city, with too many people in it. "I should have stuck his ass on another deserted island. At least then I’d know how to find him."
Even more agitated now, he glared at the bookshelves of Greek books . . .
written in ancient Greek. Frowning, Ash held his hand up and used his powers to pull one from the shelf. As he flipped through it, he realized that Styxx had made notes in the book-notes written only in Greek.
"Can Styxx read English?" That was something he hadn’t considered before he’d sent his brother out into the world. Since Styxx had been imprisoned alone for more than eleven thousand years, there was a good possibility that Styxx would have no idea how to read any modern language. It would explain the checkbook, cards and ID. Styxx might not have even known what those were.
Cursing himself for that particular stupidity, Ash hoped he wasn’t as big a bastard as he feared. Of all people, he knew how bad illiteracy sucked. It’d been hard to get by centuries ago. He couldn’t imagine trying to navigate the modern world without at least a rudimentary understanding of the English alphabet.
And as he replaced the book on the shelves, against his will, his mind went to the past- to the time before Estes had ripped him from the home he’d shared with Ryssa and Styxx. While Ryssa would spend most of her mornings visiting with her mother, Ash would sit in her room and listen to Styxx’s tutors mercilessly grill him on all manner of subjects. As the heir, Styxx had been required to study hard and learn as much as he could, as fast as he could. For hours every day, Styxx had been sequestered without breaks or relief. If he dared to ask for one, his tutors would report him to his father who considered such actions as Styxx’s attempt to avoid responsibility. Something Xerxes did not take lightly. “You’re to be a king, boy, not some sniveling wastrel!” Xerxes had been merciless with his mandates and expectations.
No wonder Styxx had been plagued with migraines.
Due to his perpetual royal training, Styxx’s free time had been seriously limited. Even so, Styxx had worked around his father as best he could. And in his mind, Ash could see Styxx as a boy smiling at him while he placed a small box in Ash’s hands and sat down next to him on his bed.
“What’s this?” Ash had asked him.
“Open it and see.”
Instead, he’d reached over to brush Styxx’s curly blond hair back from a vicious black-eye. And that hadn’t been the only damage. A bit of blood still crusted his nose and mouth. “What happened?”
Ashamed, Styxx had looked away. “Father decided it was time I began my war training. Today was the first lesson, but I fear I have no talent for it. Selinius said that he’s never seen anyone more inept than me.”
Acheron felt terrible for the pain that eye must cause him. Styxx cringed every time he blinked, but said nothing about how awful it had to be.
“What did Father say?”
Styxx hung his head. “That I embarrassed our noble, heroic lineage. He told Selinius to take no mercy in his lessons. It is imperative that I learn to fight as a man and not rely on others to protect me.”
Yet Styxx was only a five-year-old boy and Selenius a huge, muscled war hero.
Styxx nudged the box in Ash’s hands. “Open it already!”
More worried about Styxx and his fate at the hands of another tutor who hated him, Ash obeyed. As soon as he saw the small wooden soldier, his breath caught. It was exquisite.
“Do you like it?”
Ash smiled. “I love it! Thank you!” Without thinking, he grabbed Styxx into a hug and discovered that his face wasn’t the only part of him his war tutor had bruised. “I’m sorry.”
His breathing ragged, Styxx shrugged it off. “It’s fine.” He fingered the soldier in Ash’s hand. “I hope I bought the right one. The vendor said that you’d admired it when Ryssa purchased you the horse.”
“I did, but Ryssa didn’t have the coin for both.” Ash scooted off the bed so that he could place the soldier on the matching horse in his window. “What did Ryssa get you?”
“Did you know the soldier’s arms move?” Styxx joined him at the window to show him.
Ash frowned again as he noted the sadness that tainted his brother’s smile. “Did Ryssa not get you a horse, too?”
As before, Styxx didn’t respond to his question. “I’m so glad I bought the right one. I was worried that the vendor might have forgotten or wasn’t being truthful with me.”
“Styxx,” Ash said sternly, “what did you get for your birthday?”
His hand falling away from the soldier, he stepped back. “A hoplomachos.”
A drill instructor who had beaten him . . . “Is that it?”
The last vestige of happiness faded from his vivid blue eyes. “Father also gave me the honor of observing court sessions when he holds them.”
“What does that mean?”
“Every Wednesday morning, I have to sit while he settles disputes for the people so that I can see what will be required of me as king. And so that I can witness Father’s wisdom and learn from it.”
Ash gaped at the boring horror he described. “But Wednesday mornings are your free time.” The only free time Styxx had- the rest was taken up with tutors, training, work and temple obligations. Those mornings were when Styxx would sneak to play with him until Styxx’s lessons began after lunch.
“Father says I’m too old for play now. He’s not raising a boy, but a king, and kings don’t play with toys or squander their thoughts on frivolity. I have to assume my royal duties and stop being selfish and thoughtless all the time.”
Ash looked at his soldier that he knew Styxx would have bought with his own coin that, unlike Ryssa, he’d had to work for. “You’re not selfish or thoughtless.”
Styxx didn’t comment. “I better go. The last time I was late for Master Karpos he told Father. Father’s already angry enough that I asked for a toy today when I’m too old for such. I’ve no wish to aggravate him further.” Then Styxx had left to resume his hellish routine.
Wincing, Ash pushed those memories back into the darkest recesses of his mind. Before Estes had taken him, he and Styxx had been so close. Brothers, forever and always. It sickened him that Estes and the others had put such a wedge between them.
That they had put a wedge between themselves. Harsh words and even harsher actions.
On both their parts.
For centuries, he’d kept all the memories of Styxx bottled up. Kept anyone from knowing he had a brother. And while he’d gone on with his life, he’d abandoned Styxx to absolute solitude.
To Artemis’s “tender” care.
Guilt and pain stabbed him hard over his own thoughtless callousness. Tonight, Tory had a huge surprise party planned for him. Urian was supposed to keep him occupied with his son while Tory and the others decked out Sanctuary and finished the preparations. He wasn’t supposed to know anything about it, but her best friend Pam stunk at keeping secrets and had accidentally told him two days ago.
Never in his life had he been happier.
And he owed it all to Styxx. Had his brother not stepped in and helped to save Tory’s life, Ash wouldn’t have a precious son to hold.
Or a beautiful woman who was his entire world.
He glanced around the stark condo that showed no sign of life and wished Styxx was here so that he could say ‘thank you’ one more time. So that he could wish him a happy birthday.
But what the hell? He hadn’t spent a birthday with Styxx in over eleven thousand years. What difference would one more make?
Still . . .
“Wherever you are, brother, I hope you’re surrounded by friends.”