Ares dragged the oars into the boat, a sight that Eros found somewhat unsettling. Up until this point, the movement of the oars had been the most steady and reliable thing about the entire trip. Seeing them lying on the floorboards of boat, still, dripping with the water that they once churned - felt wrong.
After rolling his shoulders and stretching his neck, Ares took a deep breath. Then he nodded to both of his traveling companions, curled himself into a ball, and grabbed the seat beneath him as if to brace himself.
Hephaestus, for whom this nod was enough of an explanation, carefully bent himself into a similar position.
Surely whatever was to come would not be so bad, thought Eros. Perhaps Ares was just taking a break, or maybe the current, which seemed to be picking up, was now strong enough to take them straight to the gates of the Underworld.
And besides, he assured himself, he didn't really need to fold himself into some awkward, uncomfortable position to stay with the boat. He had wings. If he fell out, he could simply fly up and plop himself back onto his seat. The glints of fear he'd seen in his fathers' eyes were simply symptoms of a wingless life - nothing more.
Thus, confident in his own abilities, Eros opted to stay as he was - leaning against the side of the boat with his arms outstretched, relaxed and carefree.
About this time, the boat began teetering in the water. On occasion, the movement of the boat would splash seaspray onto Eros' back, but Eros found this more soothing than anything else.
This wasn't so bad, he thought. He could handle this for awhile, especially if it meant a break from Ares' grunts and Hephaestus' wistful glances at the horizon. He loved his fathers, but he had been stuck in a boat with both of them for months, and there's only so much of a person that anyone, even an immortal, can take. With Ares and Hephaestus practically becoming one with their own seats, Eros felt as if he had the boat all to himself. The nonstop blue, even when it hit him in the face, was so refreshing now.
The waves were now picking up but Eros didn't care. The teetering had become more of a bounce, as the boat glided atop the crests and valleys of each incoming wave.
As the bounces got bigger, Eros pivoted forward and tried leaning into them. Once he got the hang of it, he found the entire experience rather enjoyable, almost felt like riding a giant horse.
He imagined that beneath them were giant seahorses, leading the boat to the Underworld, and he couldn't wait to get there. Once he was there, this grueling trip would be over. He could meet up with his mother, found out what happened to his sister, and then scoot back out through some shortcut and go back home to his wife. And the best part of it all was he would never have to go on a boatride again.
As the bouncing intensified, Eros found himself grasping the side of the boat for balance. Occasionally, a bounce would be so big that Eros was flung, ever so slightly, into the air.
This new development did not trouble Eros, since not only was he still confident he could fly to the boat, but he figured this was about as bad as the water could get. Ares had been to the Underworld countless times, Eros reminded himself, and he knew dozens of shortcuts to get there. Surely he wouldn't take them by a route that would fling them all out into the ocean. Ares had a better sense of self-preservation, at least, than that.
Or maybe, thought Eros, Ares went this way on purpose. They hadn't seen Aphrodite's ship in weeks, and now they were in some part of the ocean that Ares felt he, of all people, couldn't row. Maybe Ares knew that his winged son would be fine, but that, given the severity of the waves, Hephaestus might lose his grip, fall out of the boat, and be carried off somewhere that only Poseidon could find.
Of course this was what Ares did. It had to be. Ares hated Hephaestus, and now they were conveniently in the perfect conditions for a boating accident. That would mean this entire journey, these months at sea, this boring, monotonous, tedious, mind-numbing boat ride was completely unnecessary. Eros had been in the same place for so long that the only thing keeping his feet awake were the moments they slapped against the bottom of the boat. And not only that, but Aphrodite could have already left the Underworld, and if they had followed her more closely, they might have been home by now.
If this is what Ares is doing, he thought, then this is the last straw. After everything his family had put him through, put Psyche through even, why was he still allowing himself to be dragged into their problems? For years, his life had been weighed down by the eternal drama that was his family. Growing up, there was the deteriorating relationship of his parents, his mother galavanting around with the subtlety of a water buffalo in heat, and his father, or at least the person he'd thought was his father growing up, making the most transparent excuses for her, which he insisted that Eros believe. 'Your Mother's going to take a walk,' he'd say, when she reaked of fresh perfume and appeared to be wearing a pink negligee. 'She's visiting your grandmother,' he'd say, when not only had she left the house going the opposite direction, she never voluntarily visited her anyway. 'She was busy helping her devotees last night,' he'd say, when Ares was walking around the goofiest smile in the world. His entire childhood had been a farce, forced upon him by people oblivious to the dark absurdity of their problems. And yet still he dropped everything, put on his costume, and said his lines. Even though he had a legitimate out now, he was still in this boat. His other father's boat. For longer than he had even known Psyche. Going to the Underworld instead of the paradise that was his new life with Psyche. Because of course he was.
The bounces were becoming less rhythmic, and to Eros' dismay, more unpredictable. It became so hard to ride the waves that he found himself instinctively gripping his seat. The spray was no longer so refreshing, either. Now, the splashes felt almost like slaps, punishing him for his hubris. He curved his shoulders around his ears to keep out the water, and leaned down against the side of the boat to shield himself. It was when he noticed the pool of water collecting inside the boat by his feet that he realized he had adopted almost the same position as his fathers. He tried to steal a peek at them between splashes. Hephaestus had braced himself well and had barely moved since the beginning of this leg of the journey. Ares, however, was nervously readjusting himself, searching for a tighter grip on seat beneath him. While he did this, Eros caught a brief glimpse at Ares' face - the determination that had dominated Ares' entire run as official rower was gone. What Eros saw on his father's face was true, undiluted fear.
This was no act of vengeance, thought Eros. These waves were a reluctant necessity. Humbled, Eros lowered his head and braced himself with the seat beneath him.
The waves showed no sign of weakening. The inconsistent bouncing was now more like tossing, to the point that Eros could no longer if they were going in the right direction. He simply stared at his own feet, which were almost submerged in water now, and waited for it to be over.
Eros began to wonder if he'd done the right thing. When the bouncing had been more predictable, the ocean more calm, he could have flown out of the boat and hovered over it until everything went back to normal. He could have even tried to push the boat away from the rough waters and guided it toward the Underworld like a feathery, sentient sail. But instead, he was crouched down, powerless against the waves. Every time he thought the boat had caught a large enough wave that he could predict the movement of the boat, another wave would crash into him, or the boat would lurch in such a way that he felt compelled to tighten his grip. If only the waves would calm down, even just a little bit, he thought, he could escape.
But the waves didn't stop. Walls of water crashed into the boat, and instead of riding crest and valleys, the boat swung between being almost completely out of the water and being completely submerged. This only abated when the water jerked the boat side to side, but the shaking became so intense that even when another wall of water came, it was almost a welcome relief, because at least then, the boat went in one direction. In fact, the most anxiety inducing moments were those when the boat was thrust into the air, since they signaled the coming of another submersion. At times, the boat would almost lose the water entirely, only to fall just as far back into the ocean, and all Eros could do was hang on.
He knew that, as a god, this couldn't kill him, but there were times when the submersion lasted so long that his body ached for air. When this happened, the only thing that seemed to give him the strength to keep going was the thought that, whenever this was over, he would get to see Psyche again. The longer the submersion, the closer they must be to the Underworld, and the closer he was to going home.
On a particularly long submersion, he was reminded of what little Psyche had told him about her journey to the Underworld. Typically, she didn't like to talk about the Underworld, and she'd only told him bits and pieces after a few particularly bad nightmares she's had about it. He wondered if she'd had to endure something like this on her way there, and then he rememebered that she'd take some shortcut. If this was simply the way there, he thought, he couldn't bear to imagine what horrors his wife had seen once she'd gotten there. And she'd had no idea if she would even be able to return - she simply went. The thought made him angry, sad, and lonely for her, all at once. It was hard enough going through this with his fathers, and they seemed like they knew, to some degree, what they were doing.
By this time, Eros had lost all sense of direction. He'd swallowed and coughed up copious amounts of water, and his hands burned from holding onto the boat so tightly. His arms were shaking, and his eyes had been squeezed shut for so long that he had no idea if Ares and Hephaestus were still in the boat. His entire body was tense, as if the tightness of his muscles increased his chances of staying on the boat, and he felt physically and psychologically exhausted. His skin was red from spray, and he almost felt like he could faint from the number of deep breaths he had desperately made when the boat was thrown upward. He couldn't do this very much longer, he thought. He wanted to make it, for Psyche, with every fiber of his being, but his being was quickly giving out. He would keep challenging himself for a few more minutes, a few more seconds, even one more second, just to push himself to hold on. Everything had been so bad for so long that he could hardly remember what it was like to be still, to turn in a direction and know what direction that was, or to even open his eyes without the constant threat of salt water stinging them. But just when he felt like this would be his life for the unforeseeable future...