John had grown tired of worship.
That was unusual for a god, even one as minor as the God of Things That Go Very Fast. It sounded exciting, sure, but John had actually never had that many followers. There weren’t many things that went Very Fast, and even most of those already had patrons – Poseidon was god of horses and the sea, the two fastest means of travel for mortal humans; Aeolus commanded all of the winds that could push a sail; and John’s father, Hermes, watched over all travelers, which didn’t leave much for John to do.
His mother, Urania, Muse of Astronomy, assured him that the Fates had something great in store for him and often counseled her son to be patient. But John had never been very good at patience, so he spent a great deal of his time on Earth, inspiring the mortal inventors who might one day give him something to actually watch over.
John had always been fascinated by humanity – their short, fragile lives balanced by the blazing flames of occasional genius – and he was convinced that a mortal man would create new and faster ways of travel long before any of the gods dreamed of them.
John travelled the Earth in disguise, searching for likely candidates. His father, Hermes, and Grandfather, Zeus, often went out as beggars, testing mortal kindness, but John when went into the mortal realm, he went mostly as himself, only without the godly glow. Gods could take any form they wanted, but John preferred to stick with just one – a man, tall and beardless, leanly muscled but strong, with dark hair that he could never control, even with all his godly powers. His tunic and sandals were plain but good quality, and he carried a well-used sword at his hip.
He stayed a few days at each workshop, forge or artist’s studio he came across, slouching in doorways and drawling encouragements. Most of them were receptive to his ideas, taking his nudges and creating magnificent machines. Not quite as fast as John was hoping for, but he kept going. He roamed the Known World, never recognized – though he did receive a few prayers from grateful craftsmen long after he’d gone – but John never felt the need to stay at any place, never felt drawn to any of the mortals he met.
Then he came to Lantea Island.
It was a tiny speck of rock in the Aegean Sea, but rumors had spread far and wide about the reclusive genius who lived there. His name was Rodney, and he barely looked up from his scrolls when John knocked on his workshop door.
“I’m not taking any orders today,” he said.
“Don’t have an order,” said John. “I’m looking for a job.”
The easiest way to gain entrance to a tinkerer’s space, he’d quickly learned, was by offering work. John could haul water or firewood. He could lug materials and make meals. He could sweep and polish and take notes as well as any mortal man – and he was careful never to do better.
But Rodney frowned. “What could you possibly do for me?”
“Whatever needs doing,” said John.
He should have felt slighted by the doubt. Gods were meant to be worshiped by mortals and here was this one small human insulting him. Other gods had killed for less, had concocted elaborate punishments for the Underworld, but John only felt more intrigued.
Rodney snorted. “You do appear to be in decent shape,” he conceded. “At least, for someone so scrawny. What were you thinking in terms of payment?”
“Only food and shelter,” said John. “I’m journeying and can’t stay for long.”
“Fine, fine,” said Rodney. “You can sleep in the barn.”
“Great,” John agreed.
Rodney was a genius beyond any John had worked with so far. He hardly needed any inspiration, and never more than the tiniest nudge along a trail of thought he was already following. What he needed most, John found, was someone to look after him.
Rodney had no servants – he found their presence distracting and they, apparently, found his insufferable. A physician in the nearby village visited periodically and regularly sent runners with food for him. The other villagers traded food and supplies for Rodney’s repair work and new devices, enough to keep him fed and working, but none stayed for longer than was necessary.
For the first few days, Rodney mostly ignored John, who started by cleaning and tidying the barn and workshop. He answered any questions with snort, snappish replies, but his tone only softened as John smiled at his insults and kept working.
On the fourth night after John arrived, when it was too dark for even the most stubborn genius to keep working, Rodney stopped in the open doorway of the barn. John had made himself a bed in the fresh straw, next to the single stall, where he could hear the steady breathing of Rodney’s unnamed horse.
He leaned up on one elbow from where he lay, smiling. “You need something else, my lord?” he asked.
Rodney scowled. “I told you not to call me that.”
The moon was barely a quarter full, but it was enough to gild Rodney in silver light. It made his blue eyes sparkle impossibly bright, and flowed over the muscles of his bare arms.
John smirked. “Did you need anything else, Rodney?”
“You’re awfully insubordinate for a vagabond servant,” he said, and John shivered at the full weight of Rodney’s attention focused on him for the first time. “But you follow orders well. You were a soldier, you – No,” Rodney corrected himself, before John could object. “No, you take orders your own way, don’t you? You’re one of those demi-god heroes, aren’t you? On some kind of ridiculous quest.”
“And I thought you weren’t paying attention,” John drawled.
“I’m a genius,” Rodney snapped. “And if you’re here to steal one of my machines or lure me away to work for a bloodthirsty king—”
“I’m not,” insisted John, sitting up quickly. “I won’t do anything to hurt you, Rodney, not ever. I’m… I’m just a traveler, and I’m here to help.”
The inventor stared at him for a long moment. “You’ve already lasted longer than most of the people I’ve hired.”
“I’m not that easy to get rid of,” said John.
“Good,” said Rodney, and left.
By the next morning, Rodney was back to his usual, irritable self. He seemed to have decided to trust John and the god was surprised how much that relieved him.
“I’m not going to ask,” said Rodney. “But I thought that demi-god heroes quests were usually more about slaying monsters and rescuing beautiful maidens than chopping firewood.”
John split another log with his axe, then leaned against its handle. “I could stop.”
“No,” the inventor said, quickly. “No, that’s not necessary.”
“Good,” said John, and set another log on the stump he was using as a work surface.
“It’s just…” Rodney said. “You said you were passing through. If I’m keeping you from something…”
“No,” the god said, just as quickly. “Not all quests are about monsters and maidens. Sometimes, a quest can be service to a king or lord. Or an inventor.”
“I’m your quest!?”
John smiled, but couldn’t entirely lie. “No,” he said. “My quest is more… a journey of self-discovery.”
“Oh,” said Rodney. “Because if you did have to go, I wouldn’t want to be the one stopping you. I mean, godly quests are a serious thing. But if it’s not… if you wanted to stay… That’d be okay.”
“Yeah?” John asked.
“You’re a hard worker,” the inventor said, a little defensively. “And not entirely stupid. Good help is hard to find, you know.”
“I’ll stay,” said John.
Rodney blinked. “Good. That’s, um, good.”
“Good,” John repeated.
“I’ll let you get back to your wood-chopping,” Rodney said, and John smiled at him until the workshop door closed behind him.
John was drawing water from the spring when he heard the explosion. He dropped his bucket and raced back up the steep slope, sure-footed on the uneven ground as only a son of Hermes could be.
There was smoke pouring from the small window of Rodney’s workshop, but when he raced in the door, he found the inventor perfectly safe, standing over a half-melted something on his table.
“Rodney,” said John, sagging with relief. “You’re okay.”
“Of course I’m okay,” Rodney grumbled. “I mean, this thing wasn’t supposed to explode, it was supposed to… Wait, were you worried?”
“There was an explosion!” said John.
“Most of the things I make explode,” said Rodney.
“That doesn’t mean I won’t – Look out!”
The half-melted thing had glowed suddenly bright again, the combustible material apparently not all used, and John lunged forward. He grabbed Rodney’s arm, pulling it out of the way, but that put his own arm over the machine as it went off again. Rodney jerked back, startled, and pulled John with him to the far side of the room.
“Let me see, let me see,” he said, and John didn’t understand until Rodney gripped his wrist more firmly, turning his arm to look at it. The inventor frowned. “You’re not hurt.”
“Right, no, you’re a demi-god,” said Rodney. “Did you always have healing abilities? Or are you just impervious to—?”
“Were you working with this in anything else?” John interrupted.
“Yes, I—” began Rodney and turned toward another metal device sitting on the workbench, just as it exploded, too.
Thick smoke immediately filled the workshop, making it difficult to breathe and even more difficult to see. John had been knocked off his feet, too surprised to use his godly powers, and he scrambled back up, already calling for Rodney.
When no response came, he used his powers to dissipate the smoke, and saw Rodney against the wall, pinned by a fallen support beam from the roof. “John,” the inventor rasped. “John, go.” He coughed. “There’s still…”
The roof above them creaked ominously, more smoke already replacing the amount John had removed, but John only darted forward, catching Rodney’s hand. “Not without you,” he said.
For a mortal, with the heat and the smoke, it would have been impossible to free Rodney. Even a demi-god, gifted with strength or invulnerability, would not have been able to do it. But John was fully immortal – he pushed the beam aside easily, gathering Rodney into his arms and running outside into the cool fresh air. He set the inventor gently on the cobblestone courtyard and looked him over.
Rodney was badly injured. He had serious burns on his face and arms, his leg and ribs had been crushed by the beam, and when he coughed, there was blood on John’s soot-stained tunic. His blue eyes were glazed with pain, but he focused on John’s face.
“Sabotage,” Rodney wheezed, and John almost laughed, because of course that was his first thought. “I’ve used that elixir a thousand times and it’s never…”
He trailed off, blinking. “You saved me.”
“Yeah,” said John.
“You – you healed me.”
“I’m trying,” said John, but it wasn’t going very well. His brother, Asclepius, could heal with a mere touch, but John could feel the thread of Rodney’s life pulling taut, ready for Atropos’s shears. “I… I don’t know how.”
“John, please,” Rodney gasped.
“I’m sorry,” said John. “I can’t, I…”
There was nothing he could do, even with all his divine power, nothing except –
“Rodney,” he said, desperately. “There is one thing. I’ve never done it before, but it should work. But… there’s no going back. You’ll be immortal, like me, but there’s also… making you immortal, it would link us, forever, and—”
“John,” the inventor breathed, struggling to brush broken fingers against John’s cheek. “Stay.”
John closed his eyes and pressed his lips gently to Rodney’s.
A bright light enveloped them both, pulsing briefly, then radiating outwards to dissipate into the air. When it faded, everything was still. The fire had gone out, the workshop still smoking faintly, and Rodney lay in John’s arms, whole again.
After a long, unsteady heartbeat, the inventor opened his eyes. “John.”
“Yeah,” he agreed.
“You’re a god.”
“Yeah,” said John, more softly. He looked down – then quickly up again, as Rodney hit him, hard, in the shoulder. “Ow! What was that for?”
“I thought you were some dumb hero!” said Rodney. “Divinely touched, maybe, with that hair—”
“What about my hair?” John asked, but Rodney ignored him.
“—and some power, sure, like being super strong or super handsome. But you’re a god.”
“And so are you,” said John, softly. “I’m so sorry. You were – you were dying, Rodney, and it was the only way—Hmmff.”
He broke off with a muffled noise as Rodney kissed him, hard. “Don’t you dare be sorry.”
John pulled back, frowning. “Rodney, you’re a god now. You’re immortal and we’re—”
“Bound together forever,” the inventor interrupted. “I was listening, even while I was dying.”
“And?” prompted John.
“And,” Rodney said. “I… When I thought you were a demi-god on a quest, I thought about you leaving and… I didn’t want that.”
“Yeah,” said Rodney. Then, he frowned. “What are you the god of, anyway? Menial Tasks?”
John smiled. “Things That Go Very Fast. What do you want to be the god of?”
“I mean, most things are already taken,” said John. “But you get first pick of the rest.”
“Shut up,” said Rodney. “Let me think.”
John laughed and kissed him again.
“I don’t know why you insist on coming back here,” Rodney grumbled, pushing branches out of his way as he followed John up the trail.
John grinned over his shoulder. “As if you didn’t love the adulation while it lasted.”
“Of course I did,” said Rodney. “While it lasted. I don’t need to go traipsing through the woods to relive the ‘good old days’.”
“I thought you enjoyed our little camping trips.”
“I enjoy indoor plumbing,” Rodney retorted. “One of humanity’s best inventions, even if it wasn’t one of mine.”
John laughed and pushed through another grove of trees, revealing a small stone building covered in vines and moss. It wasn’t anything fancy – made of native stone, with simple designs in relief on the doorframe and a single open space inside.
In ancient letters carved into the far interior wall, it said, Dedicated to the Bonded Divinities, the God of Things That Go Very Fast and the God of Brilliant Ideas.
“A thousand years ago,” Rodney said, softly, “you were worried I might get tired of you, one day. Do you still think that?”
John smiled, drawing him closer. “Never.”