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Aftertaste

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When she came Below, Cassandra came with her head held high and her eyes unclouded. The shock of death had cut through worse things than curses and madness before. Cassandra stood apart from her conqueror. She looked angry, despite everything. Persephone could appreciate that. Not everyone was able to come to an understanding with their abductor as she had.

Agamemnon came in still mumbling under his breath that he didn't understand what had gone wrong, and he was greeted with the honor due his role.

"Walk with me," Persephone said when Agamemnon had gone on his way.

Cassandra started at the Queen's words, but she set her jaw and went where she was beckoned. Persephone walked quickly and Cassandra hurried to keep up, not saying anything.

Persephone finally led her into a small garden. Cassandra looked around, taking in the pale flowers and dark leaves, the Elysian sun overhead. When she turned her face up, Persephone could see her confusion as she worked out why it felt different.

"There is no heat in the sun down here," Persephone told her.

Cassandra turned her face down. Her quiet oh made Persephone shake her head.

"Talk with me," she said as she seated herself. She gestured for Cassandra to join her, and the shade hesitated, not sure where politeness dictated she should sit. Persephone traced the outline of the cushion next to her, and Cassandra found a comfortable place at the goddess's side.

"You know of the war," she began.

Persphone nodded. "I have met many who fought on both sides over the decade."

"Afterwards, as the city was overrun, I went to Athena's temple..." Cassandra trailed off, and Persephone didn't push when she changed the subject. "Agamemnon took me as his battle-prize. For my beauty." She all but spit the last word.

"You don't consider yourself beautiful?"

Cassandra shrugged at that. "I've been told it many times. I was called second only to Helen more than once. But it's only brought me pain and madness."

"You are quite beautiful," Persephone acknowledged. "But what caught my attention about you was the anger in your eyes."

"I'm not angry any longer, not really." She lapsed into silence.

"And Agamemnon?"

"When it finally happened, it was as if I were watching actors on the stage... we all wore our masks, and the chorus in my head was shouting, but the real thing had happened to me weeks before and I thought I was already dead and burned with Troy." Cassandra reached across her chest and rubbed her other arm. "I tried to warn him, but I'm sure I wasn't exactly convincing. I knew he wouldn't listen, and I was half-mad and in no position to make a rational argument." As she spoke, Persephone placed a hand on her knee to calm her.

Cassandra laid her head on the goddess's shoulder. "Have you heard... have you seen Creusa?"

Persephone nodded. "She fell behind as she and her husband fled." They went down the list, sisters, brothers, her father, dead or alive.

"Andromache?"

"She yet lives."

Cassandra sighed. "Always the better of us, Andromache."

"She was taken, as you were. As to whether that's better..." Persephone stroked her knee. "Too many people do not listen to women, mortal or immortal."

"I've heard the stories," Cassandra nodded. "Do you-"

"Hades and I have an understanding. We each need our space." Persephone smiled. "I do not speak of myself, if that's what concerns you, dear Cassandra. Don't worry about me."

Though Cassandra was but a shade, she was solid enough under Persephone's gentle hands. She slid her fingers beneath the hem of Cassandra's peplos and stopped when the mortal's breath hitched.

"I will go no further if you do not wish me to," Persephone said carefully.

"I-" There was a hint of tears in her eyes.

The goddess stroked her hair. "You do not need to explain. Much has been taken from you." Cassandra leaned in, resting her head on

Persephone's breast. She continued to stroke Cassandra's hair. After several minutes, Persephone felt the tension in her back shift and the mortal broke into a long, low moan and then sobs.

Persephone only held her more tightly and rubbed her back, hoping to comfort the woman. She wasn't sure if she would succeed; even the gods could only do so much.

Eventually, Cassandra's gasping breaths slowed as she realized she didn't really need to breathe. It was habit and nothing more, and then the reality of it came crashing down on her again.

Persephone took her hand gently and walked with her out into the wilds of Hades' realm itself. Cassandra could not keep track of the distance as they walked, but she walked with just as much determination as the goddess. When the river came into view, she only nodded.

On the bank, Persephone produced a small, pale green marble. Cassandra gave her a wane smile, and she dropped the marble into the water. It produced single concentric ripple that spread out across the surface, showing Cassandra herself as a youth, headstrong, proud, serving in Apollo's temple. Then it fractured into a dozen or more smaller ripples, each showing another scene from her life, flowing forward.

"It hardly seems like a life, does it?" Cassandra said, watching the images play out in the river.

Persephone reached her hand in, sending the flashes of Cassandra's life away in concentric circles. "Each is worth something, no matter how short or how bitter."

Cassandra didn't say anything in answer to that.

"You already know what I'm going to offer you."

"I do," Cassandra nodded. "And I accept."

Persephone pulled the mortal shade against her with one arm, while dipping into the water with her other. Cassandra closed her eyes and shuddered again as the goddess pressed dripping wet fingers to her lips.

As the water dripped onto her tongue, she relaxed into Persephone's arms. The goddess pressed her lips to Cassandra's forehead, and then to her lips.

Cassandra's eyelids fluttered and opened slowly, calm, no longer angry or haunted.

"Who?" The shade blinked at the goddess smiling down at her.

Persephone smiled. "Go on, then. May the Fates be kinder this time."

The shade waded across the Lethe, not sure what would happen next but unafraid.