They were beautiful predictable. Originally he would have never thought of her as predictable. Not when she walked up to his thorny throne, her pale bare feet covered with cuts and bruises and caked with mud. Her tattered robes exposing her thin frame, her sunken cheeks and dark eyes. He had expected her to fall onto her knees, tears creating rivers and revealing the pale skin under her dirty cheeks. He expected her to beg and plead and offer him anything if only, If only…
Instead she had called him an idiot and began to demand the soul of her boyfriend.
It was a beautiful first meeting.
And of course he couldn’t just hand over the rat’s soul. Not after he tried cheating death. Oh, he had been a sly one and Hades almost hadn’t managed to catch him. But in the end his pride had been his undoing. A loud boast fueled by mead and good spirits. A crowded tavern singing his praises. And of course he hadn’t noticed the hooded old man shivering in the corner from age. Nor had he noticed the same old man hobbling beside him on the dark road until it was too late.
No one cheated Death.
Not of course that he and Death were one in the same. But in the end it didn’t matter because it was his kingdom and Hades was not one to be cheated out of what was meant to be his.
So for this slip of a girl to stand before him, not quivering with anything more than cold and fatigue, was an insulting. But Hades found himself interested despite himself and so he invited her to his table. Pain and Panic, his most recent servants, rushed about covering the table in breads made from grain no mortal had ever planted and wine so rich it would make all other kinds taste like dust on the tongue. They added olives, fresh from a tree gifted to him from Athena herself. There were figs and wild boar and small birds. And when the girl sat in front of this bounty Hades placed half a pomegranate on her golden plate as a gift from a welcoming host.
“Please, dig in.”
But this girl was smarter than that. She turned her little nose up at his offering and drank only from a flask she had brought with her. She even rejected his offer of a silver goblet, throwing it at one of his imp’s head.
“My boyfriend’s soul. Give it to me.”
And if he were to be honest, which he never was, he would admit that any other bawling girl would have gotten her boyfriend if only to shut her up. Hades couldn’t stand crying, be it from a broken heart or a small child. Not out of sympathy. Such sounds annoyed him more than anything, with the possible exception of his oaf of a brother. But this girl didn’t do any crying or begging or pleading.
That had been her downfall.
One soul for one soul. Fair exchange. And the girl, this Meg, wouldn’t even have to pay until twenty years had passed. Long enough for a human to marry and enjoy the growth of their children. Wasn’t he a fair guy?
“But, if his eyes and heart wander towards another, you are mine.”
How was he to know how pure this firecracker’s heart was? He had never expected her to say yes. He had never expected that she truly loved the fool.
But gods are not known for their kindness. Only Hestia, goddess of the hearth and his prim and proper sister, would never backstab. But she wasn’t around and Hades certainly didn’t learn from big sister’s example.
She was too busy admiring the skeletons decorating his vault to notice the small pouch clenched in his bony hands. She was too busy marveling at the fact that those skeletons were guards as well as decoration to notice him sprinkling the powder into his prisoner’s eyes. And she was far too happy to be back in his arms to notice he didn’t hold her as tightly as before.
Hades thought it would take a few months, maybe even a year. Just long enough for the blinding powder to make him forget what he originally saw in her. Long enough that he forgot her deep laugh and sarcastic jokes and beautiful smile.
Meg returned to him after two weeks.
But she kept her word and for that he broke his own. Why waste such a lively soul in the dungeons, rotting away without thought or pity. No, he had many other things he could do with her.
First he hid away her mortality and taught her how to scam and cheat and lie. It wasn’t like she didn’t know how to originally, but he made it better. He made her better. Slowly and slowly he filled the hole in her heart with a bitterness and anger and skills that would make the greatest con artist jealous.
He made her perfect.
And at night when she couldn’t find pleasure in an empty bed she would sometimes slip into his bed and into his arms. Immortals don’t need sleep for anything besides pleasure, but when a thin and sharp human is curled against one’s body it’s easy to pretend. Anything for another minute watching her breath. And as the minutes stretch on even a god could forget how long he’d had her with him. How long ago did she stop aging? How many children would she have raised if he hadn’t buried her in his dark, cold underworld?
But she rarely seemed to care.
Until he came along.
Him, so young and fresh and alive. He would glow like the sun and for poor little Meg, so long in the dark, he was too painful to look at and too beautiful to look away from. And really, Hades should have known better. But she was his and there was no way his brother’s pathetic excuse of a son would steal her away.
But even gods could be wrong.
And now his bed, and his castle, and his kingdom was empty. No biting laughs. No mocking grins. No swaying hips or full lips or…or anything. He was alone again.
But not for long.
Sometimes he’s too perfect.
When his father first pulled then into Olympus, full of pride at his mighty and powerful son, Meg almost went blind. No one could be so perfect and yet he stood there, shining like the sun. And the gods and goddesses surrounding him were just as beautiful, some with colors in their hair she had never seen and in robes so beautiful no mere mortal could think of recreating them even if they had a hundred years just to cut the fabric. But in the middle of them he was the most beautiful.
And he gave it up for her.
Meg was secretly glad his father took that beauty away. He was still the knuckle headed farm boy she fell in love with and even if he could lift their horse with one hand he was still mortal. But sometimes she could see that bit of him again. That sun god who picked her over eternity.
When they walked through their little village just outside of Thebes Meg knew the other women were jealous of her. They would follow the couple with their eyes, all but swooning when he opened a door for her or playfully lifted her in the air. And she knew in those moments they could see the same god that she saw.
Hercules was, if nothing else, very easy to please. A kind word or a pat on the head and he would be in bliss for the rest of the day. And Meg, who had always been guarded with her affection, flourished in a relationship where he didn’t view her distance as dislike. But then again she never could stay far from him. Even if he had upset her it was just a boyish smile and she’d be pressing him against the nearest wall, his immortal strength useless against her passion.
And when she sat beside him and places his hand on her belly it was only a shock that it hadn’t come sooner.
After that it became harder for her to get things done. A walk to the market had to be done with at least Pegasus following protectively. He would hiss, somehow, at any who ventured too close and wouldn’t let her carry anything heavier than a fig. But it was easier than shopping with Hercules who would only let her walk half way to anywhere before lifting her onto his shoulders.
Meg learned to deal with it, and slowly the proof of their future progeny began showing from under her dress. The couple would sit together under their olive tree, talking about potential names and arguing about if it would be a girl or a boy.
“It has to be a girl. Otherwise you won’t get to scare off her boyfriends.” Meg teased, flicking a leaf that had fallen into his hair.
Hercules didn’t like that idea at all. “No boy is coming near our daughter. I’ll hide her. Under a mountain.”
“Of course you will, dear.”
Soon she was forced to waddle wherever she went. Not that she had many chances to waddle. Pegasus was always there to carry her any which place she desired. But soaking her feet in the small creek by their house was more fun than dealing with the wives of the village staring at her so it was a rare day that Meg left her home.
In fact, the day it happened was the first day she had left in almost a week.
“Hercules, at least let me walk through town. People are going to think things.” She tried wiggling but his grip was just loose enough that it tickled her thigh and defeated her own attempts.
Reluctantly he agreed. His sacrifice was rewarded with a kiss, she couldn’t resist his pouting after all, and soon they were off through the market. He would point out little pots that would be great for their house and the latest in robes and in those moments Meg forgot he was the son of a god.
Perhaps that was why she forgot he would be safe from the monstrous horses running towards them.
Wild screams filled the air as the horses, massive black beasts who created sparks with each stride, came running into the market. No one had seen horses so big, so mean. But Hercules was still a hero and his shock was soon replaced with action. Small children were gathered in his arms and hidden in open houses. Two horses were thrown away from the old merchant who couldn’t run fast enough. But he was so busy he didn’t see the biggest and meanest horse running straight for him.
But Meg saw it.
Perhaps it was instinct, or even habit, but she ran forward without thought for herself and pushed him out of the horse’s way. She only had a moment to celebrate her victory before heavy hooves slammed into her, throwing her to the ground like a ragdoll.
Her husband was the first to her side and the last thing she saw before her vision went black. But her hearing lasted just a little longer than her vision.
“Blood. Fetch someone, hurry! There’s blood!”
When she awoke, head still pounding as though the horses had begun to run through her mind, he was the first thing she saw. His strong hands clenching hers. But something was wrong. Why were his hands shaking? He was too strong to be scared of anything.
Her free hand reached for her belly and found nothing.
“Meg, thank the gods you’re alright! The doctor didn’t know if you’d make it!” His eyes, his beautiful eyes, were full of tears and painted with dark circles.
And the tears fell.
Two weeks later, when she was strong enough to walk, they went to their little creek together. Hercules had built a tiny flower out of wood which could float like a boat. A flower for their lost daughter.
“Good bye, Antheia. I…I’m so sorry.” Her husband had to take the wooden flower from her shaking hands and light the candle in the flower’s center. A light for their daughter. And as the little flower floated away he was the one to hold her, his tears falling onto her like rain. And it was she who held her once immortal husband as he mourned for the one thing his strength could never fix.
And together they stood until the sun peeked out from behind the cliffs.
The water moved with purpose. It did not rock or wave. It simply pushed forward. Beyond the cities where the people went about their lives. Beyond the fields where the most pressing concern was the next rain. And on this water traveled the wooden flower with its flame that wouldn’t go out no matter how much time passed or how hard the wind blew.
Eventually it entered into a kingdom of darkness and cold and even that wouldn’t extinguish the fire. It floated, knowing its purpose when even the water didn’t.
And on the edge of his kingdom the Underworld’s master stood. His black steeds, bore of the moments before twilight and the dying embers of a fire, waited patiently behind him. Not one clicked it’s mighty hoof, least a spark ignite in the darkness of the cave. None made a noise, for even a sigh was like the crash of a great tree in a forest.
It was in this silence and before this audience that Hades scooped up the wooden flower. Beautifully made. He could even see the stains of tear drops.
“Look, Antheia. Your parents sent you a present.”
And the tiny infant in his arms, wrapped in silk and glowing like a star, cooed. Her little hands reached for the flower that had carried the flame of her parents’ love to the underworld. But Hades held it away from her, least her little fingers catch fire.
“Don’t fuss, Antheia. This business is over.”
He smiled, a strange smile of someone who had lost what he never though he could own only to claim something better in its place, and blew out the flower’s flame.