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"You must be lonely down in the Underworld."  Joven teased, nudging Wes with his elbow.  "Haven't you ever thought of taking a wife, like I did?  Or at least a lover?"  He lowers his voice.  "Maybe even several, in addition to a wife, like I have?"

Wes scoffs at his brother.  "Kate would have your head for admitting that out loud, best keep your voice down, lest she hear you."

Joven freezes momentarily, looking over his shoulder with wide eyes, before he turns back to the god of the Underworld with a not-so-amused expression.  "You made me think she was behind me or something.  Don't do that; she scares me."

"If she scares you, brother..." Wes starts, snapping his fingers to summon his new baby Cerberus, scratching him on all three heads when he gets to Wes' feet.  "Why did you marry her?"

"Because women who are intimidating are really hot."

Wes rolls his eyes, stooping to pick up the three-headed puppy.  "You have very odd taste, Joven.  But I must take my leave; your dearest goddess of the hunt daughter Courtney must help me with some issues I'm having with my new Cerberus, since your half-breed son murdered my old one."  

Joven raises his hands innocently.  "I didn't tell him to do that."

"No.  You just didn't stop him."

 

"Ah, Hades, Uncle Wes... god of the Underworld!"  Courtney smiles as the god of the Underworld emerges through the treeline into the forest where she waits, sat in a tree.  "Have you brought my favourite little cousin?"

Wes shakes his head, chuckling, as the little Cerberus comes bounding along the forest floor behind him, and Courtney squeals in delight as he barks up the tree where she sits.

"There's my good boy!"  Courtney coos, hopping out of the tree to the ground ten feet below her as though it is nothing.  "Have we been good?  Huh?"  She kneels in front of the puppy, who starts licking her with all three heads.  "Have we been good for Daddy?  Who's a good boy?  You're a good boy!"  She looks up at Wes, who is smiling fondly at the attention Courtney is giving the puppy.  "Have you named him yet?"

"No, not yet."  He admits.

"Name him Apollo."  Shayne appears seemingly out of nowhere behind Wes, but it fails to startle him.  "That's totally a great name for a three-headed puppy."

"That's your name, Shayne."  Courtney rolls her eyes, still focusing all of her attention on the Cerberus in front of her.  "This puppy isn't the god of the sun."

"Thank Kronos."  Wes mutters under his breath, making Courtney giggle.

"Apollo!"  A voice shouts from behind Shayne, who cringes.  

"Crap.  She followed me."

"Who are you running from now, Shayne?"  Wes asks with a raised eyebrow.

"Boze."

"Apollo!"  She shrieks again, and she comes storming up to the gathered trio.  "You have a lot of explaining to do, young sir!"

"Boze, what's going on?  What has my brother done to upset you this time?"  Courtney asks, standing up with a concerned look on her face.

Boze huffs.  "Your brother has been--"  She stops, looking with disdain at Wes.  "What are you doing here, Hades?"  She asks with a sneer.  "You're supposed to be working the graveyard shift, aren't you?"

Shayne snorts, and Boze glances at him with something resembling approval before turning her glare back to Wes.

"My apologies, Demeter."  responds Wes coldly.  "Your jurisdiction over the entire planet must have slipped under my radar."

"I don't recall giving you permission to walk upon the Earth that I so carefully provide for."

"I don't recall needing it."

"Auntie Boze, Uncle Wes..."  Courtney says cautiously.  "Please, not now."

"I was just about to leave anyways."  Wes growls, turning away.  

"But what about Cerberus?"  Shayne asks.

"Another time." He snaps his fingers and the little Cerberus is at his side almost instantly.  Only he takes notice of the shudder of fear that goes through Boze as she looks at the dog.  "Good day."

Wes stalks off without a glance behind him.  

"Why must you be so rude to him?"  Courtney asks gently.

"He doesn't deserve the kindness that you extend him."  She replies coldly.  "Now, about this brother of yours..."

 

As Wes slumps back towards where Joven said he'd be (I mean, what else was he gonna do while he was up here? Nobody else really liked him except Courtney and Joven), he passes by a field of sickeningly sweet-smelling flowers.  He wrinkles his nose in disgust and keeps walking, when he's suddenly stopped, taken aback by the voice he hears singing nearby.

He turns towards the source, and realizes there's someone dancing in the middle of the field.

He watches her for a moment, and is mesmerized by her... well, everything. 

She's trained in ballet, clearly; the grace and ease with which she moves makes that apparent.  Her long, flowing purple hair trails along behind her as she spins and leaps, and her voice carries all the way across the field.  

She's singing beautifully and powerfully, but Wes can't tell what language it is.  It definitely isn't English... his best guess would be Japanese, but he isn't certain.

He takes a step in the field towards her and she stops her singing and her dancing instantly, staring right at him.  He freezes, unsure of whether or not to proceed.  When she makes no further moves, he takes another cautious step.

"Who are you?"  She calls to him; just her speaking voice has him entranced. 

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you.  You were performing beautifully, I quite liked it."

"I wasn't performing for you.  Who are you?"  She demands again, sounding vaguely afraid.

"You can call me Wes."  He answers, and he takes one more step towards her.

She hesitates, before she herself takes a step towards him, inviting him to continue.  "I'm Mari."

"Mari..."  He repeats softly, walking towards her slowly, as though she is a creature easily startled, or a delicate doll made of porcelain.  "What a gorgeous name.  It suits you."

Though he can't quite tell yet, he is sure she is blushing by the stammering that follows.  "I, uh... th-thank you."

"You seem surprised.  Are you not told that often?"

"Not really.  Others don't often take notice of me."

"They know not the perfection they miss, then."

She doesn't respond, but now he can tell that her face really is red.

As he gets closer to her, he sees more detail in her face.  She has the face of a young Japanese woman, and her eyes are kind, but filled with stories; he can tell by looking in them that she is not a mortal woman.

"Are you a daughter of Zeus?"  He asks, staring into her eyes, which seem to reflect all the colours of the flowers around her.

"I am."  

"How is it that we have never met?"

"Do you make it a habit of meeting goddesses?"  Mari retorts, looking amused.

"Only the ones whose beauty is beyond compare."

She flushes again.  "You flatter me, Wes."

"I speak only the truth.  You are truly the most beautiful goddess I've ever seen."  Wes isn't even sure why he's saying what he's saying; he only knows that this is the most perfect, gorgeous, magnificent goddess he has ever seen, and that the notion that Joven suggested of taking a wife didn't seem so absurd anymore.

"Where are you from, that you see goddesses so much?"

"I..."  He hesitates.  Would it frighten her to learn his true identity?

Before he can make his decision, it is made for him.  

"Hades!"  A familiar voice bellows, and Mari jumps in fright.  

"My mother!"  She whispers, taking his hand.  "We must run!  She will hate for me to be talking to you!"

"Your mother?"  He looks behind him as Mari pulls him along, and sees Boze stalking towards them, fury seemingly emanating from her very being.  "Demeter is your mother?"

"Yes, now let's move!"  Mari groans, tugging at his hand.  

He doesn't hesitate this time, and he goes along with her as she leads him the rest of the way through the field, over a hill and towards a small village.

"We will be safe and we will lose her if we hide somewhere in this village.  She doesn't like going near the mortals since they like to fawn over her and demand of her to give them fertility."

He doesn't respond, choosing simply to follow her lead.  They duck into the village and she leads him to an empty, seemingly abandoned house, closing the door behind her.  

She leans against the door for a moment before she turns back to him.  "So.  You are the infamous Hades, god of the Underworld?  The one my mother hates with a burning passion?"

He gulps.  He didn't know how to read her reaction.  Was Mari the kind to listen to her mother and not be involved with him?  She didn't seem to be, since she ran from Demeter when she saw her, but then again her tone was rather accusatory just now.  "Uh... yeah, that's me."

Mari laughs.  She throws her head back and lets out a loud, hysterical laugh of disbelief.  It's music to Wes' ears, and his heart flutters; if he could make her laugh like that just by learning his identity, he wanted the rest of eternity to find out other ways to make her laugh.  If he heard only that sound forever, it still wouldn't be long enough.

"You're seriously the god of the Underworld?"  She can barely get the words out between giggles, but she's quickly regaining her composure.  "You?  I expected someone that looked like the mortals' idea of a witch, with the long hooked nose and stringy hair... Instead you have that long white hair and a plain mortal suit and tie... You're something else.  You're really not what I pictured."  Her cheeks go pink as she continues.  "I didn't expect you to be cute."

It's his turn to blush.  "You think I'm cute?"

She chuckles.  "Who wouldn't?"

"Basically everyone."

"Well, they don't know what perfection they're missing, do they?"

He feels his cheeks go hot, and he brings his hands up to his face as she giggles at him.

"Well, since my mother probably won't give up looking for us anytime soon, shall we take a seat and talk a while?"  She gestures to the dusty chairs and table in front of them. 

"I... I would love to."

They both take a seat, but they are stuck in silence for a few minutes.  Mari is staring at Wes, but Wes is staring at the table, the flush across his cheeks still not going away.

"I suppose you probably have questions for me."  Mari says after a while.

"I mean... yes, I do."  He admits.

"Ask away.  I'm not shy."  

"You seemed shy though.  When I met you, in the field.  You were so much more cautious and you seemed more... timid, I suppose.  Why?"

"It's my mother's fault."  She sighs.  "She's very overprotective, and she doesn't like for me to be far from her.  I escape to mortal villages often, and I feel more comfortable around them than I do with her.  She doesn't really let me meet the other gods or goddesses, or anybody really other than Athena and Artemis.  She wants me to stay an unmarried virgin goddess like them."  Mari rolls her eyes.  "I think it's Trojan horseshit, but what do I know?"

"So you don't get along with your mother?"

"No.  She's overbearing and thinks I'm still a child.  She wants me to be held up on some pedestal that I can't live up to.  Sure, I inherited some of her legacy in having some control over vegetation and spring and harvest, but we're not the same person and I don't want to be who she wants me to be."

Wes sits in silence as she rants, genuinely listening and genuinely trying to think of a way to help her.  

Mari stares at the table as she continues, her voice threatening to break with every word and her eyes unable to keep contact with Wes'.  "She wants me to be as desirable as Aphrodite and yet as unapproachable and relentless as Hera.  She wants me to be timid and meek like a mortal yet as strong and wise as Athena.  I can't be both; I can't be perfect to her.  I'll never be perfect to her.  I'll never be perfect to anyone."  

Her eyes begin to spill over with tears, and he takes her hand in both of his.  She looks up at him, and he smiles gently at her.  "You're perfect to me.  I think everything about you is perfect.  You don't need to live up to the expectations of your mother because you are your own goddess.  You don't need to live up to Athena or Artemis or Aphrodite or any of the others; you are not them.  You are beautiful and sweet and funny and you have sincerely captured my heart in such a short amount of time.  I have yet to ever have this feeling before; your father was teasing me about not ever having a lover just this morning."

She chuckles at that.  "He would."

"He does, frequently."  Then Wes' eyes lit up as he remembered the other teasing Joven was doing.  Maybe that was the perfect way to get Mari away from her mother.  "Come with me, Mari."

"What?"  She asks incredulously, blinking in surprise.

"Come with me.  We'll go live in the Underworld.  Your mother never dares go down there, and you'll be safe from her.  You could be my Queen."

"I... are you serious?"

"Of course I am."

Mari smiles; he feels as though she has never smiled like that before in her life.  And his heart swells, knowing he is the reason for the smile.  Spending all of eternity with her seemed like a privilege instead of the chore that the Underworld usually felt like.

"Yes.  Yes, I will.  Let's go."

 

As they run towards the village where the portal to the Underworld is hidden, Mari can't stop laughing; it's contagious, really, like the plague.  Wes can't help himself from laughing along with her.  He isn't even fully certain what they're laughing at, but if it means she's happy he won't question it.

They're about to reach the village borders when an angry yell comes from behind them.

They whip around in fear to see Boze charging towards them on a horse.  Mari freezes in place on instinct, and Wes can't move her, like she's rooted to the ground... 

Oh.  She is rooted to the ground.  How about that?

Boze stops a few yards from them and gets off her horse, storming towards them.  "Persephone!  Where in the heavens do you think you're going?"

"We're not going to the heavens.  The opposite, in fact."  Wes quips, and he hears a half-hearted chuckle from Mari.

"I'll deal with you in a minute, Hades." She spits, glaring daggers at the god.  "There will be consequences for corrupting my baby girl's mind, I will see to it.  You will be severely punished for the treachery you have done, and you will be sentenced to eternal suffering just like Prometheus--"

"No."

Mari's response startles everyone, including Mari.  

"What do you mean, no?  Get that horrendous god out of your brain, Persephone, we're going home."

"No, Mother.  I'm not going home with you.  I am sick of you.  I am sick of your condescension and of your lies and overbearing nature, and of you protecting me from everything, including living my own life.  I will never be who you want me to be and I am tired of you forcing me to be someone I am not."

Boze's face falls from rage into distress.  "I just want to protect you."

"You can't protect me forever!  I am not a child!  You cannot protect me from life without forbidding me from living it, and that's exactly what you were doing!  I cannot handle that, Mother!"

Boze falls to her knees in tears.  "I never meant to cause you so much pain."

Mari's resolve crumbles and she rushes to her mother.  "I need to be able to live my life, Mother.  I want to go with Wes.  I want to experience things, and I want to be with him.  I want you to let me go."

"But you can't go!"  Boze pleads, grasping onto her daughter's dress.  "You can't!  The Earth needs you!  Without you, the world will grow cold and the crops will die!"

Mari turns to Wes, a pleading look on her face.  "Is that true?"

"I..."  He thinks about it for a moment.  "Most likely, yes.  But you don't have to be down there all year... you can come up when the Earth needs you to.  Your mother can't visit though... she's too essential up here.  Besides..."  He smiles teasingly at Boze.  "She's scared of my Cerberus."

"Your Cerberus?"  Mari raises an eyebrow.

He lifts a hand and snaps his fingers, and the little Cerberus comes bounding out of seemingly nowhere to sit happily at Wes' feet.  Boze shrieks and scrambles backwards.

Mari gasps in glee, and turns towards the puppy with her arms open.  He willingly runs into them and begins licking her face, much to Boze's chagrin.  "Oh, he's wonderful!  Does he have a name?"

"You can name him, if you'd like."

She grins.  "His name will be... Raub.  After a philosopher I met in a mortal village."

He shakes his head incredulously.  "Alright.  Raub it is..."

"Is he coming with us?"

"Of course.  He guards the Underworld..."  He pauses, taking a second to process her words.  "Does that mean you'll join me?"

"Are you certain about me joining you?  You really want me to?"  Her face becomes worried for a moment.

"Mari..."  Wes says gently.  "I've never been more certain about something in all of time."

Mari's faces lights up, and she stands without a second glance at her mother.  "Take me with you, Hades, god of the Underworld."