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The Nature of Desire

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The new office space for the Shade Resources department is finally ready. It’s been undergoing renovations for the first few weeks of the department’s existence. I had remained in my old office, and the new people were stuck in various temporary spots around Tower One. Our new suite is plenty big; there’s a bunch of offices, a conference room, a break room, and space for cubicles. It takes up an entire corner of Floor 98, and Hecate said something ominous about room for expansion.

I can’t deny that the view out over the city is fantastic. The room I’m in is the largest of the suite, with wood-paneled walls and an elegant gray carpet. There’s a couch and chairs, a big desk and conference table, a huge screen on the wall, and a small private bathroom. On the door it says “Director of Shade Resources.” And my name

I’m glad I dressed with care this morning. Not that I would have dressed for gardening if left to myself, but Eros was insistent that I wear this particular dress. It’s simple, with cap sleeves, a flared skirt, and a little black bow belt. Eros called it sexy and smart. I got it with my second paycheck after my raise; it was kind of expensive, and I’ve been saving it.

I’ve been looking out the window for some minutes now, reluctant to tear myself away. I notice the soft sound of footfalls and I look down at Cerberus. He sits next to me and I stroke his head. “Good boy,” I murmur. We stand there for a couple more minutes, enjoying the view and each other’s company, but then I get the feeling that someone is watching me. I turn, and Hades is standing in the doorway.

“Oh! How long have you been there?” 

“A while,” he smiles. “How do you like your new office?”

“Very much,” I say. I feel shy under the warmth of his eyes. I have to look away. I bend a little to pet Cerberus some more, and watch Hades approach in my peripheral vision. He’s moving slowly and almost silently. The anticipation is building in me, coiling me up like a spring. I know he’s looking at me and I can barely make myself stand still.

He stops a little distance away, and I’m looking at his feet because I can’t bring myself to look at his face. He’s mine and I can’t even look at him. I feel a trembling start in my knees. He makes a very soft sound, and I can’t help it, I look. He’s grinning at me, and his face just--I can’t take it, he’s too much. 

I turn to look back at the window and my cheeks are burning hot and my breath is coming fast and my knees are so weak now that I might fall over if I try to walk and I can see his reflection and he’s still grinning. My insides are all quivery. I look at my own reflection and I’ve generated a truly ludicrous amount of flowers in my hair and I didn’t even notice. Hades moves again, closing the distance between us. He’s right behind me, and I can feel the warmth of his body, but he’s not touching me. Well, okay. I can surely manage that last step, right?

I take a tiny step backward and settle my head and shoulders against his chest. He makes the sound again, and one big hand closes gently on my elbow, while the other hand goes around and rests on my waist. I glance at our reflection again, and he’s bending his head slowly down. He nuzzles against my temple and all the tension goes out of me. 

This weekend really did happen. It wasn’t a dream. Hades is mine . I turn slowly towards him, meeting his eyes, placing my hands on his chest. I can feel his heartbeat. His smile now is soft and tender, and I float up a little and kiss him. The feeling of his lips on mine is better than anything I’ve ever felt before. I feel warm and tingly all over, and so happy I could explode.

We keep going like that for a while, until I start to feel a little weird. It’s wonderful kissing Hades, it’s wonderful knowing he’s mine and he wants to be with me, but the door is open and anyone could walk in. I pull away and sink down to land on my feet.

“So, um, I made scones. Do you want some?” I ask. I made them this morning, specifically for Hades. 

“I would love that,” he says. He gently squeezes me and then lets go. “Where do you find the time?”

I shrug. “They baked while I was in the shower. It’s just multi-tasking.” I get the box of scones out of my bag, and we sit down together on the couch.

He takes a scone and has a bite. “These are delicious,” he says, smiling in that way of his. I want him to never stop smiling at me like that, but I can only take a few seconds of it before I start to squirm. It’s overwhelming.

“Thank you,” I say. “Scones are really easy though.”

“Maybe so, but you’re a really good cook. Everything you made for our picnic was wonderful.” 

“I used to cook a lot with my mother.” I smile a little, remembering. “Sometimes that was the only way I could relate to her.” 

Hades looks more serious. “You had trouble with Demeter?”

“Uh huh. Would you believe I was a rebellious child?” I grin.

He laughs. “Somehow that’s not very difficult to believe. What kind of trouble did you get up to?”

I don’t really want to get into details right now. “Oh, you know. Using butter and eggs in the cookies, stuff like that.”

He smiles knowingly. He can tell I’m deflecting but he lets me get away with it.

I hear a slight noise from the door, someone clearing their throat. I turn and see Kynora there. “Excuse me, boss,” she says. “How would you like us to get started?”

I glance at Hades, and he smiles slightly. “She means you ,” he says.

 

***

 

I spend a couple of hours sorting people out and assigning office spaces. It turns out there are four new people starting today, sent by Hecate. What do I need four new people for? One at least has extensive legal experience so I assign her to start learning the ropes of doing court summaries and recommendations. Two of the others I send to work with my intern Selion, overhauling the backlog of centuries of shade records, and the fourth is a former librarian, so I set her to creating a new record-keeping system for rebirths.

Then the “temporary” shade census workers show up, needing instructions, so I have to deal with them. If things continue the way they’ve been going, I’m guessing they’re going to turn out to be not so temporary. I can see that I need to have a word with Hecate.

A representative of the shade workers’ union arrives, demanding details on the Elysium admissions program. I have to tell him that I don’t know yet, not having had a chance to discuss that with Hades. I walk out of that meeting feeling hungry and unfocused, to find Kynora in my outer office, on the phone.

She meets my eyes, but says into the phone, “She’s in a meeting right now, may I take a message?”

I’m surprised and pleased. I can’t take any more people making demands on me right now. I go back in my office and eat one of the leftover scones; I’m starving and it’s not even close to lunchtime yet. I keep munching while I try to catch up on my email. That’s really a lost cause at this point, so I’m just scanning through it to pick out the highest-priority items. Four emails from Hades that all look personal. Unfortunately those will have to wait.

Kynora comes in after a minute. “Hey, Persephone. Forgive my presumption there--it seems like things are really piling up for you.”

“You’re not kidding! Suddenly this job is like drinking from a firehose.”

“Well,” she says. “I’d be happy to help out. It seems like you need someone to run interference for you.”

I think this over. If things are going to continue being this overwhelming, then she’s right.

“You wouldn’t be happier with your current job? Doing court summaries, and running the rebirth program? I thought you liked working independently.”

“I think this is a great opportunity. I’d be delighted to serve as your assistant.”

Delighted? Really? She’s smiling and seems sincere, and I’ve certainly been impressed with her work up until now. I’m uneasy though, after getting burned by our former coworker Triamus’s participation in Thanatos’s treasonous plans. “Okay…” I say. “I can’t deny that I’m overloaded. We’ll give it a try, and see how things are in a week or so, all right?”

“That sounds fine. What would you like me to do first?”

“Can you please call Hades’s PA and get me a time to discuss Elysium admissions? Then I need to get my calendar sorted out.”

“Certainly. And I’ll bring you your messages. Would you like a tea?”

“Um. Sure.”

I get back to my emails and start writing a to-do list. I need to sort out the shade training budgets, they’re demanding new equipment. I’ve been meaning to ask for funds to hire consultants for Elysium, and there’s a few more proposals I want to get started on.

Kynora comes back with my tea, a stack of messages, and the news that Hades is free for lunch. Right, I shouldn’t be surprised. I thank her and get to work on my proposals.

 

***

 

Hades and I decide via text to have lunch in my office. By the time he comes down, Kynora and I have figured out how to give her access to my calendar, and how to use the intercom. I’ve written an agenda for lunch because I can already tell that the temptation to get distracted will be hard to resist.

When Hades comes in, I’m ready to keep focused. Or at least I thought so. As soon as he closes the door behind him, all my resolution goes out the window. I practically leap up from my desk and run to him. I hop at the end, he catches me around the waist, and my momentum makes him thump back against the door. He doesn’t seem to mind. He’s smiling while I kiss him.

“I missed you, too, Kore,” he murmurs against my lips.

“I’m sorry,” I say, but I don’t stop kissing him. “I meant to keep this professional.”

He chuckles a little, and then cups the back of my head, gently steering us into a slower, sweeter kiss. My insides slowly melt and a deep, distracting ache makes itself known with warm surges of need. We stumble together to the couch, falling onto it, still kissing intensely. I feel both delight in touching Hades again and disgust at myself for letting go of my decorum so easily. I pull away. I’m breathless and eager but this is really inappropriate.

“I’m sorry,” I repeat. “I should be in better control of myself!”

“This is very new, between us,” Hades says softly. He reaches out and takes my hand, but doesn’t try for more contact than that. “And very, very strong. It’s going to take a while for this to feel normal, and not quite so… urgent. Right?”

I nod. “That makes sense.”

“If we can manage to keep private things behind closed doors, that’s enough for me. I don’t think you should beat yourself up for being demonstrative.” He pauses, and that smile is back. I try to control my answering shiver. “After all, I find you completely irresistible. It feels very odd for you to apologize to me for that, when I’m just as bad.”

He lifts my hand to his lips, kisses my knuckles, and starts nibbling on my fingers. I laugh.

“Stop…” I say. It must be obvious from my tone that I don’t really want him to stop, but he does anyway.

“What did you want to discuss?” 

I squeeze his hand and let go, getting up to go fetch the agenda. By the time our lunch delivery arrives, we’ve resolved half the items.

 

***

 

The frantic pace of the morning is somewhat lessened in the afternoon. Kynora is busy scheduling appointments for me, taking messages, and dealing with issues that don’t really need my attention. I ask her to call back the union rep and schedule a meeting, now that I have approval on the Elysium admissions plan.

I’ve managed to carve out a free hour to visit the Finance Department and discuss the budgets for new equipment for shade training, and hiring consultants for Elysium maintenance. I set off for Tower 3 with a new notebook and a pack of colored pens, humming a cheerful little song as I go.

 

***

 

I’m heading to the staff meeting, thinking about my new proposals and scanning my emails again when I notice someone walking next to me. I know who it is before I even look up from my phone. I give Hades a little sidelong smile.

“Is your afternoon going any more smoothly?” he asks.

“A little, but there’s so much to get done!” I reply, waving my hands a bit to demonstrate the scope of things.

“It’s okay to ask for help, you know.”

“I am getting some help. Kynora volunteered to act as my assistant, so we’re giving that a try. But there’s still a lot. I’m not sure I have time for dinner tonight.” I feel terrible saying that. It’s supposed to be our first real date.

“You do have to eat,” he says mildly. “But we can call out for something and just have it here, if you like. I don’t mind.”

“Really? I feel like I’m messing everything up!” 

“Don’t worry about it.” He brushes his fingers along my arm very briefly. We’ve nearly arrived at the meeting location. “We’ll still eat together, and tomorrow we can go out. Okay?”

“Okay,” I smile, feeling reassured.

 

***

 

It’s early evening and I’m reading status reports from my staff members about their various projects. I’m hungry and I’m starting to think I might actually be able to wrap up for the day at a not-too-unreasonable time. There’s a knock at my open door and I look up to see Hermes there.

“Hi Hermes,” I say. “What can I do for you?”

“Heya Perse. I just brought in a bunch of shades and I thought I’d say hello. Nice office you’ve got here!” He looks around a bit, then plunks down in a chair.

“Thanks,” I reply. “How is it going now that you’re doing Thanatos’s work too? You must be incredibly busy.”

“Oh yeah. It’s okay for now, I guess. Hey, maybe you could remind Hades about finding someone to replace him?”

I hesitate. “You want me to speak to Hades for you?”

Hermes squirms restlessly. “Could you please? Everyone will be happier that way.”

This feels weird. “Sorry, what do you mean by that?”

He shrugs. “I’m just sure the boss would rather hear bad news from his girlfriend than from me.”

I sigh a little. It was seriously naive of me not to realize that everyone knows already.

“Hermes,” I say, making my voice stern. “I understand that my mother paid you to trick Hades, and he’s not making a fuss over that, right? Well, in return, I want you to keep quiet about him and me to my mother.”

He goes wide-eyed in startlement. “Of course I will, Perse! I’m not stupid . Whoever tells that to Demeter better be prepared to have their head ripped off and handed to them. Besides, she’s been traveling a lot, I haven’t seen her in a while.”

This is interesting. I know that the letters I’ve been getting from her have been delivered by her nymphs. I wonder why she doesn’t employ Hermes in his messenger role anymore.

 

***

 

Dinner is supposed to happen in Hades’s office. I kick off my shoes and curl up on his couch while we’re waiting for our food. Hades is reading a report, so I lean my head on his shoulder and answer emails on my phone. After a minute or so, he extracts his arm from under me and wraps it around my shoulder instead. I move up against his side, as close as I can get.

My inbox is never-ending. I’ve still got a ton more to read when Hades finishes the report and takes out his phone to read his own emails. I’m secretly entertained, watching him try to type and hold the phone with his one free hand. He catches me looking. “Hi there,” he says.

“Hi yourself. Do you want your arm back?”

“No.” He squeezes me a little, to emphasize that he likes his arm where it is. “You said you had another proposal to run by me?”

“Yes. I want to start telling mortals about Elysium. I think they should know what’s awaiting them, potentially at least.”

“Really?” Hades frowns. “Isn’t it more meaningful for them to have earned a place in Elysium just because they’re good, not because they were trying to earn it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe? I’m just thinking that their lives are hard enough, it would do them good to know that they might be able to earn something better.”

“Well…” he trails off in thought. “It feels like pandering. I’ve never cared if the mortals worshipped me or not. Why should I start now?”

“I’m just not very happy about that, I guess.” I should tell him the whole truth. I take a deep breath, steeling myself. I can’t look at him. “It doesn’t seem right to me that someone like-- him --has lots of worshippers and you don’t.”

“Oh.” His voice has gone very soft. He pauses before he replies. “Can I think about it, Kore?”

I nod. He bends down and kisses the top of my head. I’m just adjusting myself to allow for some more serious kissing when the intercom buzzes with the news that our dinner has arrived.

 

***

 

After we finish eating, we go back to the couch with our phones. I don’t try to monopolize his arm this time, but give him a little space. Both of us have a lot of emails to get through. It’s about fifteen minutes later that Hades puts his phone down and rubs his eyes.

He watches me for a minute while I continue reading.

“Hey, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course you can,” I tell him, smiling and putting my phone down. 

“Are you sure you’re happy with your decision? About leaving TGOEM, I mean?”

“Definitely. I never wanted to be an eternal maiden. It was my mother’s idea, and the scholarship meant I could go to college, so I agreed.”

“Why did Demeter want that, though?” He seems genuinely perplexed.

I roll my eyes. “It’s part of her whole men-are-terrible campaign she’s been pushing on me since I learned to talk.”

“Oh,” Hades says. His eyes are troubled.

“Hey,” I say, scooting over to him. I tug on his elbow until he lifts it, then slip under his arm and cuddle up. “That’s her opinion. I happen to think some aren’t so bad.” I slide my hands along his lapels, looking up at him. He’s so big! Every time I’m near him I’m astonished again. My breath hitches and I feel warm and quivery. I reach up to cup his cheek, but he still looks tense. 

I’ve been waiting for him to kiss me, but he’s watching me with this look of concern. I need to remember that he’s only just learned about what happened. For me, it’s been months and I’m starting to be ready to move on. The success of my plan has me floating on a cloud of triumph and elation, but it’s obvious from Hades’s face that he’s worried about me. 

I rub my cheek along his jaw. He smells incredibly good and his arms tighten around me. I burrow into his chest, warm and safe. Sometimes I get flooded with emotions when I look at Hades for a while, particularly when he's in an intense mood like he was this morning. I'm not used to the idea that my hunger for him is something I can express; in fact, trying to express it can make me very nervous. It's nice to take a break, close my eyes, and just enjoy the comfort of his embrace.

After a few minutes of snuggling, I'm getting my confidence back. I kiss his cheekbone and then his nose and he finally smiles. The flash of his teeth and the way his mouth curls take my breath away, but I manage to smile back before I kiss his mouth. His lips are firm and soft at the same time, and he’s paying attention. If he tries something and I like it, he can tell. Then he tries it again, with variations. He clearly knows a lot about kissing. I really don't, but I know what I like, so I just try those things on him. He seems to like that.

 With me sitting next to him, Hades has to twist and scrunch down to kiss me properly. The arm around my waist tugs gently, then gives a tentative pull. I think I understand what he wants. I half-stand, holding on to his shoulders in order not to break our kiss. I try to rotate on my feet but instead I lose balance, step on Hades’s foot, and fall into his lap. Very graceful! I’m giggling against his lips and he’s chuckling too. Well, what does it matter how I got here? This is where I’m meant to be. He pulls me close and we settle down for some serious kissing.

I’m enjoying this greatly, and riding a surge of lovely emotions and sensations, when a new emotion swells up in me: a tremendous wave of possessive pride. Hades is mine. This man, this god, this king. He is mine! No sooner do I have this thought than I’m completely repelled by it. The memory of him --that night. Queasily I try to shunt it aside, concentrate on the lovely man in my arms. But I can’t. You’re my girl. How am I any better than that? What’s wrong with me, thinking of Hades that way? I pull back from his lips, feeling stunned.

“Kore, what’s wrong?” Hades looks alarmed. 

I shake my head, appalled with myself. I try to speak but nothing comes out.

“Sweetness, I’m sorry! What did I do?” Hades’s warm eyes are full of remorse.

“No!” I squeak. “It’s not you!” I slip my arms around his shoulders and hug him. I know he’s thinking that he did something to frighten me, but I just can’t explain. I hold on tightly until I feel a little better. Hades rubs my back, kisses my hair, whispers soft words to me. I wonder if I really deserve this.

 

***

 

On the ride home we’re discussing plans for our date tomorrow night. Hades has a place in mind, and I’m quizzing him about it to get an idea of what I should wear.

“I haven’t seen you in the fur coat since I gave it to you,” he mentions. “Maybe you could wear it tomorrow night?”

Oh, no. My heart sinks. “Oh, Hades,” I say miserably. “I’m so sorry, I never told you. Hestia took the coat away. That was my punishment for the tabloid.” I’m looking at him anxiously. Will he think I didn’t care about his gift? He’s looking straight ahead, focusing on the road. “Are you angry with me?” I ask.

He glances at me, surprise evident in his face. “Of course not! I’m angry with Hestia. I know she said that thing about disciplining you but I didn’t know what that meant.”

“I didn’t want to give it up. I loved that coat, you gave it to me. But I didn’t know what else to do. I hadn’t even considered leaving TGOEM yet.”

“Please don’t worry about it.” He reaches out with his near hand, and I clutch it with both of mine.

 

***

 

Hades and I walk into the house and see that Eros and Psyche are watching a movie in the living room. They’re sprawled out together on the big couch, and Artemis is sitting in the armchair. The movie is some sort of action thing; there’s a bunch of explosions and dramatic music. I’m trying to sneak us around to the kitchen so we can talk for a while, but Eros spots us and presses pause. 

“Hey guys, we’re just getting to the good part. Want to join us?”

Psyche greets us with her usual friendly warmth. Artemis makes an obvious effort and says hello politely to Hades, which he returns. I turn to look at him, is he interested in watching this? He gives me a little smile and shrug, so it’s up to me. 

“Okay,” I say, and cross over to the little couch. Eros insists on calling this the love seat , which given that most of our furniture is cast-offs from his mother, I just don’t want to know. I kick off my shoes and sit down, and Hades sits behind me. I snuggle my back against his chest and he wraps both arms around me. He’s sitting diagonally, so his long legs are stretched out beside me. I sigh happily and place my arms over his. Eros resumes the movie.

I don’t really bother to try to follow the plot. The movie is just an excuse to sit here in Hades’s arms. Every few minutes he kisses the top of my head.

The hero onscreen blows up a lot of stuff, and then there’s a ridiculously long car chase. Eventually he stops some sort of bad thing from happening and reunites with the girl. The end. I’m glad I wasn’t the one to pick it! My friends start debating what they’re going to watch next.

The credits roll, and Hades squeezes my hand. “I should go,” he says.

I walk him to the door, and we kiss for a long time.

“Call me when you get home?” I ask.

He chuckles. “I will, Sweetness. I love you. Good night.”

“I love you too.”

One last kiss and he goes. I head back into the living room and sit on the arm of Artemis’s chair. I put my arm around her shoulder and squeeze, and she looks up at me.

“I thought you two were going out tonight,” Eros says.

“That was the plan, but work got in the way,” I explain. “So we just had a takeout dinner at the office. We’ll go out tomorrow.”

“It is good you could join us for part of the movie,” says Psyche. “Next time you should both come for the whole thing.”

I smile at her, and look down at Artemis again.

“I’m trying really hard to be nice to him, Perse,” she says. “I realize maybe my judgment isn’t the best, so I want to give him another chance.”

“Okay. Thank you.” I squeeze her shoulder again. I’m so grateful for my friends that I feel a little like crying. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you, would you be interested in a job? Because I have a project that needs your expertise.”

Artemis looks at me in surprise and I explain.

 

***

 

I arrive early at work the next morning but Kynora is there ahead of me. She follows me into my office.

“You already have a pretty full schedule today, and a bunch more meeting requests that I’m working to fit in,” she informs me. “I saved lunchtime for you, should I schedule that with Hades again?”

She’s very matter-of-fact about it. I glance at her, and she’s just waiting respectfully with her notepad. No smirk, nothing. She’s right, of course. He picked me up at home this morning and we made lunch plans on the way in.

“Yes, please,” I say meekly. She makes a note. “Can you please coordinate with Artemis to find a time that I can give her a tour of Elysium? Also, I need to leave today at 5:00. That’s a hard deadline.” 

Kynora notes that too, and strides out to her desk. I start writing an email to the shade census team. They’re having trouble sorting out records; it seems that Thanatos made a mess of things in an attempt to conceal his activities.

 

***

 

My first appointment for the day turns out to be with Sorya, the reporter. I’m annoyed but I know this isn’t Kynora’s fault. We need to have a talk about what she can schedule without consulting me, and what she can’t.

“I can only give you a few minutes, Sorya. What do you want?” I’m not really afraid of offending her. I already know how tenacious she is.

The short nymph sits down in the visitor’s chair in front of my desk. “I wanted to congratulate you on your actions this past weekend. I have to say that bastard really had it coming.”

I’m not impressed. She’s expressed sympathy for me before, as well as friendliness. It would be stupid of me to assume it’s anything other than single-minded pursuit of a story. 

“Thank you,” I say, not encouraging.

She looks me over and then abruptly drops her act, becoming brisk. “Look, I know you have no reason to trust me, except that I promised to drop the Alex story, and I have. I think you’re newsworthy and I’d like to have a positive working relationship with you.”

“I have no objection to that. But trust takes time to build.”

“Certainly. That’s why I’m coming to you today to offer some information, and make no request in return,” she says.

“What have you got?” I admit I’m a little intrigued.

“Have you been on social media at all since this weekend?”

“Oh. No, I haven’t.” My heart sinks. I hate rumors and gossip.

“You might want to take a look at it. Fatesbook and the Agorasphere are blowing up. #FuryToo is starting to trend.”

I have only a vague idea of what “hashtag” means. “Blowing up how?” I ask cautiously.

“Women are telling their stories, of sexual assault and harassment that happened to them. Some of them are talking specifically about Apollo but about lots of other men too. Sometimes they mention names but usually not.” Sorya pauses and watches me closely.

“So… you’re saying that other women are coming forward because of me?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” She waits. I don’t know what to say.

 

***

 

My computer chimes to notify me of my next meeting, so I set aside the report I’m editing. I click on the notice. “Athena, Goddess of Wisdom,” it says. That’s weird, why does Athena want to see me? I go to the door and open it. Sure enough, Athena is waiting in the outer office, occupying a comfortable chair near Kynora’s desk. Her owl is perched on the next chair, watching over Athena’s bag. 

“Hello, Athena,” I say to the gray goddess. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.” I gesture into my office.

“Good morning, Persephone,” she says, rising and collecting her bag and owl. “Thank you for taking the time to see me. I’m aware that your new responsibilities must be keeping you rather busy.” We enter my office and sit together.

“That’s true,” I admit. “But I’m very happy that you’re not upset with me after I quit TGOEM.” Before today, I’m not sure we’ve ever had a real conversation. I wonder what she wants.

“Ah, but you see, I have always suspected that you were not meant to be an eternal maiden. You are too clearly a fertility goddess.” She seems so sure and confident. It irritates me a bit. She couldn’t have mentioned this to me months ago? She gazes assessingly around my office. “You seem to have found yourself a suitable position very quickly.”

I’m not sure what she means by that, so I address her previous point instead. “You never said anything about me being a fertility goddess.”

“You figured it out, didn’t you? I always knew you were clever. You remind me of me.” 

“I… see. Thank you.” I am flattered, even though I’m still annoyed.

She smiles, and strokes her owl, who is getting restless. “You see, it took me some time to figure out that I was meant to be an eternal maiden, myself. I have always been very curious, you understand? It’s how I learn things. But sometimes curiosity has led me into… some sticky situations.” She chuckles, as if she just made a joke. 

I nod, to show my interest, but I wish she’d get to the point. I have a lot to do today.

She goes on. “Were you aware that I grew up with Hephaestus? He was my friend from the time we were small. People say that I emerged from my father’s head ‘fully-formed and dressed in armor’ but that’s an exaggeration. I was still a child, and Hephaestus was born soon after. We did everything together. We explored, we studied, we made things. We both loved to learn. We both loved to experiment. When we got older… we tried a different kind of experiment.” She pauses and looks at me.

I’m watching her with impatience that is growing into irritation when the significance of her pause starts to dawn on me.

“Um. A particular kind of biology experiment, perhaps?” I suggest.

“Exactly!” she beams at me, as a teacher would to a bright student. “Nothing that would damage my status, you understand, but enough that we could learn a few things about one another. Well. I learned that I didn’t want to be with Hephaestus, or with any man at all. It was a worthwhile experiment, because I learned that. But he was my friend. Is my friend. I couldn’t hurt him by just throwing away a part of him, could I? So I saved it.”

“Saved what ?” I’m more than a bit shocked.

“His seed, that he spilled upon me.” She takes a small box out of her bag. It’s made of dark wood, reinforced with silvery metal. The silver bits have various shapes: hammers, owls, snakes, tongs, spears, flames. It’s beautifully made. “I’ve kept this safe for a long time. I didn’t know what to do with it, but now I do.”

I’m afraid to ask. I’m afraid she’s going to tell me anyway. I wait.

Athena smiles, and her owls hoots. She pets him. “Yes, my love, you are right,” she coos. “I wish you to take charge of this treasure, Persephone.”

“Athena, I--I have no idea what to do with this. It’s, honestly, this is one of the weirdest conversations I’ve ever had.”

She nods calmly. “I was born from my father’s head. I have no mother, not really. People say he swallowed her, but that wasn’t it. It’s more complicated. And Hephaestus, he only has a mother. We were both born under unusual circumstances. When we did our experiment, I’m not sure what I expected. I guess I wondered if we were meant to be together, because we both had strange origins. But we weren’t. Still, the two of us made this together. It’s important. I believe it has a role to fulfill.”

“I see. But why are you asking me?”

“I had a dream a few months ago. There was a voice, an ancient, powerful voice, who told me to entrust the box to the Destroyer of Light. I had no idea who that could be--until the other day. Anyway, it seems appropriate. Seeds are your domain, aren’t they? I’ve heard you’ve taken on rebirth, as well. Now that I have seen the kind of courage you have, I feel confident that you are the right person to entrust with this.”

I’m not used to people speaking to me with this degree of earnestness and honesty. “All right. I will.” I take a deep breath. I need to assert myself now. “But I also want something from you. Your father is very upset with what I did. Will you do what you can to smooth things over?”

“Certainly I will. I have also been thinking about what you said to Hestia, about helping girls who have been harmed by men. I think it’s an excellent idea, but I don’t think Hestia is ready to take that suggestion. So if you go forward with that, get in touch with me, all right?”

“Thank you,” I say. “I’ll do that.”

 

***

 

My next appointment ought to be less mind-bending. Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megarea step into my office, and they brought cookies. We sit around the lounge area in my office, munching together.

“We thought you’d like to hear our report,” says Alecto. “First off, a while ago Hades ordered us to check out whether Minthe was spying on you. We haven’t yet been able to prove that conclusively. We’ve subcontracted the actual watch on her--she would recognize us. Do you want that to continue?”

I’m rather surprised that they’re reporting this to me. “Is Hades aware of this?” I ask.

“Yes,” Tisiphone says. “He thinks we should continue, but we told him we would ask your permission, too.”

I’m not sure why this surveillance needs to go on, since I’ve left TGOEM. But if Hades said so, I”m not going to contradict him. “I guess you’d better keep it up,” I tell them.

“About the God of Plague and Noise--” starts Megaera. I snort a laugh. “Did you know some people are calling you Destroyer of Light? Anyway, he suffers. Do you wish to hear details?”

I think about it. “No. I trust you. I only want to know: is his suffering in proportion with what he did?”

“We believe so,” says Alecto.

“You said ‘until he feels true remorse.’ You will know?”

“We will know,” Tisiphone confirms.

“Then I’m satisfied.” I take another cookie and try to change the subject, indicating the cookie platter. “You didn’t have to do this. I should have gotten you a present. I am incredibly grateful for what you did for me.” I smile at all three.

“We are the ones who are grateful,” says Megaera.

Tisiphone nods. “We have not had a chance like that to discharge our duty in public for a very long time.”

“We are justice, Persephone,” says Alecto. “We are vengeance and retribution and punishment, but most of all we are justice. You called us. You summoned us before all Olympus. There are those who would have called us unnecessary in this modern time. Relics of a more primitive age. You have demonstrated otherwise.”

“You have shown how relevant we are. How important,” says Tisiphone.

“We felt the pure righteousness of your anger, Persephone. The truth of your cause,” says Megaera. “We will follow you anywhere.”

“We would call you Mistress,” says Tisiphone.

“What?” I say. “I can’t be your mistress!” What about Hades? Don’t they owe their loyalty to him?

“No?” smiles Alecto. “Then what do you think of us calling you sister ?”

 

***

 

I barge into Hecate’s office with none of my usual diffident preliminaries. She stops what she’s doing right away and stands up. “How can I help you, Persephone?” she says calmly, as if she’s used to presumptuous underlings interrupting her with no apology.

“I need to speak to you, right now! Weird things are happening,” I say.

“I see.” She gestures for me to take a seat, and seats herself after I do.

“Yesterday, Kynora said she’d be ‘delighted to serve me as my personal assistant’ and that was unexpected, but I need the help right now so I agreed.” In my agitation, I’m talking really fast, but it seems Hecate is having no issue keeping up. “And then Hermes wanted me to speak to Hades for him. That’s not so weird, he’s kind of a chicken, right? But it made me uncomfortable. Then this morning that reporter Sorya showed up, have you heard about this hashtag thing?” Hecate nods, so I’m spared having to explain something I don’t fully understand. “All she wanted was to tell me about that, she didn’t even ask for a comment. And just now, the Furies came to see me and said that I’m their sister now.” I’m not even going to attempt telling her about Athena, that’s just too weird. 

“I can see why all that would feel overwhelming,” Hecate says, nodding sympathetically.

“Oh. Okay.” I’m feeling a little sheepish now, like I’ve been overly dramatic.

“And there’s a simple explanation for their behavior,” she continues.

“There is?”

“Oh yes. They can all see that very soon you’re going to become our queen.”

I'm gripped in a vise of icy terror. I can't breathe. I can't blink.

"Persephone, honey," Hecate says. "There's no need to freeze up like that. I hope there's enough trust between us that we can be honest."

"I--" I can't make myself form words.

"You've never thought about it?" she asks.

I take a couple of quick, stuttered breaths. "This is a very personal matter."

"Yes," she nods emphatically. "You're right. It's extremely private. But if I can speculate on this, and have the effrontery to mention it to you, how long will it be before someone else does? What if it happens in a group? In public? What if it's a reporter? You need to be ready."

I swallow. "We haven't even had a real date yet," I whisper.

She nods. Her eyes are full of compassion. "Hades is entirely serious about you. Anyone who knows him could see that. Possibly those who don't know him but are paying attention."

I can't say this is a complete surprise. I don't think about it often, but within five minutes of our first meeting, Hades proposed marriage to me. I know perfectly well he was joking, and drunk. I'm pretty sure he doesn't even remember it. Still, from time to time I've let myself think about it. Imagine. Fantasize. But Hecate is saying that it isn't a fantasy at all.

My heart is beating very fast and I can't quite get enough air. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” I gasp. I’d really like to run out of here. Why did I start this?

Hecate lets out a long breath, as if she's deeply relieved. "This #FuryToo thing that you mentioned is very good PR for the Underworld--for the moment. But these things can turn rapidly, so we need to keep on top of it. I think we should hire Sorya to do that for us."

"But isn’t this just my personal problem? It's not very related to managing shade resources!"

"No. It’s about justice, and it's about your sisters the Furies, and it's about public image. That upgrade in your title would be well served by a press manager." 

"I need some time to think about this," I say.

 

***

 

When I get home from work, Eros follows me into my room.

“You all ready for tonight, sweetie?” he asks.

“I think so,” I reply. I show him the sparkly dress I picked out and he nods approval. “I’m going to put my hair up, and Psyche loaned me these earrings.” I show him those, too--they’re the ones that Hera gave her.

“That’s fabulous. You’re going to look great, but that’s not what I’m talking about.” He sits down on the end of my bed while I assemble my shoes and underwear and stuff. He’s waiting for me to respond. That’s unusual--Eros normally talks until somebody forces him to shut up.

“Okay, so what is it?” I ask.

He grins. “Are you ready for sex?” I gape at him in shock. “I don’t think you’ve dealt with birth control yet, so that’s going to mean condoms. Do you know if you have a latex allergy? Also you might need lube, do you want me to give you some? Because--”

“Eros, stop!” I yell. “I am not going to get into these details with you!” He looks crestfallen and I feel a stab of guilt. “I’m sorry but I just can’t,” I finish weakly.

“Okay, I get it,” he says. “Psyche and I are going out too, and we won’t be back until late, so the house is yours.”

“Thank you,” I say. “And thank you for trying to help.”

“No problem, Perse. I’ll let you get ready.”

 

***

 

The doorbell rings right on time and I hurry to answer it. Hades is standing on the doorstep and he’s holding a big box. He’s wearing a tuxedo and there’s a pink camellia in his buttonhole. He’s incredibly handsome and he gives me a big smile. 

“Good evening, Persephone,” he purrs. “You look fantastic.”

“So do you,” I tell him. “Come in?”

He nods and comes into the living room. I’m looking at that box with trepidation.

“This is for you,” Hades says, his voice caressing. 

“Thank you,” I say. I’m trying to be gracious but I’m all wound up inside. I open the box and there’s a white fur coat inside. It’s beautiful and incredibly soft. I realize I should have expected this when I told him about the first coat. I lift it out of the box. It’s a bit longer than the first one, maybe hip length, and not quite as fluffy, more sleek. It’s got a high, upright collar, and the same kind of diamond buttons.

I haven’t said anything yet. I glance at Hades and he’s watching me with a very serious expression. “It’s gorgeous,” I say softly. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome,” he replies, and takes it from me. He holds it up, and I turn to let him help me put it on.

My hands helplessly stroke the front of the coat, enjoying the lovely texture. I turn to let Hades see. I want to make the “sufficient” joke but I just can’t. His eyes are full of emotion, and my throat is tight and dry.

“It suits you,” he murmurs.

I can’t say anything, so I kiss him instead.

 

***

 

Hades drives us back to the Underworld and parks near a tall building. It’s one I’ve often admired, looking at it from Tower One. It’s not quite as tall, but it’s topped with a series of stacked arches punctuated with triangular windows, with a narrow pointed spire at the top.

We enter the huge lobby, which is decorated with polished brown stone, a beautiful painted mural, and more arch motifs executed in inlaid metal.

“Is there a restaurant here?” I ask as we enter the elevator. The whole place is quiet, and it doesn’t feel like a night spot.

“No, I made private arrangements,” Hades says.

“Oh… I hope I didn’t make a mess of things by cancelling last night.”

“No, no,” he says, holding his hand out reassuringly. “In fact the delay allowed me to put this together.”

“I’m glad,” I say, and move closer, squeezing his arm. We smile at each other until the elevator stops on the 67th floor. We exit to find a secondary lobby, smaller than downstairs but similarly decorated. There’s a yellowish daimon waiting for us, and he bows.

“Madam, and sir. Right this way, please.” The daimon leads us through a set of doors, into the cold again. We’re out on a terrace, just beneath the stacked arches that cap the building. We’re facing away from Underworld HQ, and looking out over the city. It’s an amazing view. On the terrace itself, there’s one of those tall outdoor space heaters, and a table set with a white tablecloth, and two chairs. I understand now why Hades was concerned about me wearing a proper coat; he wanted me to be warm enough.

The daimon informs us that dinner will be served in fifteen minutes, and departs. I turn to Hades. “This is wonderful.” I’m choked up a little, and I can’t find words sufficient to express my feelings. He seems to understand, though, and takes my hand to kiss my knuckles.

“Would you like to dance?” he asks.

“Yes.”

 

***

 

Hades helps me into the car, closes the door, and walks around the front. I like watching him, but I’m feeling my tension ratchet up. It’s been a lovely evening. Dinner was perfect, the view was wonderful, dancing with him is a dream. We spent hours up there, and I’m not cold at all, not even my feet. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, though. I’m not sure what I want to happen next. 

Hades opens his door and sits down in the driver’s seat. He looks over at me, smiling, but then his expression changes. “Are you okay?” he asks, concerned.

I nod. He reaches out slowly and touches my cheek. “It’s getting late,” he says. “I’ll take you home, okay?”

“Okay,” I say. My voice isn’t working too well and Hades notices.

All the way home I’m thinking hard. I really don’t know what he expects, but he’s taking me back home. There are beds there, and Eros and Psyche won’t be home for hours. I swallow nervously. The events of the past few days whirl around in my head, dizzying and confusing me. Eros’s blunt suggestions earlier this evening. Hecate’s analysis. The Furies’ behavior, Kynora’s assumptions, Hermes’s request, even Athena. They all think they know something about me, and what I want. 

None of them are really wrong, either. I know perfectly well how much I want Hades, how much he makes me ache inside, how much I miss him when he’s not with me and how exciting it is to touch him. All of this is just my nerves talking, I guess. I should just trust him and everything will be all right.

When we arrive home, I’m aware that I’ve been quiet for too long, but I don’t know what to say. Hades walks me to the door, watching me carefully. I invite him in and he accepts. I’m not sure what to do next. I take off my coat and go sit down in the living room because anything else is just too difficult.

Hades sits down next to me and takes my hand. “Kore, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I say. My voice is much too high. I kiss him, my mouth open and inviting, and slide my hands under his jacket. It’s buttoned closed, so my hands can’t get very far. Should I unbutton it? I would have to touch him near his waist to do that, and this idea makes me nervous. I decide to leave it for now and slide one hand around his neck and stroke his hair. I know he likes that.

Hades is kissing me back, but it’s kind of tentative, and he hasn’t put his arms around me, he’s just holding my arms lightly. I let my tongue slip into his mouth. I haven’t done that many times before and it feels awkward.

Hades pulls back. “Kore, what’s going on?” he asks. He looks kind of upset.

“I’m sorry! I know I’m not very experienced but I’m doing my best.” I can feel tears building up in my eyes and my voice is all scratchy. I know he’s used to women who are eager to have him and not afraid to show it. I’m trying .

Hades’s face opens up like he’s had a sudden realization. “Oh! Oh, my sweet darling,” he says. He kisses my forehead tenderly and enfolds me in his arms, pulling me into a deep hug. “Sweet lovely Kore. You are pushing yourself much too hard.”

I can’t help it; my tears spill over. I cry silently into his jacket, holding him tightly. “You shouldn’t have to put up with this,” I say.

“What are you talking about?”

“Me being all... insecure and tense and nervous. I shouldn’t be nervous. I trust you!”

“I know you do. But that doesn’t mean you’re ready to be intimate yet. We’ve only had one date, there’s no hurry here.”

It’s sweet of him to say this, but I know it’s pretty usual for people to start having sex right away. I’m almost certain it’s what Hades is used to. I’m not a virgin anymore, so why am I being so uptight? 

“Kore,” he says softly, right by my ear. “I love you, you know that? I’ve never been in love before. This is totally new for me. You are incredibly important to me, and more than anything, I want to not make a mess of this.” He squeezes me gently. My tears are drying up as I listen to his words. “You’ve gone through a really awful thing. You need to give yourself some time to heal, and time to get used to me.” He pauses and kisses my forehead again. “My therapist keeps telling me that there’s no timetable for recovering from trauma. If I’ve needed more than two thousand years to get over some things, then you’re definitely not being fair to yourself.”

I’m shocked by the idea that something would hurt him that badly. “Get over what?” I ask.

He kisses my cheek this time. “I’ll tell you another time, okay? There’s lots of things I should tell you. My point is, I’m not in any hurry. You’re here, you love me and I love you. I can wait, for as long as you need. Forever. It doesn’t matter. You make all the decisions here, Kore. You’re free to do whatever you want with me, and just tell me what you’re okay with. Anytime you want me to stop, you just say the word and I will. I promise. Okay?”

“Okay.” I’m feeling a little shaky. I think it’s relief. I hold him tightly until I start to feel calmer. “I really, really love you,” I tell him.

He laughs. “I really, really love you, too.”

I pull away from our hug and rearrange myself, sitting on his lap. I’m getting addicted to sitting on Hades’s lap. He holds me close and I snuggle in, aligning my lips with his.