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Attainment of Sweet Delight

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I’m enjoying a cigar in my office and thinking about Persephone when there’s a sudden harsh cough behind me. I turn away from the window, surprised that anyone would try to sneak up on me, but it’s her, of course. She’s at the top of the stairs, holding on to the railing with one hand, the other hand clasped over her mouth as she hacks uncontrollably.

“Hey! Oh.. are you okay?” I ask as I approach.

She holds up one hand. “S-s-sorry, I think it’s the smoke…” She subsides into wheezing coughs again.

“Oh, Sweetness, I’m so sorry!” I cross to my desk and stub out the cigar. I go to the control panel and turn the air flow up to high . Persephone makes her way to the couch, still coughing helplessly. I fetch some tissues and a glass of water and sit down with her. “Is that any better?”

She nods, snuffling into a wad of tissues. She doesn’t look better, her eyes are streaming.

“I’m sorry, Kore. I had no idea it would bother you so much.”

She whooshes into her tissues and coughs a little more. “No, why would you?”

“Is it still bad? We could go down to your office, maybe?”

“No.” She dabs at her eyes and drinks a little water. Then she gets up and tosses out the tissues. “It’s a lot better now.”

“Oh, good.” Persephone sits down again next to me, but she doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to cuddle. I feel like I’ve alienated her with my disgusting habit.

“I’m sorry to make such a fuss,” she says.

“It’s not your fault.” I hold out my arms to her, hoping she’ll be willing to come to me. She smiles and slides over. “Oh, I didn’t think, is the smell in my clothes? I can change--”

I’m startled when Persephone buries her face in my chest and inhales deeply. I laugh and embrace her.

“Mmmmm. No, you’re fine. I can smell it a little, but it’s nice.” She looks up at me and her expression is completely blissed-out.

“You okay there?” I ask. I’m not sure what’s going on now.

“Yeah. You smell really good.”

“Me?” I’m a little shocked.

“Mmm-hmm.” With the way she’s smiling, it’s hard to deny her sincerity, but this is not a compliment I’ve heard before. I cup her cheek gently, looking down at her. She constantly amazes me. She likes things about me that nobody’s ever liked before. She likes things nobody’s ever noticed before.

Persephone looks up at me, her eyes heavy-lidded, her smile gently enticing. “I like the way you look at me,” she says softly.

I catch my breath. “Good. Because I don’t want to stop.”

She grins, her mood suddenly turning mischievous. “Not even for kissing?”

I smile back. “I could make an exception for that.”

Slowly Persephone moves in and rubs her nose against mine. She gives me a few tiny kisses, light and teasing on my lips.

“You’re not closing your eyes,” she observes.

“Neither are you.”

“You first!”

I obey. I told her she could do anything she wanted with me, and I meant it. I’ll follow her lead, even when she’s just playing like this.

I can feel her breath on my face, although she hasn’t moved to kiss me yet. I keep my eyes closed, my hands still, and wait. I smile, knowing she’s looking at me. “I love you, Kore,” I say.

She makes a soft sound, and then I feel her lips, soft as a butterfly’s wings, on my eyelid. She kisses the other eye, between my eyebrows, and the tip of my nose. I can feel her breath again, on my lips, and then her lips are touching mine, the merest brush. “I love you too,” she whispers, and her mouth captures mine.

She’s experimenting with her tongue, quick darts that I barely feel before it’s gone again. It’s maddening and delightful. I’m slowly bringing my arms up to wrap around her, and as I do she makes another sound and hugs my shoulders, sliding in close so I feel the warm weight of her breasts against my chest. She’s clearly settling in for a long session.

My mouth curves into a wide grin.

“What?” asks Persephone, not lifting her mouth from mine.

“Can’t help it. I’m happy,” I murmur against her lips.

“Mmmm,” is her only reply, and she opens promptly at the first touch of my tongue.

 

***

 

We eventually wind down to vague nuzzling, smiling at each other, and occasional quick kisses. I really hate to break this up, but it will be embarrassing if, say, my next appointment shows up. On the other hand, I don’t want this to end at all.

Persephone is the one to make the decision. She sighs a little, and scoots away, creating a little distance.

“I didn’t come up here intending to make out,” she says. “I had some things to discuss.”

I fight down the urge to apologize. I am not actually at all sorry to have spent the last half hour kissing a beautiful goddess. “Okay. What can I do for you?” I ask. She wants to be professional now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy looking at her, so I do.

“Two things. Firstly, Hermes asked me to ask you about replacing Thanatos. I think he’s coping with the workload but he’s not happy about it.”

“Okay, I’m on it. Why did he bother you with that?”

She makes a face. “He thought I would get better results, I guess.”

I laugh. It does make sense. And maybe shade acquisition ought to be part of the Shade Resources department? I’ll bring that up with Hecate.

Persephone is looking more uncomfortable now. “What’s the second thing, Kore?” I ask. 

“The Furies came to see me yesterday,” she starts.

“Ah, I see.”

“So you know about this? They said they want to serve me.”

“Yes, I know about that. I’ve had a contract with the Furies since the beginning of things. They were very clear that they would only serve me until something better came along.”

Persephone shakes her head. “But why me?” She’s looking like she does when she gets overloaded. I hold out my hand and she takes it, squeezing my fingers.

“You’d have to ask them that.”

She’s looking away, thinking hard, kneading my hand. She’s obviously very troubled. When she speaks, she still doesn’t look at me. “You were okay with my new power. With raising the dead, I mean. And now you’re okay with this, too?”

“Yes. You’ve given me every reason to trust you.”

“That’s… a lot of trust.”

I’m not sure why she’s so on edge. “I suppose it is. But  you’ve demonstrated again and again that you’re worthy of that kind of trust. Even if I didn’t love you, I would still trust you.”

This is true but maybe it’s misleading, too. If I didn’t love Persephone so much, I wouldn’t be as comfortable as I am with sharing my power with her. As it is, I keep surprising myself with how easy it is to let go of things that I used to guard with prideful vigilance.

 

***

 

Hecate comes in soon after Persephone leaves. “When is your new PA starting?” she asks. “There’s no one at the desk downstairs.”

“Tomorrow,” I tell her. It’s been a whole extravaganza of woes, finding the right person. There’s something I want to discuss with Hecate, so I jump in before she starts with more business topics. “Hey, what can you tell me about Demeter? I’ve gotten the impression that she’s a very involved mother.”

Hecate snorts. “You could say that. You could also say hovering and protective .”

“Persephone said she was only in the eternal maidenhood because it’s what Demeter wanted.”

“That’s my understanding. Are you worried about Demeter’s response to her leaving?”

“Of course I am. I don’t want Persephone to suffer because of me.”

“That’s good, but you should probably also worry about your own suffering.”

“Yeah, okay, but if that’s true, where is Demeter? If she’s so involved and protective, why hasn’t she been around?”

Hecate considers. “That’s a good question. I have no idea.”

I sigh. “I think I need to look into it.”

Hecate nods, and changes the topic slightly. “How much have you told Persephone about Archétypo Dikaiosýnis ?” 

“I didn’t mention it explicitly. I’ve never really understood it myself.”

“Well no, who does besides the Furies themselves?”

“No one, I’m guessing. I think Persephone is having a tough enough time accepting that they want to serve her without bringing up an ancient and cryptic prophecy.”

Hecate looks unhappy with that. “I sometimes feel like we’re railroading her.”

“I… know what you mean. I wonder if it’s fair, but I do tell her everything I think she’s ready to hear.”

Hecate sighs deeply. “That’s still manipulative, deciding what she’s ready for. Nobody can judge that but her.”

“Look, you’re right. But I don’t want to drive her away. I don’t lie to her, I just don’t tell her everything at once.”

My old friend puts on a thoughtful face. “I can only go on supporting this if you’ll commit to being forthright with Persephone. I want you to make a list of things she needs to know and prioritize them, and start telling her. And tell her that you have a list. If you’ll do that I’ll concede that you can’t spill it all at once.”

I don’t like being pushed in this, but Hecate is completely right. “Okay. I’ll do that.”

“Good. Listen, we need to get on top of this #FuryToo thing. It’s getting bigger and gaining traction, which is good for us so far. I think we should hire that reporter Sorya who interviewed Persephone. We need her to do press management.”

“Seriously? Why her? She’s been such a pest.” 

“I’ve investigated her work; this is just the sort of thing she’s good at it. Besides, if we can persuade her to take a job here, it’s a PR victory for us. The reporter who wrote about questionable hiring policy changes her mind? That’s gold.” Hecate smiles with anticipation.

“Okay, I can see that. Did you run this by Persephone?”

“Yes. She’s not wild about it, but I think she’ll come around. I’m interviewing Sorya later today, will you make some time to meet with her too?”

“All right, if you insist.”

 

***

 

Hecate suggests that Persephone and I interview Sorya together, and neither of us can find a good reason to object. Persephone seems to have mixed feelings about this, as does the reporter. As do I.

“I’m going to be completely honest here,” I say. “This is all Hecate’s idea and she might be the only one who’s enthusiastic. I for one am not convinced that it’s a good fit, although I’ll admit we could use someone in this role.”

“Well,” says Sorya. “I agree with you that it’s not an obvious match. I was rather surprised when Hecate called.”

“Were you really surprised?” Persephone challenges. “I got the impression that you were looking for an opportunity to get closer to me.”

“Managing relationships is a necessary part of the job. That would only become more true if I were to accept a position as press manager.”

“And is managing relationships your main skill?” I ask.

“I’d like to think that my skills as an investigator are well proven.”

“Yes,” I agree. “Clearly you’re good at that. It’s more your deductions that I take issue with.”

“Sometimes there’s room for multiple interpretations. The necessity of selling newspapers does tend to dictate that the most salacious conclusion is the one that gets published,” Sorya shrugs.

“Are you trying to place the blame with your editors?” Persephone asks sharply.

“It’s a fact of life that economics drive many decisions,” Sorya responds. “Isn’t the idea of selling the most favorable interpretation exactly what you’re looking for?”

Persephone and I exchange a long look. She shrugs a little, so I take the lead.

“As you know, there’s recently been a bit of trouble around here with people thinking they know better than me how to run things. Treason has a tendency to spread in unexpected ways and I have no desire to find I’m nurturing it close at hand once again.”

“Is that a threat?” asks the reporter.

“Certainly not. It’s a fact, and I suppose, a warning. So tell me why I should trust you.”

Sorya raises her chin. “I happen to think that a free and diligent press is essential to the maintenance of good government and an informed populace. You of all people should be aware of the dangers of letting tyranny fester.”

I smile. Not afraid to tell it like it is. 

Persephone jumps in with another question. “So, assuming you were to take the position, where would you want to start?”

“Forgive my saying so, but your corporate social media presence is crap. I could start there and build something that actually reflects both the company and the Underworld itself.”

I do like her bluntness, if nothing else. “It’s rude of me to ask, so feel free not to answer, but I get the feeling you’re on the younger side?” It’s almost impossible to tell, with nymphs. They only look old if their special location is failing.

“I think that’s relevant to my previous statement, so I’ll admit that I’m fairly young. Not as young as you, though.” She’s addressing Persephone now.

Persephone sips her tea. “Did you slip back into reporter mode there?”

Sorya is unapologetic. “If you really want me to do this job, I’m going to have live practically in your pocket. Both your pockets.” She glances back and forth between me and Persephone. She’s extremely sharp. I see what Hecate meant--it will be much better for us to have this one working for us, rather than against us.

Persephone’s the one to address the hydra in the room. “Given what you’ve written about hiring practices here, and what you’ve insinuated, would you even be willing to accept a position?”

Sorya looks startled. “You know, I think I might.”

 

***

 

Early the next morning Hera calls and invites me to join her for coffee. I’ve been avoiding her for a while now, but I guess I should stop being so childish. I agree to meet her, with the intention of keeping the meeting brief.

Hera offered to come to the Underworld, since her opinion of Olympian coffee is similar to my own. When I arrive at my usual shop, she’s already there, sitting in a window seat, looking out. She’s got her sunglasses on, which is never a good sign.

Once I secure my coffee I sit down across from her. “Good morning, Hera. How are you?”

“Not great. Yourself?” she answers tersely.

Well. Now I either get to lie, or tell the truth and hurt her feelings. I decide that the truth will be better in the long run. “Honestly, I’ve never been better. I’m sorry to hear that you’re not so well.”

She shrugs, still looking out the window. “It’s only fair, I suppose. You’ve had the shitty end of the stick for so long.”

I can hardly argue with that. “So what’s the problem? Anything I can help with?” I already have some guesses.

“No. Thank you for offering, though.”

We sip our coffee in silence for a while. This is even more awkward than I imagined it would be.

“How is Persephone doing?” Hera asks.

“She’s well.” I want to say a lot more than that, but I restrain myself.

Hera looks at me for the first time. “That’s all you have to say? ‘She’s well’?”

“I’m trying to be sensitive. I could go on at length, if you prefer. With considerable detail.”

“Oh, I’m sure the details are considerable indeed.” She’s back to looking out the window. “Look, I’m happy for you, I really am. You deserve this. It’s not your fault things aren’t going well for me. You don’t owe me a damned thing, you know.”

I’m getting a headache. I know I don’t owe Hera. If anything, the reverse is true.

“I am sorry, though. I assume it’s my brother again.”

She snorts. “What else would it be?”

It could have been lots of things. One of her kids acting up, a worshipper being presumptuous, a problem governing Olympus. Still, Zeus being his usual self is by far the most likely.

“Can I ask your advice?” Maybe I can distract her a little. She makes a little why-not gesture. “What can you tell me about Demeter? What should I be expecting?”

Hera laughs harshly. “Oh, my friend. Demeter is going to absolutely shit bricks when she finds out. She is going to try to tear you to shreds. And soon after that, she’ll come after me.”

 

***

 

I'm checking through my calendar with my new PA. He's the fourth one I've had in the past couple of months, which I'm prepared to admit is completely my fault. Oh, except for that one who only lasted a day: wow. This guy came highly recommended and I'm optimistic. Unfortunately, due to all the changes in staffing, we’ve just discovered that I've got a long-scheduled social engagement tonight that had completely fallen off my radar.

"I'm very sorry, sir. I won't let this happen again," Epimelis says.

"Don't worry about it. You only just started, this is your predecessor's doing," I tell him, taking out my phone to send a text. Then I hear a familiar clicking of heels coming down the hallway and realize that texting is redundant. Persephone appears at the glass wall, already smiling at me. I can't help but smile back. I go over to hold the door for her.

"You're early," I say. "Have you met my new PA? This is Epimelis."

“No, I haven’t. Hello,” she smiles graciously. “I’m Persephone.”

“A pleasure, ma’am,” Epimelis says.

Persephone turns back to me. “If you’re not quite ready, I'll just go speak to Hecate for a minute.”

“All right. I won’t be long.”

She steps back out and I return to Epimelis. “Persephone is the Director of Shade Resources. She can see me any time she likes. You should probably inform her if I’m with someone, but she has free access. Oh, and the same for Hecate, of course.” I add that last bit as an afterthought.

We finish reviewing my schedule, and I head towards Hecate’s office, but I don’t need to go that far. Persephone is standing in the elevator lobby, looking at her phone. There’s no one in sight, so I give her a brief kiss.

“It turns out there’s a municipal banquet tonight and I completely forgot,” I tell her as we enter the elevator. “It fell through the cracks with all the assistant confusion. I’m so sorry to have to cancel our plans, Kore.” It was only dinner, but I hate disappointing her.

“I understand,” Persephone replies. We’re alone in the elevator and she’s floating up a little. I take her hint and pull her in for another kiss, much slower and sweeter this time. “Can’t I go with you?” She asks when she pulls away.

“Absolutely you can.” I’m surprised, but I shouldn’t be. “Are you sure, though? These things tend to be dreadfully boring.”

“Yes. I’d like to be with you.” I don’t try to warn her off any further. If she thinks my company is worth enduring one of these things, I don’t want to disillusion her.

 

***

 

Today we’re going out for lunch, returning to the place where I took Persephone weeks ago. The day Minthe accosted me and I went into some kind of mental fugue. I was a bit skeptical when Persephone suggested going back there, but she said most of that occasion was pleasant, and we should reclaim it so the unpleasant parts don’t get to define that day, or that place. I guess that makes sense. She wants to build a future, rather than run from the past. That’s not usually my way of operating, but I think I should try it. It seems a lot healthier.

We enter the restaurant and the owner seats us in the window seat again. I feel very odd about this, but Persephone is taking charge. “Oh, do you want to share the cheese croquettes? I want to try those.” 

“Sure. We should get wine, too.” I’m trying to get in the spirit of this.

“Oh, my, in the middle of the day?” She teases, peeking at me over the top of her menu.  “What will my boss say?” 

“Who cares what that old crank says? Let’s live a little.” 

Persephone smiles in agreement. My mood is definitely on the upswing. We order and then scoot our chairs closer so we can hold hands.

“You were right,” I say. “This is really nice. I’m glad I agreed to come here.”

Persephone beams. “Good, I’m glad. It’s lovely being out in public with you. Pretending to be all cool and professional all the time is starting to be really difficult.”

“I think we’re being fairly subtle at work, don’t you?”

Persephone laughs, genuinely amused. “Are you kidding? Everyone knows.”

I’m quite startled. Has she been telling people about us? “I didn’t know we were public yet,” I say. 

Now she’s the one looking startled. “Oh. Are we not?” 

“I don’t know. We hadn’t really discussed it. It’s okay if you’re telling people, though. It’s actually flattering.”

“Ah. I didn’t mean I was telling people. There’s hardly been time! Well, except for Eros and Psyche and Artemis. I meant that everyone just knows .”

“Really? Like who?” I don’t actually mind, not at all. I just thought we were taking our time.

Persephone pauses to think. “Let’s see. Megaera told me weeks ago that she and her sisters knew I had a crush on you…” I grin widely in response to that. “And Hermes called me your girlfriend, and Kynora knows, and Sorya totally knows. Um, Hecate, of course. I think she knows everything about everyone in existence, though.”

“She usually does. Listen, are you okay with this?”

“I think so. I’m not wild about people making assumptions about me, but I’m very happy about being with you and I don’t care who knows that. Um, except my mother.” Now she looks tense.

This gives me a much-needed opportunity. “What does your mother know about your life right now?”

“I write her letters now and then. As little as I can get away with, because I don’t like lying to her. I’ve told her that I dropped out of college and I have a good job. I play that up a lot, talk about responsibility and stuff like that. I haven’t mentioned where I’m working, though. And I haven’t said yet that I left TGOEM. I guess that’s next. Then I’ll tell her I moved out of Artemis’s house and she’ll probably show up and drag me home.” She sighs quietly.

I hesitate. “Isn’t it… kind of weird that she hasn’t already shown up?”

Persephone looks a bit uncomfortable. “Yes. Kind of. I think she’s letting me fail. Like she expects that pretty soon I’ll completely mess up and go running home and beg her to let me stay forever.”

“So she’s staying away to let that happen?”

“Maybe.”

I have to admit that I don’t know the first thing about how supportive parents act, but Demeter’s actions just don’t ring true. Persephone’s interpretation is somewhat plausible, but it doesn’t match up with the fiercely protective mother that others have described. I can’t understand it.

I need to say something encouraging but I’m not sure how strongly I can word it. Persephone likes her independence. “You know--I will help in any way I can. I don’t want you to be dragged off anywhere.”

She smiles and I relax. “I know. I don’t want that, either.”

Our wine and appetizer arrive and we eat and drink quietly for a while. Persephone appears lost in thought.

“Are you okay?” I ask after a while. I’m concerned that I’ve pushed her too much, talking about her mother on top of our discussion about our relationship being public. She’s had a hell of a week, why am I asking more of her? 

“Oh, sorry! I didn’t mean to get distracted. I was just worrying about a work thing.”

That’s better than her worrying over an us thing. “What are you worried about, Sweetness? Is the shade census getting you down? It sounds rather tedious to me.”

“Oh, no. I’m not working on that directly myself, but the data we’re getting are fascinating! I think the population is rising in an exponential, which means pretty soon it’s going to really take off--um, sorry. I’m getting bogged down in the details.”

I’m grinning. I love when she gets enthusiastic, even when it’s about mathematics. “So what has you worried?”

“It’s just--I have so little experience. Especially with managing people! I don’t know what I’m doing half the time.”

I nod. “I get that. If you felt like you were totally on top of everything and it was all perfect, then I’d be concerned. But in my experience the smartest, most competent people are constantly questioning their own effectiveness. The fact that you’re doing exactly that is a big hint that you’re actually doing well.”

Persephone looks skeptical. “So if I think I’m messing up, that means it’s all fine?”

“More or less. Listen, when I took on this realm I literally had to make it up as I went along. I mean literally --carve space out of the rock, and decide what was going to go where, and start building a business, and find a place for shades to go--all of that.”

She nods, looking very interested.

“And I screwed up. A lot! But eventually I had some people to help me, and they screwed up sometimes too, but things got done.”

She’s thinking this through. “So… ask for help when I need it? And learn from my mistakes?”

“Yes. And just keep going. Really and truly, you’re doing great.”

When our main courses arrive Persephone asks about tonight’s event, so I describe these dinners for city officials that are held every so often. I spend a lot of time disparaging the whole thing in my cynical way. Persephone is starting to look distinctly amused. 

“Really, you’re telling me the whole thing is about bootlicking?”

I snort in amusement. I love that she always phrases her statements so politely. “That isn’t how I put it, but yes. And it gets old real fast, let me tell you.”

“Shouldn’t you let me form my own opinion? I might actually enjoy it.” She’s smiling, teasing gently.

That is a possibility. She continually surprises me with the things that she likes, most especially that she likes me . I’m suddenly crushed with a wave of guilt. Why am I subjecting this poor woman to more stress? Taking her out in public? With me ? Hasn’t she been through enough?

Persephone can tell immediately that my mood has changed. “What’s the matter?” she asks.

I shake my head. “Don’t mind me. You had your moment of self-doubt; now it’s my turn.”

“Do you want to tell me about it? Maybe I can help.” She touches my hand gently.

“I was just thinking that it’s not fair to you to be out in public with me. After everything, I mean. There will probably be a lot of negative attention.”

Persephone nods. “I guess we’d better hope that Sorya takes the job, then. Because I like being out with you and I don’t want to stop.” She’s speaking quite firmly and she definitely means it.

“I should learn not to doubt you.”

We finish our lunch, chatting about work things and weekend plans. As we’re leaving the restaurant, Persephone’s phone buzzes and she takes it out to check it. She’s still using that ancient model with the cracked screen. I frown. “Sweetness, you know there are promotional models of the new XS available from Marketing? Why don’t you take one? That phone you have is going to fall apart on you.”

“I know that, and thank you. I prefer to take care of it myself.” She’s being firm again, and I don’t think it’s worthwhile to press on this. I’ve recently figured out that Persephone has a deep-seated need to prove that she can take care of herself. I took a big risk a few nights ago, giving her a new coat. I half expected she might refuse it, but she didn’t. She’s not ready for me to push in that area again so soon.

 

***

 

I change in my office, putting on a tuxedo, my least elaborate crown, and all my earrings, at Persephone’s request. It’s time to leave now, so I take the stairs down one flight and stride down the hall. I’m doing this trip multiple times a day; I could probably do it in my sleep by now. I enter the outer office. The door is closed and Kynora’s desk is unoccupied, but Eros is sitting in a visitor’s chair, deeply engaged with his phone.

“Hello,” I say. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, hey man,” he says. “I got called in for a fashion emergency.”

“Ah, of course. But then they kicked you out, I’m guessing?” I sit down with him.

“Yep. I am reduced to being a glorified delivery service.” 

I change the subject. “Maybe you can tell me something,” I start tentatively. “Maybe you can’t, I don’t know. But has Demeter been in touch with Persephone?”

“Mmm, there are letters. Pretty frequently, I think. But she doesn’t talk much about her mom. You should ask Artemis, if you get a chance.” He pauses and then smiles impishly. “Or, you know, go wild and just ask Persephone herself.”

“Yeah, I know I should. I’m just concerned, and I don’t want to be nosy.”

“Speaking of nosy, just so I know as Persephone’s personal stylist, when can we expect you to start delivering the bling?” He’s joking but it’s actually something I’ve been thinking about.

“Persephone is very sensitive about gifts,” I say. “I’d be delighted to shower her with jewels, but I think--I think she wouldn’t like that.”

Eros thinks it over and nods agreement. “Being independent really matters to her. She’d hate to look like a sugar baby.”

These words give me a visceral reaction, particularly the idea of applying them to Persephone. Of course she wouldn’t like that. She’s determined to work hard and make a difference, and to be recognized for it. “She doesn’t want meaningless baubles.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Ignore me, I’m just a greedy bastard,” he grins.

“This is much too important to me to screw up.” He knows that. We talk about it frequently.

He nods again. “Sorry for being so flippant.”

I wave my hand, dismissing this. “You’re Persephone’s friend. Your advice is always welcome.”

“I’ll keep my ears open. If I get the idea that she’s ready for that kind of thing, I can let you know.”

This is exactly what I need, but it also makes me uncomfortable. “I don’t want her to feel spied on.”

“No, no! Give me some credit for discretion and subtlety. I may not always act responsibly but I do know how to be a friend.”

I’m starting to answer when the door to Persephone’s office opens, and Psyche and Kynora come out, chatting companionably.

“Good evening, Hades,” says Psyche. “Will we be seeing you for dinner Sunday?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” I tell her, standing up.

“Good. She is ready, you can go in.”

“Thank you,” I say, and step past them.

Persephone is standing at her desk, her back to me. The white dress she’s wearing is long, and almost completely backless, with thin sparkly straps that cross her back diagonally. It hugs her body, outlining her hips. I freeze, admiring her, and she turns. The view from the front is just as delightful. The dress is one-shouldered and falls smoothly in soft pleats. She’s wearing the pomegranate badge on her shoulder, and long earrings.

“You look spectacular,” I tell her.

“Thank you.” She approaches, smiling. “It took four people’s combined efforts but I think the results aren’t bad.”

I snort. “ Not bad , you say. Are you fishing for compliments, lovely one?” I cup her face with both hands, and bend down to kiss her. She grasps me by the wrists and I can feel her smile under my lips.

“Do I need to?” She’s wearing her hair short and sleek, and flowers are sprouting behind her ears.

“Never, exquisite little goddess.” I lift her off her feet into a deeper kiss. “I like these earrings,” I say, when we reluctantly separate. “Didn’t you wear them the other night?”

“Oh, yes. They’re Psyche’s, I’ll tell her you like them.” It isn’t nearly so much the earrings I like as it is the ears. I wonder if I should go ahead and buy her some earrings and just hold on to them for now.

Persephone picks up her fur coat from the couch, and I take it, holding it open for her. It suits her, the soft high collar framing her face, the longer cut clinging to her. It’s sad that the first one was taken from her, but this one is better. It’s hers and hers alone, not purchased for anyone else. Not another queen’s reject.

I kiss her temple. “Ready?”

She nods, and her warm eyes lock with mine. We walk together, not looking away.

 

***

 

I watch Persephone during the cocktail hour, and she’s charming everyone within reach. It isn’t magic, what she’s doing. She asks intelligent questions, and then she listens and asks follow-up questions. She smiles and laughs when appropriate, or looks sympathetic when that’s called for. She drinks her wine. When pushed to it, she speaks about herself, but she keeps it brief and witty and then asks someone another question. She gives every evidence of being interested.

Persephone isn’t doing anything I couldn’t do myself, but it works a lot better for her. She has the benefit of being small and gorgeous, and no one here has any real idea of how intense she can be. They may have heard the story, and connect the “Fury Too” goddess with this exquisite creature, but none of them have witnessed what I have. I smile to myself imagining their panic if any of them saw her as she was in Vathia, or arguing with me, or summoning the Furies.

“Good evening, Your Majesty,” says a voice by my elbow. I look down and see Sorya. She’s nearly as small as Persephone.

“Good evening, Sorya,” I reply. “Are you covering this event?”

“No, just attending. I wanted to tell you that I’m accepting your offer.”

“Good. We can use you.” I admit that I was skeptical, but I’ve come around to the idea that Sorya could have an important impact for the company, and for Persephone and me personally.

“I can start immediately.”

“That’s even better. You should speak to Hecate, she’s around here somewhere.”

She nods and moves off.

The mayor is approaching me from the other side. It was only a matter of time before she felt the need to speak to me. “Good evening, Hades.”

“Madam Mayor. How are you, Tyche?” I’m hoping to forestall discussion of her particular obsession.

“I am well. Did you hear about the plans for a new stadium in Olympus? Isn’t it time we had one too?” Oh, great. Here we go.

 

***

 

It’s about time for dinner to start, and I’m looking for Persephone. She can be difficult to spot in a crowd like this, but after a few minutes I find her. She’s talking to someone tallish and bulky with his back to me. He’s a dark greenish-bronze and seems familiar but I can’t place him, at least from this angle. I approach them, studying Persephone. She looks a little annoyed, and maybe a little amused. Up close, I realize her companion is Moros. I can hear him speaking.

“It’s very unusual to see one of your kind in a place like this. A rare and beautiful flower to grace the dank and dreary Underworld! I’m sure you must have come with someone but perhaps I can make you a better offer--”

That smooth bastard. He thinks she’s a flower nymph, and his tone is deeply patronizing and sloppily flattering.

Persephone is narrowing her eyes, considering her reply, but then she spots me. I close the distance between us and stop next to her, resting my hand on the bare skin at the center of her back.

“Hello, Moros,” I say, repressively.

“Good evening, Hades! I hope you’re not intending to exercise your rights as overlord. It would be just like you to come steal away the prettiest girl in the room.” He grins suggestively at Persephone. He clearly thinks he’s funny, but she doesn’t react. He goes on, oblivious to her distaste. “This one won’t even tell me her name!”

Persephone looks at me calmly and sips her wine. Her eyes suggest that she’s had quite enough of this asshole. Well, I can fix that.

“Moros, God of Doom,” I intone. “You have the honor of addressing Persephone, Goddess of Spring, and Director of Shade Resources for the Underworld Corporation.”

Persephone slips her hand under my arm, so I bend my elbow and place my free hand over hers. She squeezes me, so I’m guessing that I did what she wanted.

Moros looks flabbergasted. I’ll bet he thought she was easy prey.

“Oh…” he says. “I read about you in the paper.”

Did you? I hope it was educational,” Persephone deadpans. She tugs my arm slightly, so we turn together and go in to dinner.

We’re seated at the Mayor’s table, naturally. Persephone is next to Mayor Tyche and her wife, and chats enthusiastically with them, exerting her charm again. On my other side is the head of the Bankers’ Association, hands-down the dullest person in the entire Underworld. He starts going on about financial regulations and how he’d like to see them loosened. The usual song and dance. I reach out with my hand under the table until I brush against Persephone. After a moment, I feel her hand and she laces her fingers with mine.

 

***

 

“Are you eager to get home?” I ask.

“Not at all. What do you have in mind?”

“Someplace quiet, maybe?”

“That sounds great,” Persephone responds with enthusiasm.

I drive to a spot I’ve heard about, off the main Underworld-Olympus road. It’s quiet, and the view of Olympus is unmatched. I park, and turn off the engine.

“What do you think?” I ask Persephone. I’m completely prepared to follow her lead. She’s shown multiple times that she’s comfortable being alone with me, and she obviously enjoys kissing and cuddling, but some situations get to be too much for her. I don’t feel I have enough information to predict her reactions with any accuracy yet, so I intend to proceed with caution.

“This is lovely,” she says. She sounds calm and cheerful. I hear the sound of her seat belt unbuckling, so I unfasten mine, too. Then her hand is on my arm, and I grasp it gently. It’s quite dark here, the dim light from the distant city barely enough to show Persephone as a faint outline.

She giggles, and I hear rustling as she turns in her seat. Her other hand is on my arm now and she trails it slowly up to my shoulder and finds my chin. I kiss her fingers, and moments later her mouth swoops in to replace them.

We’re both laughing as we kiss in the quiet dark.

My arms surround her, pull her into a crush against my chest. Her coat is silky soft under my hands as I gently stroke her back. Her mouth is hungry against mine. The tentative attempts of yesterday are all gone; it’s a much bolder goddess that I’m holding in my arms now.

Persephone’s tongue is pressing against mine, her lips feverishly writhing. She adjusts her angle, and then she’s actually sucking on my bottom lip, stroking it intensely with her tongue.

I’m responding to her advances, meeting her kiss for kiss, my arousal rapidly growing more acute. Her warm skin smells faintly of honey. She’s making soft noises, half-articulated gasps and tiny moans. Her small hands are busy, stroking my face, my hair, my neck, shoulders, and chest.

She’s driving me wild. I’m so hard that I can’t think anymore. I can’t remember anything but this goddess in my arms. I want her desperately.

Persephone pushes away for a moment, and wiggles vigorously just outside my arms. I’m confused and bereft, too focused and too turned-on to be able to analyze what she’s doing. In a moment she’s back in my arms, without her coat. She melts back into my embrace, pressing firmly into me, her mouth hot and eager. I stroke the bare skin of her back with my fingertips, lightly tracing along the straps of her dress. She moans faintly, squirming, and I can feel her breasts, warm and pliant against my chest. 

She must not be wearing a bra under that dress. That thought obsesses me. Is she wearing panties, I wonder? In the small closed space of the car, I can smell the musk of arousal now, hers mixing with my own.

Persephone is shivering slightly, despite the heat pouring from her skin. She sighs against my mouth, greedily probing and sucking, tightening my alarmingly rapid spiral of lust. I realize that her hands are under my suit jacket, one stroking my back and the other lightly teasing my chest.

  The change in Persephone’s mood comes out of nowhere. She pulls back suddenly, her body rigid with tension, and lets out a tiny sound. 

“Kore? Are you okay?” 

She’s retreated to the far side of her seat, and I don’t try to touch her. I can hear her panting softly.

“I’m sorry!” she gasps.

“What’s wrong, love? Did I hurt you?”

“No! It’s not you. It’s me. I’m so sorry.” Her voice is muffled, I’m guessing she’s covering her face in her hands.

“No, Sweetness, it’s not your fault. I pushed you too hard. I’m the one who’s sorry!”

“That’s not it. Oh, Hades, please don’t think that!” I feel her hand again, brushing my chest, and take it in both of mine. Her other hand follows and I clasp it too. “I’m not freaking out about you. It’s me. I was thinking something that I really don’t like.”

“Oh.” I can’t imagine what that could be. “Can you tell me about that, Kore? Please?” I squeeze her hands, stroking gently with my thumbs.

“Well. I guess it’s just that I’m very… possessive. I was thinking to myself that, um. That you are mine.” Her voice sounds miserable, like she’s just confessed to something horrific.

“But I am yours, Sweetness.”

She breathes a deep sigh. “I know, but it was more intense than that. I don’t have any right to think of you that way.”

I can’t understand why she wouldn’t have that right, so I say so. “Why not? I love you. I want to belong to you.”

She pauses for a long time. “How can a person belong to another person?”

I’m finally maybe getting it. I can only surmise that my arousal was making me stupid. “But I want it. I think that makes it okay.”

“Oh… but--how can I possibly be worthy of that?”

I’m quite shocked that Persephone is concerned about being worthy of me . “Kore,” I begin. “You should never, ever think that you’re not good enough for me. It’s taken all this time for me to think that maybe, possibly, on my very best days, that I might be good enough for you .”

She makes a soft sound, and then moves closer, leaning against me, her head on my shoulder. “You really don’t think it’s gross? Wanting to think that way?”

“Not at all. I very much want to belong to you. Not as a possession, I see what you mean there, but as your beloved. When it goes both ways, it’s a fair trade.”

She nods slowly. “I don’t mind belonging to you,” she says softly. “Actually, I like it a lot.”

“You see? Nobody loses anything that way.” I nuzzle her hair gently.  “Kore. I was a broken man when you met me. Being around you has made me want to be whole again. Being with you--the pieces are coming together. I have hopes for the future. You’ve given that to me.”

Persephone tilts her head back, and finds my mouth. This kiss is soft and tender, undemanding.

“I love you,” she whispers softly.

“I love you too,” I answer.

We stay like that for a long time, holding each other gently in the dark, kissing from time to time. 

I contemplate the scars left on Persephone’s soul by the heartless treatment heaped on her by a callous, egocentric, thoughtless man. She thought she was doing a terrible thing, just by expressing her love. It’s me that’s the monster, not her, getting so distracted by my lust that I forgot to consider her feelings. Persephone is justifiably nervous about me, about situations like this, and I let my selfishness dictate my actions, rather than my compassion for her. I will need to take much better care of her.

 

***

 

I enter Persephone’s office. She’s not there, but Kynora is arranging files on Persephone’s desk.

“Good morning, sir,” she says. “Persephone had a meeting but she should be back soon.”

“Fine,” I reply. “Have you already ordered lunch?”

“Yes, sir, it’s due to arrive in about fifteen minutes.”

“Good. It’s never a good idea to let Persephone get hungry.”

Kynora laughs; she knows what I mean. She goes out to her desk and I settle down on the couch with my phone. A minute or two later I hear footsteps, but it’s not Persephone. It’s Alecto, peering around the door frame.

“She’s not here?” the yellow Fury asks.

“I’m told she’ll be back any time now. Come in, I wanted to speak to you anyway.”

Alecto enters and closes the door behind her. “What is it?”

“I wanted to request that you and your sisters keep an eye on Demeter. If that won’t conflict with Persephone’s wishes, of course.”

She smirks. “Why do you want that?”

“People keep telling me what an involved mother she is. How protective or even controlling she is. But since Persephone has been in Olympus, and working here, Demeter hasn’t been around at all. I find that intriguing.” 

“That is unusual,” Alecto says. She’s still smiling.

“So will you do it?”

“We would probably need to subcontract that. Our plates are rather full at the moment.”

I shrug. “Then do that. You have the budget.”

She nods, and folds her arms, watching me.

“Okay, I get it, there’s something you’re not telling me. Are you going to let me in on it?”

Alecto grins widely this time. “Spying on Demeter was the first thing Persephone asked of us, once we persuaded her that we meant to serve her. It’s fascinating that you want the same thing.”

I raise my eyebrows. “It’s very interesting that you saw fit to tell me about this.” I’m prying for more information, and Alecto is too sharp not to know it.

“Uh huh. Don’t expect any more freebies. You want to know what’s up, you can talk to our new boss. I’ll see you around.”

Alecto departs, leaving me alone to wait. It’s obvious from what Alecto said that Persephone also thinks there’s something odd going on with Demeter. I wonder why she hasn’t mentioned it to me. I suppose I shouldn’t expect her to tell me everything about her family and past life, not right away. After all, it’s not like I’ve been all that forthcoming.

Persephone and the lunch delivery arrive together and I stand up to greet her. She slides into my arms as soon as the door’s closed. 

“Missed you,” she says, and kisses me firmly.

“I missed you too.”

Today I have a spicy stew with rice, and Persephone has a sampler plate. She keeps feeding me bits from hers: pickled vegetables, cheesy pastries, crunchy salty things. I can't reciprocate, because mine has meat in it. Her food is quite tasty and I don't want to say no--I love that she wants to share with me. The fact that I can't return the favor feels like some sort of metaphor.

These working lunches are getting to be a habit with us. We bounce ideas off one another, talk through proposals, give feedback. We’re very productive when we can keep our hands to ourselves.

When we finish eating, Persephone takes a stack of printouts, one of her notebooks, and her little pouch full of pens over to the couch. I’m amused. Before meeting her, I wasn’t aware that anyone her age still prefered paper, like me. Then again, I suppose it could have something to do with her propensity to color-code her lists and notes. I watch her for a while. She has beautiful handwriting and the way she organizes her thoughts is like poetry.

She notices me watching.

"Did you have anything that needs discussing?" she asks, looking amused.

"No… well, yes. You mentioned the other day that you want to start telling mortals about Elysium."

Persephone puts down her notebook. "Yes?"

"You can go ahead with that."

She tilts her head. "Are you sure? You didn't seem very comfortable with the idea."

"Yes. I think it's time to break out of my rut. Try something new. And you're right that it's more fair to the mortals. Gives them more of a chance."

"That's great!" She's very enthusiastic, and gives me an intense kiss.

We get very distracted after that. It's several minutes later that we pull apart and I ask, "Any idea how you're going to get started on that?"

"Yes. I have a priestess. I'll talk to her."

"You have a priestess?" That is very exciting news. "I didn't know, congratulations!"

"She's one of the mortals I raised. I went back to speak to her just recently. Since she's actually been dead I'll bet she'll be interested." Persephone looks very pleased with herself.

"Okay. Keep me posted?" I'm intrigued to see how this turns out.

 

***

 

I’m between meetings and I need to prepare for the next one. I pour another cup of coffee, but before I drink it I hunt up a nicotine patch from my desk and slap it on my arm. With that and caffeine I should be ready.

Today I have an appointment with Morpheus. I've been avoiding this, and he doesn't deserve it. The God of Dreams enters my office. He's very pale, with deep blue eyes and dark hair. He doesn't look much like his brother.

"Hello, Morpheus," I say. "What can I do for you?"

"I greet you, Sire," he responds, in his gloomy, overly formal way. "I've come to ask if there is any way you might consider relenting on my brother's punishment. Not now, I'm aware that he behaved badly. I mean, after a suitable interval of time.”

I'm already fighting back yawns, due to my proximity to Morpheus. “I’m not sure how much I can do,” I say. “He did have his chance in court to beg for mercy, or to state extenuating circumstances, and he didn’t.”

Morpheus nods mournfully. “I think there may actually be some factors that he left out, Sire.”

“If that’s true, and if you can present evidence, I’d be happy to look at it. It’s true your brother served me well for many centuries.” I can’t contain it anymore, and I yawn widely.

Morpheus knows his cue to go. “I will be in touch when I have more information, Your Majesty.” He bows and departs.

I sit on my office couch, with no energy or motivation to do anything. My brain feels warm and muffled. My vision is a little hazy. Vaguely I consider lying down for a while.

 

***

 

It’s red. Everything is red. I’m floating, curled up in a ball of misery and loneliness. I can barely remember what the outside world was like. I can’t remember the air, or food, or talking with people. I can only remember red, and floating.

They don’t remember you either. No one cares that you’re gone.

The voice is always with me. It’s worse than being alone. It tells me the things I most hate to hear. I put my hands over my ears and try to shut it out.

Stupid small one, you cannot escape me. You aren’t strong enough. You’ll never be strong enough.

Now somehow I’m running, in a long, dimly lit tunnel. The ceiling is low and I keep hitting my head but I don’t stop running. The horrible mocking laughter follows me. There is no escape.

Who shall I consume next? Perhaps the little pink one. I’m sure she’ll be tasty.

“NO!” I scream.

 

***

 

I open my eyes with a sharp gasp. I’m looking right up at Persephone’s breasts, and the long wavy ends of her hair resting there. It’s a novel and lovely view, but I have no idea why I’m here. She’s looking down at me with concern. Why is my head in Persephone’s lap? 

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“I guess. Did I fall asleep? Last I remember--” Oh, yeah. “Right. Morpheus, of course.”

Persephone smiles and strokes my temples. “Epimelis called me, so I came up to check on you. You slept for hours.”

“What time is it?”

“Almost 7:00.”

“Crap!” I sit up quickly. “I’m so sorry! You must be starving.”

“Hecate sent me a snack after she checked on you. She said this could last for a while.” She slides over and hugs me.

I hug her back automatically. It’s still astonishing to me how much she wants to touch me. “I need to go home and feed the dogs.” I hesitate to say more. I’ve been cautious about inviting Persephone over to my house. I don’t want her to feel pressured.

“Can I come along?” she asks, before I can make up my mind what to say.

“Yes, of course.” I smile. I should know already that I can rely on her to make sensible suggestions. “Do you want to get pizza delivered?” I know she loves pizza.

“That sounds great.”

 

***

 

I keep almost cracking my jaw with uncontrollable yawns, so I ask Persephone to drive. She’s cheerfully willing to do so, and doesn’t even tease much. I place an order while we’re driving home. I’m aching with tension in my jaw and shoulders, holdover misery from my dream. There’s a slew of things I should tell Persephone about. I wonder how she’ll take this.

After we feed the dogs and ourselves, we move to the couch. Persephone snuggles in, her face sweetly tilted up for kisses. Any other time I’d be happy to oblige her, but right now I want to say some things before I lose my nerve.

I give her one brief kiss, as a promise. “Sweetness, there are… things I should tell you about. I mentioned--” I stop. I’m not sure how to go on.

Persephone knows how, though. She gets up from the couch and settles herself in my lap. She places her hands on the sides of my face and kisses me, quick and soft. “Those things you’ve needed two thousand years to work on?”

“Yeah. That. Ancient history.” I swallow. I pause for a long time, gathering my thoughts. Persephone waits, leaning her forehead on mine and stroking my hair. “How much do you know about the start of the Titanomachy? About my father’s reign?”

She draws a sharp breath. “I know what’s in the history books. But I’ve always thought that was rather sparse.”

“Demeter never talked about it?”

“No, not really. She said it wasn’t a thing anyone needed to dwell on.”

I breathe a bitter laugh. “That’s true. You know about Gaia’s prophecy?”

Persephone hesitates, studying my face “That one of Kronos’s sons would defeat him,” she says.

I nod. “He couldn’t have that, though. He knew how to be ruthless.” My voice keeps catching. I hate talking about this. “What do the books say he did?”

She’s reluctant. She keeps almost speaking, then biting her lip. Finally she says, “They say he imprisoned you. Poseidon too.” She knows, even if she doesn’t truly know--she can hear how false and flat that sounds.

“That’s true. But it’s also a lie,” I tell her. “You know how big the Titans are? You’ve seen Helios.”

She nods slowly.

“My mother tried to keep me away from Kronos. She persuaded him not to act, several times. I was six, and he wouldn’t be persuaded any more.”

I pause. Persephone’s eyes are very wide and filled with unshed tears. Her empathy pours out of her like a fountain.

“He swallowed me,” I say. Persephone’s tears spill over and flow unchecked down her cheeks. She makes no move to stop them. She doesn’t move at all.

“When Poseidon came along, he swallowed him, too. But my mother wasn’t having it a third time. When Zeus was born, she gave Kronos a stone to swallow, all wrapped up like a baby. She sent Zeus off to be raised in secret by nymphs.”

Persephone swallows hard, her tears still flowing. “How long?” she asks, her voice hoarse.

“Thirteen years,” I whisper.

After that it gets easier. I tell Persephone more details, I answer her questions. Mostly, I let her comfort me. I rest my head on her shoulder and close my eyes. She cradles my head with one hand and rubs my neck with the other. She kisses my forehead. Her capacity for compassion far exceeds my expectations. I keep waiting for her to lose patience with my moping and she doesn’t. She seems willing to sit here forever.

It’s quite a while before she speaks. “You must have felt completely helpless,” she says.

“Yes.” She’s put her finger right on it. That’s exactly how I felt, and how I still feel whenever I dream about it. How did she know? Oh. “Is that… how you felt?”

She looks at me, a mixture of pain and sympathy in her eyes. “Yeah, I did. Like I wasn’t in control of my mind or my body or anything.”

I nod, and hug her tightly.

She goes on. “I think it was worse for you, though. You were younger, and you should have been able to trust your father.”

“As long as I can remember, I knew I couldn’t trust him. My earliest memories are of hiding from him. My mother always warned me,” I tell her. I haven’t thought about those memories in centuries.

Persephone nods. “My mother, too, but it didn’t help.”

“She didn’t prepare you for the right danger,” I say. My anger towards Demeter is growing. She raised Persephone to be afraid instead of teaching her how to fight back. She should have known better.

“I guess not.” 

She strokes my hair and rubs behind my ears. I relax completely, what she’s doing is totally disarming and very pleasant. I sigh in contentment. I’ve been fighting back the yawns for some time now, but one sneaks up and attacks me, forcing me to gape and sigh for several long moments. “I’m sorry. I’m still pretty wiped out from Morpheus’s visit.”

“That’s all right.” Persephone kisses me gently. “I think I’ll head home now.”

“But I should give you a ride--” 

“No, you should get some sleep. I can fly home.”

“Have you flown much at night, alone?” I ask. 

Persephone is a little exasperated with me, but eventually she agrees to let me call a car service. I see her off, and go right to bed. For once, I sleep pretty well.

 

***

 

I’d far rather spend every moment I can with Persephone, but she has plans with her friends Saturday night. When Zeus pesters me again to go out with him and Poseidon, I reluctantly agree to meet them at one of his society clubs in Olympus. I’m relieved he’s in the mood for something more upscale than his usual sort of place.

It’s a relaxing venue for me, with marble floors, big stone fireplaces, leather armchairs, and snooty waiters. I know from past visits that they have wonderful scotch. I’m pretty sure that Persephone is only bothered by smoke in her actual presence, so I’m thinking of indulging in a cigar, as well.

This pleasant contemplation is destroyed when my formerly bickering brothers suddenly turn their full attention on me.

“So, Hades,” says Poseidon, faking casualness. “How’s it going in the Underworld? How’s Persephone?”

“She’s fine,” I tell him. I have no desire to get into details. Anything I share with them they’ll use to torment me.

“She certainly is,” says Zeus, smirking. I would very much like to punch him. “Too bad she’s also one of these uppity, complaining types of girl.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask, annoyed.

He waves a vague hand. “All these women carping online. I don’t know what’s gotten into people lately.”

I get it now. Naturally the “Fury Too” movement, kicked off by Persephone’s actions, would hit my brother where he lives. Sorya has already made some interesting proposals for managing that, and started implementing them. I smile a little to myself, wondering how that will affect Zeus.

Poseidon changes the subject. He describes his latest escapade in the Mortal Realm and gets Zeus laughing. I suppose I’m grateful to him. As the middle brother, it usually falls to him to be the peacemaker, and he generally does a good job with it.

After one scotch, I switch to mineral water. I have no desire to get drunk and start a fight with Zeus.

He notices, of course. “What’s this? One drink and you’re done? You losing your edge, man?”

I sigh. Of course he’s going to make every little thing into a confrontation. He’s obviously in one of his challenging moods and he’s not going to back down from anything. 

“I’m cutting back,” I tell him, trying to keep my tone even. “After the last time you two put me back together, you’re eager to do it again?”

He snorts. “You seem tense. What’s the matter, your new little toy doesn’t put out?”

The rage rises up fast, black and cold. I drop my glass and it shatters on the floor. My fingers curl into claws, and I can feel my teeth sharpening, my skin darkening. Zeus is sneering openly at me, faint traces of lightning skittering over his brows. I open my mouth to unleash a torrent of words on him. He’s finally pushed me too far!

“Hey, guys, whoa there, time out!” yells Poseidon, dramatically interposing himself between us. “What the hell? C’mon, man, let’s take a walk.” He pulls me up by the arm, and I go with him, spearing Zeus with a final glare.

Poseidon drags me all the way outside to the parking lot before he lets go. He’s looking a little wild-eyed. “Okay, okay,” I say. “I’m outside now. Crisis averted.”

I pull away, and straighten my jacket.

“I’ve never seen you two that close to losing it,” he observes.

“Yeah, well, Zeus has been in a shitty mood for weeks, and he’s taking it out on others rather than dealing with it like an adult.”

“Yeah,” says Poseidon. “But you’re a little touchy, yourself.”

I’m getting irritated again. “Oh, am I? You’re telling me I should just smile and take his crap, when he talks about Persephone like that?”

“Nah, I get it. That was too far.”

I snort. “You’re damned right it was.”

Poseidon shuffles uneasily from foot to foot. “Look, he’s just not used to you having other commitments in your life. He doesn’t like losing priority.”

“He resents my happiness, you mean. He’s always enjoyed lording it over me and my fucked-up life. Now I finally have something good and it pisses him off.” I’m not about to let Zeus off the hook here.

“You’re not wrong. I don’t think he really knows how to be happy.”

I shake my head. “That may well be true, but if it is, it’s his own fault. He’s had everything he needs to be happy, for millennia. If he’s fucked up his own life even with all that, that’s his problem.”

Poseidon sighs. Obviously he expected a different answer from me. “Can you come back inside and try not to let him get to you, maybe?”

“No, I’m gonna go. Feel free to go back in and try to comfort His Royal Shitness.” 

I stride over to the car, wishing I hadn’t let myself be talked into this tonight. I send a text to Persephone: I’m done with these idiots. Can I join you?

I receive her response before I even finish fastening my seatbelt: YES! [emoji]

 

***

 

The venue Persephone and her friends have chosen for tonight is a dramatic contrast with Zeus’s choice. It’s a small bar and grill, packed with people dressed casually, laughing and chatting in a friendly way. I’m overdressed so I take off my tie and stuff it in my jacket pocket. I unbutton my collar, take off the jacket, and roll up my sleeves. I’ve been looking around and still haven’t found Persephone. 

I finally spot them in a big cozy booth in the back corner. Persephone is sitting across from Eros and Psyche, and next to Artemis. They all have drinks and seem to be sharing a big platter of food in the center of the table. I walk over to join them.

“Hey--” I say.

“Hi!” Persephone hollers enthusiastically. She slides over and pats the bench next to her. Her movements are exaggerated and I guess that she’s had a couple of drinks. I sit down next to her and she slithers up against me, giving me a hug and a kiss. “I missed you!”

“I missed you, too.” I feel a little odd about being so demonstrative in public, but if Persephone doesn’t mind then I won’t either.

“You look sad, was it no fun?”

“It wasn’t, much, but I’m better now.”

Eros and Psyche are looking at us, plastered with almost identical conspiratorial smiles. Artemis is seated between the two couples, at the back of the booth in solitary splendor. She’s regarding me with cool suspicion. Persephone told me that she intends to try being nice to me. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

“Good evening, everyone,” I say mildly.

Eros laughs at this. “Good evening yourself, man. You look like you’ve been through the wringer. I hear Gramps is being mighty cranky lately.”

I grimace ruefully. “You could say that. He was in rare form tonight.”

The waitress comes over to inquire what I want, and I order a scotch. Given everyone else’s current state of cheerful tipsiness, I have some catching up to do.

Persephone has curled up against my side, completely claiming my right arm. I don’t mind. I squeeze her a little, and look around. The place they’ve chosen is busy and bright with lights and decor, and humming with conversations and music. Between the tables people are standing around using the setups for various games.

Persephone scoops a bunch of chips and their sauces onto her plate from the pile of nachos in the middle of the table She puts the plate in front of us and nudges it towards me, indicating that she means to share. I take some. It’s better than I expected it to be. I start to relax a little.

The others return to the conversation that my arrival interrupted. They’re discussing “Fury Too” and how it affects various people they know. Artemis in particular is very vocal about supporting the movement and the people who are speaking out, but Eros and Psyche contribute some brief stories too. I squeeze Persephone again. I’m very proud of her. Do I have any right to be proud of her? Well, I am.

“Oh, hey, Perse--it’s our turn!” Eros says excitedly. He seems to be looking at an electronic display board. 

“Okay!” Persephone pokes me and I slide out of the booth to let her out. She and Eros go over to a dartboard across the room and start a game. I sit back down with Psyche and Artemis. 

“How did the arts festival go for you?” I ask Psyche. “I mean, other than the end.” Maybe I shouldn’t have brought that up in front of Artemis.

“Oh, it was great,” she replies. “My work got a lot of attention and I have several new commissions. Did I tell you, I took your advice and did a portrait of Zeus and Hera? She likes it very much.”

I nod. “I’m not sure it was the greatest advice, really. They seem to be going through a really rough patch right now.”

Psyche spreads her hands. “Eros says that is pretty normal for them.”

“Yeah, it is, but this is a bit more than usual. Has Zeus relented at all on your immortality?”

Psyche shakes her head slowly. “No. Nothing yet.”

I sigh. “I would offer to speak to him on your behalf but he and I are not at all on the same page just now.”

Artemis has been listening to this conversation with attentive silence, but speaks now. “So you’re saying you’re not like your brothers after all?”

I’m a little startled, and little resentful. “Which one?” I ask. “They’re not very alike. I’d like to think that I’m way less of an asshole than Zeus, and a lot more diligent than Poseidon.”

Artemis doesn’t answer this, and I’m relieved. I’m rather pissed with her. She was supposed to be Persephone’s protector, and she completely failed at that task.

Psyche tactfully carries the conversation into more about art, and I help things along as best I can until Persephone returns. She snuggles up again, against my left side this time. Eros brings another round of drinks from the bar.

“Did you win?” I murmur to her. She grins widely. I guess she did.

“Hey, the dance machine is free now, are we still doing that?” Persephone enthuses. Artemis and Psyche agree, and go off with her. Eros and I occupy the booth with our drinks.

“So you said Gramps was in rare form. Is he still biting people’s heads off every chance he gets?” Eros asks.

“More or less. Psyche said he still hasn’t agreed?”

“Nope. He’s really drawing it out. To punish me, I guess.” He scowls. “And it doesn’t help that he and Gran are seriously on the outs.”

I sip my scotch. “Yeah, I got that impression from Hera. It seems a lot worse than usual.” Honestly, I’m sorry for Hera, but my brother is reaping what he’s sowed and I have no sympathy for him.

“Yeah. She’s even acting weirdly in her godhood role, you know?”

“How do you mean?” I ask. I haven’t noticed this but Eros would have more opportunities for observing Hera.

“Well, she really pushed my dad at Persephone. Oh, you didn’t know that?” He grins at my reaction. “I think Granny really wanted to get things resolved for Perse. So she chose someone of the right type and kept throwing him at her.”

“The right type?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Eros smirks. “Big and scary. Sound familiar?”

I narrow my eyes. “You didn’t mention this before.”

Eros scoffs. “Look man, she was pretty much immune to anyone else’s charm from the moment she met you. You’ve never had anything to worry about in that department.”

This is reassuring, but I realize with some surprise that I wasn’t very worried about it in the first place. I know how Persephone feels about me, and I have no concerns about her being interested in someone else. Besides, I’ve had time to think about it, and I think that her doing kickboxing and whatever with Ares is good for her. Anything that increases her self-confidence and ability to defend herself is fine by me.

I decide that Eros was probably deliberately needling me to see how I’d react. I should be used to this sort of treatment, with the way my family is. I change the subject.

“So, how do you get along with Psyche’s family?” I ask. Sure enough, Eros scowls. I hide a slight smile in my glass.

Persephone returns with the others. She’s glowing with exertion from their game, warm and a little sweaty. The group orders more food and drinks. I’m really relaxing and enjoying myself. It’s the company, apparently. Even Artemis isn’t putting a damper on my mood.

After a while, Eros, Psyche and Artemis go off to do another game. Persephone turns to me with a big smile. “At last, we’re alone,” she says.

I smile back. “Mmm, for some value of alone , anyway.”

She glances around the crowded restaurant. “Nope. Don’t care.” She pushes me into the shadows at the back of the booth, sliding into my arms and locking her mouth on mine. I return her kisses with interest.