Talk, talk talk. That's all it was with his brothers: a constant pissing contest. Everything was measured; weighted just so as to evoke ire in another brother. You would think, Hades contemplated, that after hundreds of years of this, it would get old. And yet. The older they seemed to grow, the more Zeus particularly seemed to enjoy flexing his metaphorical muscles.
What was it this time? Yet another illicit conquest? A joke about a golden shower, it seemed, and he gritted his teeth as he endured a comradely clap on the back from his youngest brother. He grimaced, hoping it would be mistaken for a smile. He rolled his eyes, swirled his cognac. Just another hour or so and he could say his goodbyes and slink back home to the cool, blessed dark of the Underworld. Away from various deities, major and minor, swanning around, using this annual party to show off something or other new and exciting. A new lover. A new tattoo. For some, it was their premiere into 'society.' Hades sniffed at the very premise. Society. Culture. There was more culture in yoghurt than in the various ingrates swarming the free bar.
He reflected that his dour mood may be darkening his evaluation of the scenario at hand. It was only a party, after all. While they may not be designed with his comfort in mind, that didn't mean that they weren't important to the myriad entities socialising, networking and laughing gaily under the low, undulating lights of the bar. It was an opportunity to be seen by many, the newcomers thrilling to hear their names announced by the herald on their way in, and delighting to rub shoulders with the elite, for just one night. Silly, perhaps. Inconsequential, to his mind. And yet, there was no need to tar all with the same brush.
"Oh, man. Look who's making her debut." Zeus elbowed Hades and smirked disparagingly at the newest entrants to the party. "Demeter's brat." He turned, leaning against the glass balustrade of the VIP area and surveying the entrance across the club.
He knew her name: who didn't? She was a young, wilful thing - nineteen years old, beautiful and terrible. The various gossip rags had made their fortune in documenting the histrionics of Kore, Goddess of Spring. This year alone, she had thrown a milkshake over Apollo, had three photographers fired from their respective papers, and been ejected from the Goddesses of Eternal Maidenhood in a blaze of self-righteous glory. The latter was reported on in the press as a teenage temper tantrum, but Hades? Well, he knew Hestia. He didn’t blame young Kore for cutting and running as soon as she could.
Truthfully, he reflected, he didn’t blame her for any of those things. He quite enjoyed reading about her in the tabloids when she’d done something to evoke the ire of the establishment. Her youthful, furious vivacity and utter disregard for what people would say landed her in hot water regularly, but Gaia, if she didn’t make an impressive mark on Olympus.
The other things, like spending hideous sums of money in shopping sprees and garnering a record number of followers on Nymstagram in a month, he was less impressed by. She embraced the spoilt brat stereotype with open arms, referring to herself as an heiress in this interview, a princess in that exclusive. The old guard, in attempting to rectify the mistakes of their parents, had a lot to answer for in the way they had raised their young.
Tonight, she wore her hair shaved close to her head on one side, reflecting (if not spearheading, if her follower count was to be believed) current youth fashion. The delicate little shell of her ear was punctured through again and again, adorned with hoops and studs and glistening trinkets. Charming in its way, he supposed. And there truly was no denying her beauty. Pretty, pouting lips, dark eyes fanned with long, fluttering lashes. Curvaceous, graceful, slight in stature. Impossibly tiny feet in impossibly high heels. He cleared his throat and looked guiltily towards his brothers, knowing what it would mean were he caught staring. They were engrossed in conversation. He returned to his prior observations, resting his folded arms on the handrail.
Kore cocked her head daintily, smiling sweetly to hear her own name announced by the herald, among others of her cohort. Artemis: the austere huntress who remained close to her little friend at all times, even after Kore’s supposed hysteria fuelled expulsion from the Goddesses of Eternal Maidenhood. Antheia: a friend of convenience, it seemed, garden Goddess and thoroughly impressed by Kore's chaos and impulsivity. Iris, Maia, Pheme, Kotis, Astraea - Hades dispassionately watched the bright young things wending their way towards the bar at the foot of the stairs. Most of them were known to him, some as of yet a mystery. He smiled wryly. Despite their efforts to avoid him and his realm, all come to know the end, eventually.
He was yanked from his introspection by Poseidon's fury over a guest. A mortal guest, no less, and as Zeus bellowed his uproarious laughter and Poseidon made vulgar gestures down from the mezzanine at the thing below, it scurried through the crowd, backing into the outstretched hand of Kore.
Not just into her hand, but into the precariously held drink , sloshing the entire thing down her front.
The simmering chatter across the room turned to ice as she shrieked her dismay. "Are you for real? Augh!" she slammed her purse down on a nearby table, before blotting ineffectually at her saturated dress with a cloth procured by one of her entourage in moments.
As if the fates were conspiring to play a cruel joke on him, this beautiful creature stood - wrathful, terrible - clenching both fists, eyes incarnadine. The gauzy material of her gown clung to her curves, hugging rounded hips and glistening as it bunched at her nipped waist. Hades loathed himself, as his eyes, disobedient and hedonistic, tracked a single droplet of liquid that trickled between her breasts and down beneath the semi-sheer bodice. Breathe, old man, he thought to himself. An unbidden thought struck him, of chasing that droplet with his tongue, and he bit the inside of his cheek in silent atonement.
"My lady, I can only apologise -" the mortal began, dropping to his knees before her, trembling.
"Haven't you made enough immortals angry at you for one lifetime, Odysseus? Jeez! I'm drenched!" Red thorns made an appearance from underneath her hair. Her entourage took a step back.
Hades raised an eyebrow. Yes, she was furious, but she knew his name. What call would a minor goddess of seasons have to know the names of mortals? Hades had no idea who the creature was, and here she stood, talking to him as if he were a peer.
The newly named Odysseus cringed, reaching out to pick up the shattered glass with trembling hands. She huffed crossly, her intense, dreadful aspect dissolving as quickly as it had arrived. She kneeled beside him and swatted his hands away. "Oh, don't be so foolish, you'll cut yourself. Go on, shoo." He beat a hasty retreat, throwing a thumbs up in recognition of her "It was a Sex on the Beach, by the way!"
The party resumed, unfazed by the brief intermission. But still, Hades was glued to the young goddess before him, picking up shards of glass. Piling the biggest fragments into one carefully cupped palm, she stood and looked around - a deer in headlights for a moment, all heads faced away from her and she looked out across the room of strangers, entirely alone. His insides clenched with empathy as he glanced around himself; seemingly infinite backs turned to him. Only Hades still watched Kore, and the unsure look took on the quality of a prey animal, coming to the realisation that it is not alone within the deep, dark woods.
Hades raised his glass to her, commiserating. He hoped she caught his meaning - not predatory, simply the only two individuals not embroiled in conversation with others. A strange melancholy twisted her features. She gave him a confusing look: too exposed, too vulnerable. She wrung her hands in front of her chest, attempting vainly to hide her stained dress. Little flowers bloomed in her hair. It lasted for a whisper of a moment, before a girl touched her elbow and the gossamer connection between the two of them evaporated.
She smiled too widely. Kore became herself again, crowd pleaser; tabloid princess, catching his eye one more time and sending him a sultry, blistering glance; more for the benefit of her company than for his. They chittered, outraged at her impropriety and impressed by her gall, guiding her into the crowd and disappearing her from view. The last he saw of her was a forgiving kiss bestowed upon Odysseus, as he replaced her drink. The mortal turned crimson and scuttled away, and when he turned to look for Kore again, the crowd had swallowed her up. A pity.
He found his dour mood returned upon him, announcing itself like an unwanted, yet expected guest. He grappled with his feelings. Irritation at her fickle nature, or simply her brash, cocky youth? Frustration at his own loneliness, and shame at still being stood up, at his age? It made no odds. He drained his drink and dove into conversation with little-felt fervour, making a distant effort to entertain his brothers with some off-colour comments.
That instant of melancholy stayed with him, however, as he swung himself into his car. He probed his own mind, sifting through his neuroses, trying to garner some clue as to why one single look from a pretty young thing had staggered him so strangely.
His mind was not the place that had needed immediate closer inspection, he realised with mounting horror as he drove home. A slow, sleepy breath oozed over his shoulder from the back seat, followed by a whimper. He steeled himself, adjusting the rear view mirror to peek into the rear of his car, and his mouth went dry in panic. Her hair was long and pooled beneath her, errant strands sticking to her face. She curled in on herself, her arms crowded tight against her chest, her knees tucked up to her chin.
"Kore?" Hades gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands. This was outrageous. This was a vile trick played on the both of them by someone who would pay dearly. Breathe.
She garbled something incoherent from the back seat and moaned.
"I'll take you home," he said aloud, deciding more for himself than telling her his intentions.
"No!" she sat up blearily, clapping his shoulder with one ungainly hand. "Mama, she… No, I can't go home." Her words slurred. She wobbled as he turned a corner.
"Your mama will want you home, safe."
"No," came the fervent response. "Please."
He hissed between his teeth, irritated. He caught sight of her eyes, deerlike and imploring. She rested her chin on his shoulder.
"Then which friend's house can I take you to, sweet one, if you won't go home?"
"I won't go home? You won't go home," she teased, pressing her cheek against him. She was back. The moment of tender vulnerability evaporated, and the tabloid princess chuckled alluringly into his neck. Prickling under her touch, he leaned away from her, pressing his lips into a disapproving line.
"I can't go home, little goddess, because I have to take you home, first."
"So go home. Take me home," she hummed, her eyes fluttering closed. He swallowed thickly. Breathe, he reminded himself, before she fell clumsily forward: he braked sharply for the traffic signal he hadn't even seen turn red, and his heart jumped into his throat.
Hades turned and helped her lie down in the back seat, carefully bundling her up underneath his jacket. She scowled, nestling in underneath it, breathing a small sigh of… Something.
He reasoned that it made sense. Her friends were all still at the party. She was an adult who didn't need returning to her mother's doorstep, like some child drunk beyond all measure, on the night of her debut. She needed to be permitted to make her own mistakes, and by all accounts, it was clear that Demeter hadn't been able to let Kore learn the consequences of her own actions.
Kore grumbled drowsily. He cast a guilty glance at her. She was frowning in her sleep, her brow knitted together. Her little hands fisted the fabric of his jacket in her sleep. Her pretty, pouting lips were pinched into a little moue of desperate unhappiness, the melancholy he had spotted in her earlier that night rising to the fore. A mirror image of that melancholy, it seemed, that twisted within his own chest. Consequences be damned, he thought, pulling up outside his front door. We were pretty much here anyway.