He’s here. After all this time, after all this anticipation, waiting for Zagreus to find a way to undo Orpheus’s stupid contract, cooking a thousand stews and soups to try and rush the Prince along to victory, and the House of Hades’s bureaucratic circle to run a little faster, after almost a thousand repetitions of Good Riddance, trying new cadences and lilts and flourishes—he’s here.
When she’d first died, she’d imagined her reunion with Orpheus to be inevitable. She’d thought she would simply have to wait a little while, sit among the ruins of the old buildings of Asphodel until he finally passed away, from some stupid heroic injury. She’d briefly worried that his heroic exploits might land him in Elysium, but she’d had faith that he would turn down that glory and come join her in Asphodel.
And then he’d tried that stupid stunt of his, to try and trick Lord Hades, to try and grasp at a few more mortal years. And he’d had the audacity to fail, right at the entrance to the Temple of Styx. And Eurydice had been furious. She’d imagined their next reunion to be an angrier affair, the sort of thing where she’d lead around Orpheus for a while, make him grovel, make him woo her into peace, make him work for her forgiveness, and finally they’d have their joy after that.
And that had never happened either. Lord Hades crueler than she’d expected.
If it hadn’t been for Zagreus and his need to meddle in everybody’s affairs—she wouldn’t have seen him again. She’d given up hope of it. She was a practical sort, somebody capable enough of continuing onwards, even if she would have preferred her life to be different. She’d found joy in small things, little things. She’d done so for several years and would continue to do so.
And as she looks in the face of Orpheus, who looks nigh unrecognizable, she realizes that Orpheus had never been the type to be practical. She’d known this, fallen for his deft romanticism, his flights of fancy, and yet she’d forgotten (perhaps shoved that painful thought away) that he was not the type who could just move on from something. He’s pined for her this whole time, and at the sight of his pale, haggard face, and his bone-white knuckles clutching the edges of his lyre like it is his only grasp on reality, her anger subsides.
How long can she hold this grudge anyway?
“Orpheus.” she says, and holds one arm out for him, giving him permission, giving him her summons. He tumbles forward, one, two, trip-step straight into her body, and gods, he’s thin. And she loves him, she has loved him and the feel of his skin against hers, ephemeral as it is, is like touching the sun.
He grips her tightly, lyre tossed aside for better grasp of her shoulders, and she leans forward too, buries her face in his mane of unkempt, matted hair. “Oh Orpheus, what did you do?” she murmurs, into his skin.
“I am so sorry, Eurydice.” his quavering voice says, muffled into her oaken shoulder. “I—I’m so sorry.”
“Hush now, love.” she says, shaking her head. “You do owe me an apology. But later, not now.”
His body shakes against her, as if he’s weeping, and Eurydice realizes that her vision too is blurring. She’s crying too, and there’s no shame in it—because it’s Orpheus. Her Orpheus. Finally here.
Somehow, they find themselves curled up on her bed, Eurydice slowly untangling his mane, as he covetously stares at her, as if he can’t believe it. “Zagreus had said he’d found you. He’d promised to help me—and he’s done so many great things, you know? And yet, somehow, I doubted him. I shouldn’t have.” he says, his voice trembling still, with some emotion he had not yet excised through song.
“He’s a strange sort, isn’t he?” Eurydice agrees, and Orpheus suppresses a wince as she finds a particular gnarled knot and tugs down. “I admit I didn’t think he was much when I first met him, but he’s grown a lot.”
“He’s a good friend.” Orpheus agrees, and as she tugs down near the end of his mane, his hand comes out, to intertwine their fingers together. A familiar comfort, she’d always loved to catch his hands like this, a teasing thing to stop him from running off to do something else.
He’d had this frenetic energy on the surface, a whirling thunderstorm that Eurydice had enjoyed taming, had enjoyed watching. He’s still jittery now, but it’s subdued, nervous, anxious, all angsty and moody. She’s not sure how she feels about this change. Who is this man, who lies before her, who speaks with her lover’s voice, but none of his verve and vigour?
“I—I love you, Eurydice. I’m—” His face crumples again, the tears returning, as if they had never left.
“Sshh, it’s alright. I love you too, idiot.” she whispers, softly. Her fingers brush up against his cheeks, pallid to the touch, and yet they warm under her skin. As if she’s slowly coaxing something back. Well. She’s always loved a project. She’s got the patience of a dryad, and she’s willing to wait to watch something flourish again, no matter how long it takes to fruit.
“I wanted to ask—” But whatever Orpheus wanted to say, it’s obscured by a slight, but insistent ringing noise, like a bell chiming. He starts upwards, a miserable expression suddenly etching itself over his marble features. “I—oh. That’s the summons back. It means my break’s over. I’m wanted back in the House.”
Eurydice’s heart sinks. Oh. Right. A temporary reprieve. That’s all this is.
“But I—I’ll be back. I’ll be back every single time I get a break. A thousand times over, a million—an eternity’s worth of returns.” Orpheus promises, a sudden vigour seizing him, as he straightens up. “This much I promise you, Eurydice. I will return.”
“Until the next reunion, Orpheus.” she says, softly, and blows him a kiss. As he fades away, summoned back to the House, she thinks she spies a hint of a flush rising to his cheeks. From just a kiss? Definitely a project.
The next time he returns, she’s in the middle of her song. Trying to smoothen out the kinks of Good Riddance. Ever since Zagreus had told her Orpheus played it around the House of Hades on request, she’d been worrying over it. Small details, like perhaps she needed to enunciate more on GooD riddance? Or maybe Eurydice needed to pitch the waver in At~las down a tad? It was a hit, she’d known that from the moment she’d spun out those lyrics, but perhaps there’s a way to give it a new tone, a new voice....?
Like cooking, singing is all about the tiny flourishes, the tiniest details that can change everything. It’s what makes music so dynamic, a thing of beauty, a thing of deep practice and skill, a thing she had spent a lifetime—and a deathtime mastering.
He catches her like that, Orpheus, teleporting in a blaze of fire to the edge of her bed. His entire frame seems to come alight as he catches sound of her voice, her mouth falling open with a shock. Still, music is in Orpheus’s blood. It takes him only a few seconds to join in, underlying her initial melody with a low-almost mournful minor harmony. His lute strums down a low, slow instrumental, a quick study instantly. She understands now, what Zagreus had said, about it sounding sadder than her version, he’s pitched it down, taken her defiant song and made it sound almost inevitable. A mournful inevitability, not a defiant cry. How strange.
But together, their voices—oh, but she’d missed this. Even if he’s not filling the role he had before, this! This perfection of melodies, how she had missed this, where it felt like they were dancing through the music itself. Eurydice feels the smile spread across her face as she soars over the refrain, and he swoops underneath, like swallows in the sky. She steps closer to him, and he tilts his head up towards her, voice wavering musically.
She curves over the final consonant and feels the breath leave her all at once. “I missed doing that.” Eurydice admits.
“You sound as beautiful as ever,” Orpheus says, softly, as if he can’t quite believe his eyes. Eurydice doesn’t like that look in his eyes, that awful, haunted look, and so she tries to pull him elsewhere, where he might be more playful, pliable, where she might see something recognizable there.
“You changed my song!” she points out, accusatorily.
“It was very you.” Orpheus says, with a crooked smile, “But not the sort of song I found suited the Halls of the court. Sorry—I, do you like it?”
“Mmm, alone I think, it would sound quite mournful.” Eurydice says, a little critically. “But it’s a beautiful harmony.”
“We were always better as a duo.” Orpheus says, and there’s such a certainty to his words. It warms her heart. She’d known—she’d known he hadn’t forgotten her! That he hadn’t wanted to leave her behind, but his admittance warms her more than she’d expected.
“Yeah. I missed this.” Eurydice admits, sweetly. “You want to go again? I think it’s missing something. I want to figure out where.”
Orpheus nods, enthusiastically, and they launch back into it, once more onto the breach, once more upon the ocean of music. Once, he’d been the one steering, pulling them out into the depths of the unknown, but now he’s the anchor, the rudder, he’s a strong backing. It’s strange, to be at the lead with Orpheus, but Eurydice’s never been one to be thrown off by change, and she strides forward. It’s nice, somewhat. She’d always been the harmony to Orpheus’s melodies in life. To find something new in death—she hadn’t thought it’d be possible. And yet she’s consistently surprised.
She stops, at the end of the chorus and frowns. “Something’s off—I can’t tell what.”
Orpheus looks dismayed. “I think it sounds perfect.”
“It’s close to it, but something’s not quite right.” Eurydice replies uneasily, mind lingering on the swoop of the chorus. Maybe higher? Maybe she had to go more staccato?
She can see Orpheus doesn’t like hearing that, his shoulders tense, his toes curl inward. Eurydice feels a frown pull over her face. Orpheus had never liked being told he wasn’t perfect—he was all about perfection on the first attempt—but this is a different reaction to his usual frustration. He’s pulling inwards now; instead of his usual pouty tempers, he says nothing at all. It’s strange.
“It’s—we’ll figure it out.” Eurydice says, sidestepping it. “Come on. Let’s try something else. What sort of music are you supposed to play around the House? Mournful tunes, obviously, but.”
A smile touches the edges of his lips. “Slow songs. Stately. You remember when we had to perform at King Cycnus’s court? That sort of feel.”
“So you mean to say—boring songs?” Eurydice says, slyly, and Orpheus full-on smiles now, spreading across his face covertly.
“Well, yes.” he says, smile leaking into his voice, “But young Zagreus has been requesting very different songs lately. The House is livening up around him.”
Eurydice smiles back, easily and lets her concerns about Good Riddance leave her mind. A problem for another time. Orpheus is here now. “Sing me one of these lively songs, then,” she says, propping herself back up against her bed.
Orpheus obliges, because he can never deny her a direct request. And this—his sweet voice curling over the edges of the song, his foot tapping against the floor as he strums his lyre, the slight sway of his shoulders as he throws himself into the song wholeheartedly, as he always does—Eurydice is filled with warm contentment. This was it. This was one of the things she’d missed most, hearing this. She could listen to Orpheus forever. And now she will.
He comes to her another time, when she’s in the middle of cooking. She’s actually expecting Zagreus instead, since it had been a while since Zagreus had come by, but getting Orpheus instead is hardly a bad surprise.
“Try this.” she says, the moment Orpheus looks a little less dazed from the effect of the teleportation.
“What is it?” Orpheus asks, but nevertheless immediately opens his mouth to take a sip, without hesitation.
“It’s a nectar brew. Something sweet, to help heal you. It’s for Zagreus, should he come by.” Eurydice explains, “I added a bit more nectar than usual, do you think I need to balance it out?”
Orpheus licks his lips and pauses for a moment, savouring the taste. “I don’t know exactly what it’s supposed to taste like, but to me, it seems quite good.” he says, gently.
Eurydice takes a spoonful of her own, and frowns. It’s a tad too sweet for her taste. But then again, she never ate much food when she was alive. “It’s not too sweet?” she asks.
“No, not to me.” Orpheus says, leaning over the steaming cauldron to smell it better. His eyes flutter shut, as he feels the steam over his face, “But I was rarely ever picky about food.”
“Zagreus doesn’t strike me as the picky sort either.” Eurydice says, inclining her head to the side. “You seen him eat much, love?”
Orpheus hums, thoughtfully. “From what I have observed, the gods do not have to eat to live, and so they rarely do. Nectar, ambrosia, other such foods are for pleasure alone. Still, Zagreus seems to be in the habit of...fishing. So, I believe he enjoys food and eats food more than the other gods around the House.”
“Not like we need to eat anymore either.” Eurydice says, stirring the nectar absently. “It’s more like...treading old shores. Doing something because you did it in life.”
“You never cooked much. On the surface.” Orpheus notes, softly, eyes half-lidded as they crowd over the stew.
“It’s not like I needed to eat! I was sustained by the sunlight for the most part. I needed only bread and wine, occasionally.” Eurydice says, “And then we kept getting fed at all those festivals we performed at. So many feasts in your honour, or in some hero’s honour that we got to attend as musicians. When did I need to cook?”
Orpheus hums in agreement. “So why do it now?”
It’s a good question, and truly, not something that Eurydice has especially dwelt over. When she feels the urge to do something, she does it. She’s not the type to agonize, when she could be moving instead. “I think it was because...I had come to associate food with happiness. I didn’t need to eat for sustenance, so it was always at a joyous time. You and me, eating together.” Eurydice looks down. Even though it shouldn’t feel difficult to say that, it does.
So many sunlit mornings they’d eaten bread together, so many feasts where Orpheus would spear a portion of something delicious on her plate, insisting she try it, so many tipsy nights where they’d shared wine together under the stars, giggling about something or another, so many lazy afternoons writing lyrics and muddling out stanzas while feeding each other fruits and nuts. Food was a particularly human joy. Music was something she had shared with all of her semi-divine brethren, all dryads had some music in their roots. But food was something that had been her ties to humanity. Her ties to Orpheus.
“I wanted that make that joy. Bring it into this harsh world here, share it with my fellow shades. Besides, cooking’s hard! It gave me something to do. Something to perfect.” Eurydice says, with a laugh.
Orpheus looks at her, that soft, painful, longing expression in his eyes, as if she is a million miles away, despite them being only a few centimetres apart. “Eurydice...” he says, softly.
“Don’t give me that look. Come, let’s drink some nectar together.” she says, gently, and spoons a bowl of nectar stew up for him. He takes the spoon without protest, drinks easily. Imperceptible lines on his face smoothen out, whatever torment that Orpheus still holds within his body seems to fade out from him as he drinks, and Eurydice thinks she rather likes the languid man that is left in its wake. His lips, painted black, twitch upwards.
“Doesn’t the cook deserve her fair share of the spoils?” asks Orpheus, inclining the bowl in her direction.
Eurydice ducks her head down, lets him feed her, and for a moment, they’re not dead, this is simply another day while they were alive, simply one more life together, one more day in the sunlight. The warmth of the broth on her face and the heat of Asphodel is simply the heat of a good summer’s day. “Too much sugar,” she concludes, critically, but she can’t help but grin at Orpheus, “Good thing I always had a sweet tooth, huh?”
Orpheus reaches out finally, remembering that he can touch her, and that he doesn’t have to hold back. He brushes one of the little sapling branches away from her ear, and smiles. “Not that you needed one. You were always the sweetest person in the world.”
“Flatterer.” Eurydice teases, and leans in to kiss him. For all that the greasy black paint on his lips is new, the sweetness of his lips is familiar, and the hesitant touch to her waist as they entwine with each other is as sweet as the juiciest peach.
On another of his breaks, Eurydice is feeling especially lazy, and so they simply lie in her bed together, curled up around each other. Orpheus is humming something vaguely familiar, something Eurydice could mimic if she mustered the effort to, but instead, she’s a little more occupied with running her hands over his body, remapping him. He’d been so much—firmer when they were alive, she supposes. A golden hero, fresh off the Argonauts journey and the fame it had brought him. He’d never exactly been muscular, too dedicated to this art to spend much time honing his body, but he’d never really been this gaunt either.
It’s strange to wrap her arms around him and feel his ribcage so prominently.
She supposes it suits the look he’s cultivated though, an almost calculated picture of depression, all blacks and greens and purples. Black lips and dark eyeshadow and little triangles under his eyes to cover up his eyebags, and loose robes. And that strange, hedgehog hair! She’s grown fond of it, of course, but it still feels bizarre against her bark.
“Why pick this look for eternity, huh? Didn’t you get a choice, when they were signing you in? Of what you could look like?” asks Eurydice, lightly, “Not that I mind, it’s just—a new look for you.”
Orpheus laughs, dryly, “I paid little heed as to what my appearance was to be when I arrived. All I could think of was the deal I had made with Lord Hades. The eternity of misery I had signed myself away to. This was simply what I looked like when the Maenads killed me.”
“You even painted your nails black?” Eurydice asks, skeptical. “You really committed to this look, huh, love?”
Orpheus laughs, a high, melodious sound, for all that it is bitter and odd. “No. That part is a—Dusa insisted. She said that if I was going to mope, she would make it a presentable moping. I was in his Majesty’s court, after all. She’s responsible for the nails. And the makeup. I admit to the hair, though.”
“Ha!” Eurydice scoffs, lightly, as she uses her other hand, the one curled around Orpheus’s shoulder to more lazily tug through his hair, “The Court? You never cared much for presentation in any courts. You remember when you went back to Jason’s court at Corinth, after that one Heraria? With that peplos we borrowed from that Athenian prostitute?
“I thought it was a nice outfit.” Orpheus says, a smile curling at the edge of his blackened, chapped lips.
“You knew it would cause palpitations in the crowd.” Eurydice teases, “And you did it anyway for the performance. Stalwart to the arts. It did look great, though. Your legs were always a sight.”
“I was stubborn.” Orpheus admits, “Jason said it wasn’t appropriate when I was fielding the idea past him, and I did it anyway. And look where that got me.”
Eurydice feels the frown come over her face at this self-deprecating jab at himself. He’s clearly not talking about the aftermath of that Heraria, because Medea had laughed so hard at Orpheus’s performance in private, that Jason had forgotten all anger. All had ended well, and they’d stayed at Corinth for a few months longer. No. Orpheus is talking about his fatal flaw now, clearly. “I rather think that it was a lack of faith that did you in. Not your stubbornness.”
Orpheus lifts his brow, and there’s a weary expression to his gaze. “I—you do not think it was stubbornness that led to my insistence that I could save you from the Underworld?”
“Arrogance, maybe. Lack of trust in me to execute the plan once I’d heard it—certainly.” Eurydice says, firmly, “But not stubbornness, no.”
Orpheus turns in her grasp, until they now look each other firmly in the eye, and she can tell just from the set of his jaw that he doesn’t believe her. She elaborates further. “You always had a certain mentality about things. Perfectionist about your craft, of course. And you were so proud! Never arrogant, of course, you knew better! We knew what happened to Arachne. But you held such pride in you, about your accomplishments, about your talents. And you were never one to accept evil, never let anything lie if it offended you. But I saw that as righteousness, not stubbornness. Even if you didn’t like my advice, you always yielded to me. A stubborn man would not have done that.”
“Who wouldn’t have yielded to you?” Orpheus murmurs, and his eyes soften, all molten brown. “How could anybody do anything but follow in your wake?”
Eurydice sighs, and runs her hands over his cheeks, the dip therein, along his sharp jawline. His eyes flutter shut, and she can see how the eyeliner is so caked into his skin, it feels like it has absorbed itself straight into his very essence.
“Silly. I was the one who grew in the direction of your sunlight.” she says, softly. “And I was so happy when you came closer to me in return.”
Orpheus shakes his head. “I am nothing without you.” he says, so utterly certain of that statement-and Eurydice almost hates him for it. How dare he! How dare he idolize her, force her up unto a pedestal like this? Hadn’t it always been them together? A happy duo, wild and carefree? Why can’t they go back to that?
But the moment the anger rises, it crests over the peak. They’ve changed. Something is always going to be different. They grew apart a little, in their time apart. Found new dimensions to themselves. There is no returning to those halcyon days. All she can do now is remind him that it was them together, not one of them leading and the other following.
“You are. You were.” Eurydice says, sharply, “The Orpheus I knew had history. He was eighteen, and he’d done so much already. He’d grown up on Mount Parnassus, cared for by Calliope and her Muses, trained in all the arts. At the young age of fifteen, he’d instantly volunteered to join the Argonauts, and had defeated the Sirens at their own game. He’d saved Jason time and time again by lifting incantations upon them, and he brought joy to the souls of the weary Argonauts, no matter how long their voyage was. He was winner of the Artemis of Ephesus poetry contest, and he’d sung at the court of cold-hearted King Midas, and he’d even brought stone statues to life with the vigour of his music. Every Olympian favoured his song, and Dionysus himself taught him some magic!” Eurydice feels her grip on Orpheus’s shoulders tighten. “He was somebody. He meant something—not just to me, but the world! I loved that man.”
Orpheus’s eyes well up with tears. “I—”
“I still love that man.” Eurydice says, firmly, smoothing down the tufts of hair around his eyes. “Even when he’s moping around. Even when he’s forgotten his own damn worth. Because he makes me happy, still.”
Orpheus buries his face in her shoulder, and she tugs him tight, until they are pressed together, bone against bark, leaf against skin. “I don’t deserve this.”
“You do. You might have failed once—but Orphy! You’re not defined by that failure. You lived an incredible, happy life, filled with successes. You can’t let yourself be defined by failure—especially not now. Not now that the punishment is over.” Eurydice implores him, reaching for his hand, that pale, long-fingered, skillful hand. She cups it over her cheek and leans into his touch. “I won’t let you.”
She hopes desperately, as she clutches him closer, that he’ll believe it.
They speak of it further, in later reunions. The wound of his failure weighs on Orpheus so much. Eurydice thinks that, even more than their separation, his failure to save her had been the source of his grief. Stupid, prideful man!
“I had a dream on the surface when I was grieving. Of your face in the burning depths. It looked so pained, so tortured, amidst the flames. That’s why I came for you—I truly thought you were suffering. I thought I might save you.” Orpheus admits, absently tapping his fingers against the warm stone of Eurydice’s little island. “I think perhaps, that my own unconscious conjured that image, seeing you now. Asphodel may look hellish, but you’re joyous yet. Somehow, that dream felt as real as a vision from Lord Apollo himself.” he admits, as they sit and watch the Phlegethon bubble past them.
“..I never wanted that from you. That sort of devotion. I wanted you to live for me.” Eurydice says, unhappily, “We were so young. You were only thirty! I’d scarcely reached maturity, for a dryad. I hoped that you would come and meet me, yes. But after you’d lived a long life, a fulfilling life.”
“How could I move on from you?!” Orpheus demands, angrily, “You were the most perfect woman in the world! I had all these dreams...of growing old together, by the forest. Of teaching our children how to sing. Of creating a joint masterpiece, so beautiful that even the gods would shed tears...”
“So did I, love. But life happens. Death happens.” Eurydice says, with a sigh, “Didn’t your godly mother Calliope love many? Your mortal father wasn’t her only love, but does that really diminish what they had? She was just able to move on. I hoped you would. Why would you think I’d want anything but your happiness?”
Orpheus sighs, a morose thing that sounds musical, even in his grief. “It’s just—I never expected it to happen that way. You were so much older than me, and I expected I would die far before you did. I didn’t think...”
“What’s the use of holding onto things that have already passed, Orphy? That’s what I keep trying to tell myself. Good riddance to it all! It happened! We both died.” Eurydice says, hotly. But maybe it doesn’t impact quite as soundly as she intends it to, because Orpheus turns to look at her, and his hand tentatively raises up to settle over hers.
“But?” he asks, tremulous.
He knows her too well. Because for all that Eurydice wants to excise her anger, for all that Eurydice wants to be free of it, to be calm and cool, and collected, that anger just keeps coming back. Over and over and over—and maybe she’s more bitter than she had hoped.
“...but I just keep thinking. It was the eve of our wedding day. The Fates couldn’t even let us have a wedding.” Eurydice whispers, softly. “How unfair is that?”
Orpheus’s eyes grow wet, and Eurydice finds herself welling up, too, a deep sadness from within. He squeezes her hand, tightly and they sit like that, together for a while.
“If I’d succeeded—we could have had that. A wedding. A future. I took that away from us.” Orpheus says, woodenly.
“No, Lord Hades took that from us. The world did. This whole system of death did.” Eurydice says, shaking her head, “Lay your guilty burden down, Orpheus. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m regretful—but there is no escape. Everything in nature dies when it’s time. From the youngest little lambs to the oldest great oaks. You were good—you were the best! But you couldn’t defeat the inevitability of death, and that’s alright.”
“You would have done it differently though. If I had died first.” Orpheus’s morose tone carries over the splattering bubbles of the simmering lava, bouncing off the slate-black walls.
“I wouldn’t have done it at all.” Eurydice admits. “But I was never as creative as you, love. It would never have crossed my mind to go on an insane voyage to challenge the Lord of Death himself! I was content with my lot. My forest. My life. You were the one that was always dreaming.”
“But if you’d thought of it—” Orpheus cuts himself off and looks away. Eurydice doesn’t know whether indulging this thought experiment will sink him lower or pull him higher. Eventually, she decides on the truth, on the thoughts she’d mulled over for the eternity without Orpheus.
“...the only heroes that escaped the Underworld did so by becoming enshrined in the stars and being taken to Olympus in service.” Eurydice says, reluctantly. “I would have gone skyward. I would have appealed to Lord Zeus—or Lady Hera perhaps. She always shined upon us. Perhaps even to Lord Apollo, god of theatre as he is. I would have tried to drag you and me into their service—but. Doubt it would have worked. Wasn’t it the sincerity of your grief that moved Their Highnesses? I’ve never been good at that. Honest sincerity.”
Orpheus’s lips twitch. “You managed it in song.”
Eurydice shakes her head. “Nah. I had a beautiful voice, of course, and I composed better songs than you, but I never was the best at capturing pure, sheer emotion. That was all you, love.”
Orpheus looks like he wants to argue with her, but he seems to think better of it when Eurydice gives him a slight glare. She knows her strengths and weaknesses, she doesn’t need Orpheus to tell her she’s perfect. “...I would never have thought of that.” Orpheus admits, softly.
“No. And I would have never thought of this, either.” Eurydice agrees, inclining her head to the lava molten around them, this island of peace amidst the hellish bracken, “But that’s always why I liked this. Us We’re different in complementary ways.”
“...would you want to come into Lord Hades’ service? You and I were always a good team.” Orpheus asks, gently. “Achilles and his love, Patroclus both work at the House now, thanks to Zagreus. You could have that too. Lady Persephone has returned, and with her, joy to the House once more.”
Eurydice shakes her head, instantly. She’s thought about it absently sometimes, when Zagreus talks about his friends at the House—but no. “I’m too used to freedom. You were the one who preferred to perform at courts and competitions. All that recognition!” She leans back, leans her head on his shoulder. “I prefer singing and cooking to be on my own terms. At my own time. This is enough for me.”
Orpheus nods, seemingly unbothered by this refusal. She wonders if the Orpheus she’d known would have let this issue go so easily. He would have demanded her come and join him, and perhaps she would have found joy in it, as she’d found joy in all their performances on Earth. But for the first time, she thinks that maybe she’s starting to come to like this changed Orpheus, who doesn’t push her boundaries as much as he’d used to. It’s not bad, just different.
Sometimes he finds her when she is in despair. This time, he finds her as she shakily attempts to brush back her branches. Her leaves have been shedding over the past few days, a scary thing, considering that she does not change. She should not change. Thus is the curse and gift of the afterlife: you are in stasis; bound to a form you’d chosen upon entering. She had chosen autumn, for autumn had always been her favourite season, the adornment of red-gold flames.
But her leaves are falling all around the bed—and she’s not supposed to be dying like this! She supposed to be already dead. And she hasn’t had to deal with this, the bare, barren branches drooping over her shoulders in so long, and she hates the way it looks. She’d not been ready for this, she hadn’t been hoarding gems and sea glass and seashells to adorn her like she usually did in the real world—and where do you find gemstones in the Underworld, anyway? Fighting the bloodless? No thanks!
He comes upon her, as she miserably tries to trim her back branches, and his fingers comes to her shoulders instantly. “Love...” he says, gently.
“I can’t reach the back.” Eurydice says, trying to keep herself together. What happens if she loses it? Orpheus is always about one second away from losing it, she can’t lose it too! She’s got to keep it together. She’s the one who’s all composed.
“I’ve got it.” he says, without a word, and gently extracts the clippers from betwixt her fingers. Instantly, his long, slender fingers twine through her branches, a gentle touch. Her shoulders sag, a tension almost unwittingly pulled from her shoulders at the cool yet firm touch. He’d never done this when they’d been alive, carefully worked at her branches like this.
“Orphy, you’ve got to—”
“You think I haven’t watched you do it enough to know?” Orpheus asks, quietly, “I know how to deal with your foliage.”
She wonders how many times he’s run over those mundane memories in his head. As much as she’d run over those golden morning-light scenes where he’d be awake, tightening his lute strings, or those absent nights where he’d find a drum and rap his perfect fingers over the tightened skin? Probably more.
“Just—be careful, huh?” Eurydice says, tersely and instantly regrets her tone. Luckily, Orpheus doesn’t seem to react to this, just carefully works through his hair, fingers gently brushing over her scalp, parting branches and trimming off excess outgrowth. Light crackles run down her spine, a pleasant tingling sensation from Orpheus’s gentle, cautious touch. It’s him. It’s just Orpheus and she loves him.
“Where are your ties, love?” he asks, voice barely above a murmur.
“By the pots, to the left.” Eurydice says, not opening her eyes, relishing in the feeling of just sitting on the edge of her bed, and the sound of Orpheus shuffling around her place. Their place, soon, once he starts bringing more of his own possessions here too, once he feels secure enough that she will forever be here, to do that.
He comes back, runs his hands over the branches and gathers them together into a tight brush of stems and twigs. “There.” he says, a pleased tone creeping into his tremulous voice.
“Thanks love...I just.” Eurydice cuts off and feels an uncomfortable twist in her stomach. She’d never especially considered herself to be especially vain, for in life, she’d rarely cared about what she wore as clothes or jewels. But her hair had always been special; she’d poured hours into maintaining the foliage, the colouring, the pattern. She’d always been ready for Winter in advance, to turn her branches into a different type of Art, but she had not spent eternity scrounging for gems as she had in life. It feels weird, for this difference to exist again. “I hate winter.” she mumurs, quietly, because saying any of that aloud feels like an unsurmountable obstacle.
Orpheus’s dark gaze is entirely sympathetic. “One of the only problems of having Queen Persephone returned to us. With her presence, the seasons pass once again. The Underworld is lifted, in some way, from its eternal stasis...she is a god of life.”
Is that why she’s changing? That explains a lot. From what she can tell, she’d scarcely been in the Underworld a few weeks before Orpheus had summoned her to Court, and not a few scant months later had the Queen escaped back to the surface. Her afterlife has been for the most part, and unchanging experience, and Eurydice has always sort of liked it that way. You know what to expect.
Everything about the past few weeks has been unpredictable. She closes her eyes and does not cry, because she so rarely has tears, but she lets herself fall backwards into Orpheus’s touch. He runs over her shoulders and kisses her sweetly, underneath her ear. “I don’t know what to do, Orphy.” she whispers, softly, “I didn’t save up for Winter. I didn’t expect this.”
She wonders whether he understands what she leaves unsaid? What has changed between them, does he sense it as she does? Does he realize that she wants to love him, as she does in Winter, but that she is not ready? She does not have the tools to help her cope.
He is quiet for a long moment, and she wonders whether she’s messed up. Whether she’s hurt him more than he’s already hurt himself? But then he reaches backwards, and plucks the gems straight off his toga decorations, letting his toga open up, exposing his arms. Tenderly, gently, as if he is touching the most delicate bud, he loops them through her branches, sliding them over her barren twigs.
“It’s not enough,” he says, quietly, “I’ll find more, I promise. But it’s a start, isn’t it?” His bright, pale eyes wobble, and he is soft and quiet and solace, and he is not the sun, he does not nourish, he is not the man she had fallen in love with all those years ago. But she thinks she loves him anyway, this tender husk that is slowly blossoming here, under candlelight, illuminated by lava. They’ve carved this out, and she is filled with a fondness.
“It’s a start.” she agrees, and tugs him back into her arms, burying her face into her neck. He smells like a spring day, a promise of something that will blossom for them soon, and she cannot wait. “Thank you, Orpheus.” she whispers, into his soft skin.
“For you, anything.” he promises.
It’s not always her and Orpheus alone. Sometimes, their mutual friend finds them, and they all rest together.
“I always wanted to ask,” Zagreus says, hunched over his bowl of pomegranate soup. “How did you two meet? Was it on some grand adventure somewhere? A meet-cute? Or was it a bit more mundane, a growing-up-together kind of story, like me, Than and Meg?”
Eurydice glances over to Orpheus, a silent question. He’s always enjoyed telling that story more, but she doesn’t mind cutting in. It had been a memorable time. He quirks his eyebrow, passes the baton to her.
Eurydice just smiles, but her heart twangs. Every time she thinks she’s getting used to their new normal, he surprises her.
“Well, you know, at first, I hated him!” Eurydice explains, a light grin coming across her face, “We met at the Argive Heraion, the big festival meant to honour Lady Hera? King Jason of Corinth started it, after the successful mission to retrieve the Golden Fleece, and that year was the first big shindig.”
“Jason asked me to compete.” Orpheus says, his voice reedy with nostalgia. “He said more people would come to Corinth to try and test themselves against me. And I was young—at that stage where I wanted to prove myself constantly, so I agreed.”
“I wasn’t supposed to be competing, actually.” Eurydice recalls, feeling a fond smile spread over her face as Zagreus props himself properly up against the wall, eyes shining with interest, “I usually hated leaving my forest, but one of my sisters who’d entered the contest had cheated on her human husband a couple of days before it was supposed to begin. And well, a cheater trying to compete for the Goddess of Marriage’s favour seemed like an extraordinarily bad idea, so I agreed to go in her place. I honestly just planned to sing one song without much gusto, and drop out, so I could go back home. But then...”
“Then I saw her.” Orpheus says, reverently, eyes shining, “We all had to sing a preliminary little ditty as we registered. I was three or four competitors behind Eurydice in line, and I thought she was quite pretty—and then she opened her mouth, and the most exquisite voice I’d ever heard came forth. If the Sirens had had voices like that, surely I would have crashed the Argonauts into the tides.”
Eurydice laughs, lightly. “I didn’t even notice him that first day. But the next day, when the audience started to gather, well. He made a little more of an impression then.”
Orpheus smiles, a slightly bemused little expression. “I’d had an entire repertoire of songs in praise of Hera and her aid in our quest prepared for the week of competition. But I threw all that out of the window, in favour of writing a song for Eurydice. Declaring my love for her. I didn’t sleep that whole night, trying to compose it.” He strums his lyre, and sings the opening riff, “It is not petals that fall from her hair, but euphoria itself that spreads across the land in spring. Her branches glow pink with spring, as my heart grows warm with love...”
Zagreus’s gaze has turned to her, looking vicariously gleeful. “And I’m supposing you didn’t find that especially charming, then?” he asks, mouth half-full.
She laughs again, shaking her head. “It’s sweet now, but honestly, I found it kinda humiliating at the time. I thought he was mocking me.” Eurydice laughs, “I’d just ended this awful relationship with one of Pan’s satyrs, and I was determined to be single forever. And here this young golden hero comes along and is singing love songs at me in public! We hadn’t even had a conversation first. Needless to say, I was fuming. So when it comes to be my turn on stage—I don’t exactly sing the safe choice about how marriage is a sweet thing every young girl desires—but this vicious thing about how short flings and sweet romances all end tragically, especially when arrogant heroes don’t even seem to recognize that there is a girl underneath all the beauty...in hindsight, it’s a miracle that Lady Aphrodite didn’t smite me for it, but it was pretty clever lyrically.”
Zagreus tilts his head back and laughs, turning to Orpheus, “You didn’t give up, though?”
Orpheus ducks his head. “She mentioned my name near the beginning, and I honestly didn’t pay attention to the rest of it. All I heard was the beautiful ebb and flow of her voice, and I could only think of how I would next serenade her.”
Zagreus’s only response to this is to snort into his soup, and tilt forward expectantly.
“So, this goes on for the next couple of days. He sings me a love song, I sing him back some delightfully witty riposte, and slowly, the audience starts to cotton onto this dynamic. At this point, I’m not even sure we were winning necessarily because of our poetry, but because everybody wanted to know how it would end.” Eurydice explains dryly, “Blood and darkness, even my fellow contestants were rooting for us to get together. I wanted nothing more than to eviscerate him. I’d abandoned my plan to just go home—I was determined to beat him.” On the night before the final competition between Orphy and I, the last two contestants, he finally starts to actually talk to me.”
“I’d drunk perhaps a bit too much, trying to muster up the courage to actually speak to The Muse of my life,” Orpheus admits, sheepishly, ladling himself some pomegranate soup as well, “But somehow, it turned out okay.”
“I was so ready to be annoyed with him, you know? Especially since all the other competitors had apparently conspired to lock us together in the fucking store room for the whole night!” Eurydice says, rolling her eyes. She’s still a little annoyed by how childish it had been, “But wonder of wonders, we start chatting, and I actually start to like him. Can you believe it?!”
Zagreus grins, his eyes sparkling. “Considering you’re basically the posterchildren for eternal love around the underworld, it’s more believable than you think.”
Well, there’s a lot to unpack there. She’s certain Orpheus’s rather prominent and public display hadn’t helped with that reputation—actually that explains so much about her interactions with her fellow shades in Asphodel. Urgh. Eurydice’s never liked when people make assumptions about her. “I suppose so,” she says, with a shrug, “People certainly thought so. But you know, the more I talked to Orpheus, the more I liked him. He was funny, sweet, cutting where he needed to be, but otherwise quite mellow. He was confident in himself, but never arrogant, and when he smiled...” Eurydice smiles to herself, quietly. She’s gotten used to most things about this new Orpheus, her quiet Orpheus, her subdued Orpheus, but she misses more than anything his sunny smile, the smile that could power a hundred trees, that crooked expression settling over his brown cheeks.
Orpheus smiles now at her, a quiet thing, teeth hidden behind his black-painted lips, lips barely quirking upwards. It’s mostly in his eyes, a muted light, like a candle. “And I realized that she was even greater than I had possibly imagined. I had never imagined I would find someone who matched with me like that. Who understood art and narrative and melody like I did. I realized then that she’d be more than my Muse. She’d be my partner.”
Eurydice can’t help but smile fondly back at him. “Anyway, they let us out. And on the final day, instead of competing, we sing a fun back-and-forth duet! In hindsight, that was probably a bit trite, but I was feeling in the conciliatory mood. And if I’m honest, I really just wanted to sing with him.”
“We won, of course. And from that day on, we were always honorary guests at the Argive Heraions.” Orpheus finishes, and strums the lute, setting out the first chord of that old song. “At the edge of the cliff, my love awaits, sea breeze rustling her hair. The gods themselves smile upon her bare feet, the world trembles at her touch.”
And even though Eurydice finds that old song too simple, too cliched, there’s a comfort in revisiting their old songs. She takes in a deep breath and launches into her part. “And when my love joins me by the shore, Poseidon’s warm waters caressing our feet, we hoist the sails, and sail away!”
And they launch into the melody, cresting over the waves, and for a moment, it’s like they’re back out on the sea, travelling somewhere or the other, sunlight over her bark. Like this, she can do anything.
Zagreus waits as they finish the song, eyes shining, tapping his foot along with the tune. He’s always been a captive audience. “I should have expected something like that from you.” he says, with a laugh, “Quite the tale. I’m surprised to have not heard it before.”
“It didn’t feel the same. Telling you it alone.” Orpheus explains, quietly, setting the lyre down on the floor.
“Come by another time, your Highness, and we’ll tell you another story. Maybe of the time we managed to soothe the guardians of Pan’s treasures with our song and stole away his most precious treasure.” Eurydice says, with a lazy grin. She’d forgotten how much she enjoyed this.
“I will!” Zagreus promises and darts off.
Orpheus is still smiling, in the wake of it. “I’d forgotten that one. Until we started reminiscing...” he murmurs, turning back to her, “Would you ever want to remix it? Try to improve on it?”
Eurydice lifts her eyebrows. “I thought you only make perfection?” she asks, dryly.
Orpheus shrugs, and there’s an amused twitch to his eyes. “Well. We’ve changed. And you’re always saying there’s more to wring out of a song.”
Look at him, actually listening to her, instead of laughing it off. Eurydice scoffs, impressed. “Alright. Sure, let’s rewrite it,” she says, holding a hand up to him. He takes her hand and stumbles into her. Her weight against his is so reassuring. God, she loves him.
And sometimes, they find joy in large groups. When Orpheus next finds her, appearing in a flash of smoke right next to her boiling cauldron, she can tell he’s alarmed by just how many people have managed to cram themselves into her humble corner of Asphodel. “Huh?” he asks to himself, glancing around at the women and men that have perched themselves on nooks and corners all over her little island.
“Orphy!” she exclaims, holding out the bottle of nectar she’d saved him. “Just in time.”
They’d both loved parties in the aboveworld. Orpheus had loved the attention he got for singing, the joy of other people, and the thrill of dancing. She’d always loved the festivity in the air, the light ease that alcohol brought to all of her companions, how brightly the world spun when everybody was dancing. She doesn’t know if he still enjoys these sorts of scenes, but she hopes he finds some sort of residual pleasure in it.
“Are you hosting, love?” he asks, accepting her offering of drink without complaint, cautiously taking a sip as he nervously glances around them.
“Yeap! Sappho’s been begging for me to allow her to host her poetry gathering at my place. Says the location is perfect. I usually decline, but I figured you might enjoy...” Eurydice gestures her hands around, “Food’s by you. I made some nectar cocktails, and some ambrosia delights, and I think the next round of poetry is soon. You’ll show off, won’t you?”
“What for? I have nothing to prove anymore.” Orpheus says, with a firm dismissal. “Unless you’ll sing with me...?”
“Of course.” Eurydice says, with a wide smile, “Gotta show them who the real dream team is, right?”
Orpheus nods, gently, and slides his arm behind her waist, tugging her closer. She winds her own arm over his shoulders and drags him over to where Sappho herself is entwined around Phaedra, all wine-loose. Sappho’s eyes brighten as she sees them both, and she attempts to pull herself upright, her dark curls the same shade as Orpheus’s.
“And you must be my dear cousin, Orpheus! I’m Sappho, daughter of Clio, Eurydice has told me so much about you, and I’m so delighted to meet you.” Sappho introduces herself easily, with bright joy.
As Eurydice had hoped, Orpheus lights up. Although he has many cousins among the Gods, the Muses so rarely have children with mortals. He so rarely meets other cousins of the Muses. In life, there were times he’d found it isolating. Eurydice had always wondered if it bothered him, to be the only child of the Muses alive. But here is Sappho, another legendary poet, and they look like they’ll get along well. “Ahh, well met, Sappho.” he says, eagerly, and slides one hand forward to embrace her. “Did you too grow up on Mount Parnassus?”
“My mortal Father loved me too much to send me there for my whole childhood, but I spent several years there with Mother and the others.” Sappho says, eagerly, and Orpheus perks up, asks her about which of their Aunts had been her favourite, and Eurydice sticks around for a few moments before sliding back into the crowd, to get a little more nectar, to say hi to some other faces.
She gets distracted in a wordplay contest with Medea and Echo, a fun little contest done over who can find the most rhyming words (Echo wins, much to Medea’s chagrin). And then, she finds herself joining in a dance contest with Combe and Eunoe, wherein they thoroughly trounce her. Orpheus catches her at the tail-end of this contest, cheering for her joyously, and so the loss is not so sore when she can kiss him afterwards, his lips sweet yet with nectar.
“Shall we perform?” he asks her, and she agrees. There’s a piece they’ve been workshopping for Zagreus, to commemorate him, thank him for his help with their reunion. They sing In The Blood to a crowd of willing Asphodel spirits, who provide accompaniment, a roll of drums, pan fltues in the background, a whole world surging up to meet the joy of their song. Eurydice’s voice soars over Orpheus’s and it’s one of the happiest she’s been in a long time, surrounded by friends and acquaintances, performing with her loved one.
“Are you having fun?” Eurydice asks, as they catch their breath, drinking some clear water behind the lip of her island, hidden amongst her amphora.
“Yes, I am.” Orpheus says, and a grin spreads across his face, “I haven’t enjoyed myself at a festival like this for a long time.”
“Good. There’s only more to go.” Eurydice says, and kisses his lips, and pulls them back into the crowd.
Tithorea and Melia, her cousins, drag her into another song contest, and the three of them sing a common song of spring and growth, the summer wilds and the joys of the surface, and if she cries a little, few need know.
Orpheus and Linus, one of his brothers who had been born much later than he, have a poetry contest, to create as many couplets as they can in quick succession, and Orpheus only barely wins, by the skin of his teeth. Sappho judges and she does so with a wicked humour, something that makes all of their friends crow and chorus with laughter, fading in and out, a hum and throb.
There’s a big raucous chorus of some of the main classics, old classics she knows, the newer classics that the younger generations of artists and musicians have created, and Eurydice basks in the joy of music, head tucked into Orpheus’s shoulder, legs splayed wide open. The chorus of all their voices in unison is sweet, and it feels like they could celebrate forever. But eventually, even the best festivities have to wrap-up, and Eurydice knows that Orpheus’s break will be over soon.
Still, somebody crucial is missing, and she hasn’t seen him all night. He’d said he was busy, but that he’d try and show up near the end of this gathering, and yet he still isn’t here. Orpheus picks up on her disquietude—or perhaps Eurydice just isn’t being as subtle as she would like to be in craning her head towards the door, in wait for somebody else to come, because he curls his fingers over her bicep. “All good, love?” he asks, quietly, concerned.
“Yeah, just....” Eurydice trails off, and shakes her head. “It’s fine. It’s nothing big.”
“Do you want me to ask people to start leaving?” he asks, concerned.
Eurydice shakes her head. People are slowly starting to stream out anyway, as the food and drink has since emptied itself. “No, I just—I thought somebody else would make it. But he’s not here yet. He’s so bad at visiting me.”
Orpheus’s interest is piqued, she can tell, but he’s trying to not be overly curious. It’s kind of funny, seeing his head cocked like a puppy dog, and she leans in to kiss him, lazily. He curls his fingers around her neck, and she almost loses herself in it. But the familiar sound of footsteps scuffing against tile is too distinct to not notice, and Eurydice jumps upright, out of Orpheus’s grasp.
“You made it! I almost thought you wouldn’t.” Eurydice says, throwing her arms around him.
“Wouldn’t have missed it. Sorry, I got caught up.” comes the deep, baritone voice of Musaeus, as he lightly kisses her cheek, in greeting.
“Hi.” Eurydice says, with a grin, but pulls back, to let Orpheus catch sight of his erstwhile pupil, the only student he’d ever taken under his wing, and had practically treated as a son. Orpheus’s eyes widen, and he stumbles forward, to embrace Musaeus tightly. Musaeus laughs, low and amused as he hugs Orpheus.
“Hello Master. Long time, no see.” he says.
“I never thought—you should be in Elysium!” Orpheus protests, eyes wide, as he looks back towards Eurydice, accusatorily. Eurydice shrugs, but can’t help but grin. She’d thought he’d ask about Musaeus before this, ruining her attempt to make this surprise party nice, but this makes a lot more sense. Orpheus and his damn abandonment issues. “Didn’t you go on to do great things?” Orpheus demands.
“Sure. But I wanted to be here. I knew you and Eurydice would be here.” Musaeus says, with a bright smile. “I knew it.”
“My break’s almost over—I! You’ll have to come back later. I want to hear everything about your life.” Orpheus says, firmly, and Eurydice can’t help but feel a warm contentment come under her skin at this. Oh, but this is her Orpheus, finally. Not a man cowed by love, but reminded of all of his loves. Music, teaching, dance, wine, and her.
“Of course. I can give you a rundown before you have to go?” Musaeus offers, and Eurydice nods, steering them both back towards her bed, so they can curl up at its base together, lazily. Eurydice curls her hands around Orpheus’s neck, strumming her fingers against his collarbone as Musaeus talks about his accomplishments in Attica, as Orpheus oohs and aahs with appropriate pleasure. What a joy to be among friends.
And then, the insistent ringing noise—that sign of their time coming to an end. Orpheus wearily staggers to his feet. “Alas, I am summoned,” he says, quietly.
“Until next time, Master.” Musaeus says, easily, without any of the baggage she and Orpheus have held about this—and of course. It is just that simple, isn’t it? They just have to keep growing like this, one time after the other, after another. One foot forward, one more sprout blooming.
“Until next time, Orphy.” Eurydice says, softly.
“For a thousand reunions, and an eternity more.” Orpheus promises, and he vanishes.