Lightning cracked outside the tall windows, flashing across my bed and startling me awake. I looked at the digital clock on my wall and sat straight up. How long had I been asleep? I didn’t even recall coming to bed. I rubbed my eyes and glanced around the room, noting the small plant blooming in the pot on my bedside table. The branches were black.
The storm raged on, peppering the glass walls with droplets that shone in the moonlight. I watched one as it traveled halfway down the window before I realized one was sliding down my cheek as well.
I thought things would be different after my return to the Underworld. I thought in my time away, I had solved the mystery of my troubles, but no. I’d returned only to find more. I dropped my head into my hands and sobbed, my mind lost to rivers of despair.
I’m losing my mind. Memories of the twins, the garden, the trip to the mortal realm, all flooded in. How could all of that have been a delusion? What is going on? Surely, I’m not just conjuring fantasies? I tried to think back, but the days blurred together. Pure fury boiled in my blood and I rocked back in my bed to glare at the palace’s stone ceiling. I was a therapist, for gods’ sake! I could not afford to be the one losing it!
If Hades knew the state I was in, he’d be appalled. I’m sure he’s never questioned his sanity. I have to pull myself together.
I pushed the covers away and stumbled onto my weak legs. I realized then how heavy my limbs felt. Am I sick? I wondered as I crossed the room to stand by the window. My skin was hot and when I pressed my nose to the glass, I liked the cool feel of it.
The view of the Underworld was spectacular, even in the rain. It was perhaps the one thing about this place I never once despised. I remembered the first time I’d seen it, on a rainy spring day, much like this one. Only then, I’d been a stranger to this land.
“Hades,” I whispered, “where are you?” I watched my breath fog the glass and set a hand over my heart. It ached to see him, to be with him. When was the last time I had missed him?
Perhaps I have been missing him. I just don’t want to admit it. Resentment was the emotion I usually experienced when looking at my husband. But the bitter taste of it was somehow less now.
Why? I wondered. I took a deep breath and pressed my forehead against the window. Memories rose, and I allowed them to wash over me. Slowly at first, but then I waded fully in, and the events played before me like a vision.
“What’s going on?” I couldn’t get myself to stop giggling as I was rushed into the tower fortress and out of the thrashing storm winds. Hades’ grip on my arm was firm and his strides were long and fast as we left his chariot. Urgent.
“Hades, what’s going on?” I panted, heart racing in tandem with my feet.
“I want to show you something.”
“Yes,” he replied, practically dragging me through the palace entry hall. Our feet clattered on the stone floors, echoing throughout the large chamber. I panted as we rushed in, my cheeks hot with excitement.
“Hades, slow down.” I laughed as he led me up a stairwell. I had to practically jump over the steps just to keep up. In my haste, I tripped on a step and stumbled. Hades caught me, and my breath hitched in my throat. Being this close to him was exhilarating. He was nothing like any other god I’d ever met.
“Thank you…” I said, shyly lifting my gaze to his. Something hungry entered Hades’ dark eyes and my stomach fluttered. Slowly, he closed the gap between us until he’d pinned me against the stairwell and crushed his lips to mine. I was too stunned to reciprocate at first. This was only our second kiss. The first had been in a rare moment alone in my mother’s private gardens. That kiss had been sweet, tender, and demure. But this felt different.
Gradually, I kissed him back. We tasted each other, getting lost in all our senses. I’d never felt this way before, and the new sensations excited me. Hades was intoxicating, awakening a part of me I’d never known.
At last, Hades pulled away. He was a great deal taller than me and had needed to stoop for the kiss. I found it quite endearing that Hades knelt low to kiss me, a humble spring goddess. With our faces still close, he stroked my cheek and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear.
“You know my brothers’ reputations, and I know what you must think of me,” he said. “But I knew from the moment I met you that you are the only one for me. I want you, Persephone, and no one else.”
I blinked, lips parted, unable to move.
“I don’t love frivolously,” he continued. “I’ve never felt this strongly for anyone before. And I know it’s only a matter of time before the other gods notice what a beautiful and powerful goddess you are. They will seek to use you for their own purposes. Your mother knows this. That’s why she’s been so protective of you. That’s why I had to come for you in secret, to speak with you privately. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have let me.”
“Speak with me about what?” I swallowed, a thousand thoughts tumbling through my head. The sound of the heavy rain pattering outside the nearest window fell numbly on my ears.
“Come,” Hades said, “I said I wanted to show you something.” Then he continued to lead me to the top floor. I followed him until a massive room spilled out before me. It was dark, lit faintly by a few wall lanterns, but massive in space and exquisitely adorned. Seating of the finest couches, cushions, desks, rugs, ancient artifacts and incredible artwork all vied for my attention around the grand room. I’d never seen so many expensive things. Perhaps it was my humble upbringing, but I was used to the splendors of nature, not man-made valuables.
Past the luxurious amenities, a giant balcony extended off of the room. The tower was incredibly tall, and its expansive view of the Underworld stole my breath away. Hades clutched my hand a bit tighter.
“It’s beautiful,” I breathed.
“Welcome to your new home,” he said.
I looked up at him, tilting my brow. “What do you mean?”
He looked down at me, a small grin tugging at the corner of his lips. “I’m going to marry you.”
I staggered back. “Wh-a wai-w-when was this decided?”
“Yesterday,” he said.
“Are you joking? We’ve only known each other for a few weeks!” I laughed.
“Why would I joke about something like this, my dear? I know what I want. I know what I feel,” Hades replied, frowning. My mouth hung open in shock, my mind blank of how I should respond. Was this really happening? Dread welled up inside me.
“My mother will never approve. Even if I wanted to say yes, I couldn’t. She needs me to help her bring in spring…” I said slowly.
“We do not need your mother’s approval. I have Zeus’s. He thinks our union is a good idea, and we should wed as soon as possible,” Hades replied, tugging me after him into the room.
“Wait, stop,” I pleaded. “Let’s talk about this. I’m sure my mother will come to an understanding. I can’t do this without her approval.” I grabbed Hades’ wrist with my free hand and pulled, trying to detangle myself from his grip. He would not be shaken.
“Persephone, please. I’ve already told you we can’t do that. Your mother will try everything in her power to stop us.”
“But what about me?” I blurted. Hades looked puzzled.
“What about you, my dear?”
“What about what I want?” I asked, raising my voice.
“I know what you want,” Hades replied.
“No, no, you don’t,” I snapped, pushing hard against his chest. I slipped free from his grasp and ran for the stairs.
“Persephone, stop!” Hades demanded. I was already on the steps when he caught me by the wrist and jerked me back into his arms before scooping me up bridal style. I screamed and slapped him across the face as hard as I could, then covered my mouth in shock at my own actions.
“Ooof!” he groaned, but clasped me tighter. “That was a bit rude, darling.” He turned to walk me back toward the balcony.
“I didn’t mean to do that. I’m sorry. Hades! Let me go! You have no idea what I want—”.
“Let’s get one thing straight!” he bellowed. “I’m the Lord of the Dead. I know exactly what you want. I know every mortal and immortals’ deepest, darkest desires.”
My eyes widened, and I stopped struggling. Hades’ grip softened, then he set me down gently. His stern expression shifted to one of concern.
“You want freedom. Freedom from your mother. Freedom from having to be watched over and petted like a child. Freedom to explore beyond the mortal realm. And that’s exactly what I intend to give you. Please, let me give it to you.”
I was only able to return his gaze for so long before I looked away, blinking back tears. He had touched the very thing I’d been too afraid to admit to myself. I was secretly unhappy and longed for more than the simple duties of a spring goddess. I longed to experience life outside of my mother’s supervision. I wanted to be my own woman and make my own decisions.
“You’re right,” I admitted, my voice a whisper in the wind. “I do want that. Hades approached and set his hand on my shoulder. I lifted my chin, staring out at the view beyond the balcony. The street lanterns of Elysium winked back at me from far below, bathing the somber city in an alluring glow. What a beautiful sight it was.
A knock at my door disrupted the string of memories playing in my mind. I checked to make sure I looked decent, smoothing any wrinkles away from my satin nightgown. Then I faced the door. “Come in.”
It was Hades. My eyes widened. He entered quietly and closed the door behind him.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything, my dear, but I wanted to see you.” As he approached, his expression darkened. “I’ve been told you are not doing well,” he said.
I jerked away, facing the window again, and touched a hand to my cheek to wipe away the tear stains. This is embarrassing.
“What’s wrong?” Hades asked. He stood just behind me, and his voice was tender.
“I’m fine,” I said, not yet ready to open up. Truth was, I didn’t know how. My shame would not allow it.
I sensed Hades’ hands hovering inches away from me, waiting for a sign that it was okay. That he could touch me. I hadn’t let him in a long, long time. It used to be the only way I could punish him. I would deny him the love he craved.
There will be no more of that. We have to start fresh.
I turned my head ever so slightly to look at him over my shoulder and nodded. It was all the permission he needed. He rested his hands tentatively on the outside of my arms, as if he feared the slightest pressure might shatter me.
“If you don’t want to share, I understand,” Hades said, his breath warm on my neck. “But I’m here when you’re ready.”
I shivered. “Soon,” I promised. Just not before I figure out what is happening to me.