after the war, before the war: a hades/persephone mythfic
filled commission for daria (phaedraportokalea)
the night before a very important council meeting, persephone confides in her husband
while hades reminisces about the last great conflict (1,963 words)
The bed was cold.
Perhaps that was what woke him; it was cold in a way that made him, still drowsy with sleep, think of spring—the way spring had felt centuries ago. While the world above always celebrated the return of greenery and soft breezes, he could only mourn her absence. A relief for the mortal world was the bitterest of partings for him.
But it had been a lifetime—as they had come to understand such things—since he had had to lament the changing of the seasons. Since he had resented the world’s yearly rebirth. For many years now he had stood beside her at the transitions. He had not been forced to say goodbye since the Pact, forced to feel her farewell kiss burn on his lips, forced to readjust to a cold and empty bed.
So why was it both again?
He found her on the balcony wrapped in his robe, legs curled beneath her on the lounge chair. She stared out over the half-asleep city with distant eyes, starlight in her loose curls.
“What is it?” he asked softly, deep voice little more than a rumble.
“I can feel it,” she whispered. “I can feel it coming.”
He bent. Gathered her up in his arms. Settled in the chair with her body tucked against him. She sighed, relaxing in the warmth of him, and pressed her cheek to his shoulder. “What’s coming?” he said.
“War.” The word was a shiver. His arms tightened around her reflexively, as if to shield her from an oncoming blow.
She had always had an acute sensitivity for change, for the shifting of things, an awareness of tipping points and uneasy equilibriums. It was a part of her nature, ever since the deal that maintained their marriage while simultaneously ripping her from his side for half of the year. Ever since he had taken her below to his kingdom of insubstantial substance, where she—a being of life and growth—had been crowned Queen of Death.
Perhaps it had been the act of loving him, pitying the despised and forgiving the exiled, that had wrought such a change in her. Being with him had irrevocably reshaped her, complicating what had once been innocent. He thought of the biblical story of Eve tempted by the serpent with the apple of knowledge—how was it that such stories were thought to be truth today, while their stories had dwindled into myths, mere fairy tales for children?—and wondered if his lover had ever regretted the bite she took in a similar garden. He was partly to blame for this weight upon her shoulders, for the inescapable knowledge that their lives were now balanced upon a knife’s edge. That potential disaster was looming before them.
He hadn’t the words to reassure her—if he had found any, they would have been lies or empty promises. And he had never been very eloquent. His anger had always spoken for him.
So he smoothed back her hair. Held her as they stared up at the stars and let the silence deepen. This high up, at this hour, the noise of the city was dim and muffled. So long as they looked away from the twinkling lights below, they could almost imagine themselves back on Olympus, with the marble pillars and the rock of an unshakeable mountain beneath their feet.
Olympus. The place had attained a nostalgic patina at some point since the Pact. He could hardly remember that splendor in all honesty—over a millennia in the cold darkness of the Underworld had drained it of all color and majesty. And his thwarted desire for the throne had warped those early memories. But it had been home to Persephone; there had been many times when she had returned to their drear kingdom with fond stories of it springing readily to her lips. He had drunk up those stories like a man dying of thirst, trying to paint in his mind all that she described to use as an antidote when the hollowness of his new world became too terrible. His wife had loved Olympus and so he had learned to love it again, though it would be forever out of his reach.
In the last days of the last war, when Hermes had arrived with the terms of Zeus’ offer, there had been a breathless moment when Hades had dared to hope he would see it again. Just once more; just a single glance. But no—the Council to sign the Pact had convened in London, in a tiny pub that was the only building still standing in a street that had been almost completely destroyed during the Blitz. Ares and Eris had been in chains, Athena and Artemis had been hollow-eyed, Hephaestus had been on the verge of collapse; not at all a cheerful homecoming from the family. Not that he had expected open arms, but…
He stirred, shaking the memory away. Small wonder that his mind had drifted back to that day, with another potentially cataclysmic conflict on the horizon.
“Tomorrow,” Persephone said, breath hot against his neck. “At the Council meeting. Promise me you won’t lose your temper, whatever Zeus asks of you.”
He hesitated. For months now he had attended sessions in a sunny room, sitting across from a calm-faced woman named Bia, and talked. About his fractured family, his marriage, his anger, his exile. But when the therapist purposefully directed their conversations towards Zeus, the brother who had defied his wishes, who had been his downfall, his jailor, it had been nearly impossible to keep from shouting. Everything became sharper, hotter, when he thought of Zeus. There was a reason they had not willingly interacted since the Pact—when a family Council was called and his attendance was mandatory, Hades had always kept to the furthest corner and avoided eye contact with his most hated brother. Around the King, Hades felt like a bomb ticking; if he was the short fuse, Zeus was the match.
Again, he thought of the signing of the Pact. It was the first time he had looked into his brother’s face in thousands of years, and he found that he had not forgotten a single disapproving line. But on that day, the disapproval the King radiated had been directed at another: Ares. And he had stepped towards his exiled brother with a large callused hand held out. “It is a custom now to shake upon an agreement,” Zeus had rumbled. “A token of goodwill and a promise to uphold the terms of the deal.”
He had looked at that hand for what felt like years. A very large part of him had wanted to deny the gesture out of pure spite. It was so tempting to make Zeus look a fool, if even for a passing moment. But then his eyes had strayed and he had glanced out of the window to take in the blasted street beyond, the apocalyptic devastation of a world gone to hell. He had thought of the hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of dead that had streamed through his gates—sent there ahead of their rightful times. He thought of the skeletal frames, the children’s faces, the incessant sound echoing in his ears of the snapping of lifelines severed by the Fates’ scissors. He thought of Persephone’s haunted eyes, and of the shade that had made such an impassioned plea before his shadowed throne. Then he looked over his family again, cataloguing all of the pain and exhaustion they wore—and they were still fully godly at that moment, their divine radiances only muted by the physical forms they had assumed in order to shape and alter the mortal war.
And in that moment he saw that it was bigger than him, bigger than Zeus, and bigger than any grudge between them. He had all of the power in that moment, just as he had dreamed for countless nights. It was his choice, his and Persephone’s, that had helped end this war. And now he had another choice to make: a choice that would reshape them all. If he took the hand offered, they would live on. If he denied it, he and his Queen would return to their dark realm and leave the others to wither into nothing. Because someday even the oldest stories would be forgotten and the last of their strength would die; but he was apart—they had made him apart—and his world would last without songs or tributes or stories. Olympus would fade, but the Underworld was eternal.
So he had taken the hand, had gripped it firmly, and if he did not smile into his brother’s face at least he did not crush his fingers or bite his own tongue bloody. There had been an almost inaudible rush of breath around them and Hades had known everyone gathered had been unsure. He had proved them right, or proved them wrong, and had been a bigger man than could be rightly expected.
If he had done it once, he could do it again.
“I promise,” he murmured into the darkness.
“We stopped the last great war,” Persephone said, voice steadying with resolution. “We did. Maybe this time we can keep one from starting.”
He savored the warm weight of his wife against him, the way her arm hugged his chest, the soft curls grazing his cheek. She had always been an anchor—no, a lifeline. Without her he would be adrift. Wholly consumed by disappointed hopes. And he owed it to her to always be the bigger man. To look to the greater good. To provide a future. That was all she had ever truly asked of him, and he was determined to deliver.
“We should go back to bed,” he suggested. “It’s still a little too cold to be out here all night.”
She pulled away to sit up and instantly he felt bereft and chilled. “Yes,” she said. “I came out here hoping it would clear my mind—I’ve felt so distracted lately. With all of the tension in the building, I half expect the walls to start shaking. And it takes so much effort to compose myself, to think coherently. I’ve become so much sensation. Is it just the brewing trouble that I’m picking up on, or is there something else? I would almost believe Eris has been sending something at me but this feels too… I can’t rightly describe it,” she said with a brittle laugh. “Too internal? Too personal? As if I’ve got an ear infection that’s disrupting my balance, but nothing so definite or painful as that. More of a… disquiet. A subtle ache. My body is trying to tell me something but my mind is having trouble deciphering it.”
He drew a firm line down her back with the palm of his hand. Leaned closer and pressed a reassuring kiss to the curve of her shoulder. “Perhaps we should mention it at the Council—”
“No,” she said quickly, moonlight flashing across her eyes. “No. This feels private. I’ll figure it out, I think. When it’s right. C’mon.” She unfolded her lithe legs and stood, catching hold of his hands and pulling him up. “Let’s go back to bed. Tomorrow will be exhausting no matter how well things go. We really should get some sleep.”
It seemed that Persephone left her largest fears and doubts out on the balcony; within moments of settling beneath the sheets, curving her body beside his, she was asleep. But he lay awake for hours and listened to her breathe in the darkness, just as he once had in a larger, grander bed.
And he thought about war, and he thought about the future.