Persephone’s whispered words scalded Aidoneus. All he could think about was her body pressed to his, the thin layers of cloth the only barrier between them. He brought her harder against him with one arm and locked his lips to hers. With his left hand, he reached out, enveloping them in black smoke, ready to transport them through the ether to the world above. Her eyes closed and her tongue danced with his as the Underworld vanished around them.
Nysa, he thought.
She felt them being pulled through, the silver and crimson light of the ether whipping about them as they traveled together. Persephone broke away from their kiss. The black smoke that had lifted them out of the Underworld condensed under their feet to hold them aloft, solid against the infinite expanse of the void. All was quiet. Vertigo gripped her as it had the few times she transported with her mother. Persephone didn’t know if the silver light and clouds were twisting about them, or if they were falling headlong through them. The journey took much longer this time. She looked down to see the rings on Aidon’s hand glowing fiery red. She gripped his shoulders tighter, and he responded by pulling her closer to his chest. She felt safe and secure against him as she tried to blot out the very real fear of falling through this void forever, lost in the spaces between worlds.
“We’re almost through,” Aidoneus said, then braced himself, his legs apart, supporting her. She watched as the light gave way, threads of silver pulling back from them to be replaced with darkness. Stars appeared, the brighter ones with peculiar haloes around them. Silhouettes of wild cypress blocked out the midnight blue of the sky and the stars above. She knew this place…
The ethereal threads disappeared entirely and he almost reluctantly released his grip on her, watching as she slid down and away to stand on her own two feet and look around. Aidoneus could see his breath before he felt the cold. It was curious; foreign. He looked down and saw Persephone shivering, her arms held around her sleeveless shoulders. He quickly unclasped his himation and wrapped its folds around her, gritting his teeth against the bite of the cold air.
She felt the warmth of his body radiating from the soft wool, his fresh, masculine scent caught in the heavy folds of cloth. Persephone startled, realizing where they were. It was the grove; this was Hades’ sacred grove at Nysa. She closed her eyes, remembering when she lay here in the dappled sunlight, his unseen fingers teasing and caressing her naked skin as she came for the first time, her back arching in the soft celery grasses of the clearing.
It seemed like a lifetime ago. She reached down to the ground. The wild celery had dried brown, their dead husks turning to dust in her hands. The asphodel showed no flowers, the black stems sticking up out of the ground. She saw her breath in front of her face and looked at Aidon. His teeth were chattering. “Aidon, you’re freezing…”
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. Aidoneus felt her press her warm body against his as she wrapped the heavy fabric around both of them
“Why is it so cold?”
“I don’t know.” They looked up; the frost-haloed stars disappeared behind dark clouds. An infinitely tiny speck floated out of the sky and drifted between them, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. Another followed, then another, then the air around them was full of gently falling cold flakes. They clumped together as they spun through the air cascading into one another. One tiny clump landed on Persephone’s nose, melting instantly.
Persephone wiped the droplet and examined it on her hand. “This isn’t possible; it only snows on the very highest mountain tops. Higher than Parnassus, even…”
Aidoneus looked around watching as snow fell about them in the field. It melted when it hit the ground, but the dead plants and tree branches held it aloft, their topsides slowly turning white. Demeter wouldn’t do this; she couldn’t, he thought. “We should go back.”
“No; please Aidon. I want to try.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, I’m warm enough. Are you sure you’re all right?”
He thought back to when Zeus, Poseidon and he carefully scaled the wind-whipped face of Mount Othrys all those aeons ago. “I’ve felt cold worse than this. At least there’s no wind. Something here is off balance, though. If you don’t mind, I’m going to skip ahead a bit in our lessons and have you send us back to the Other Side.”
“Aidon, I’m not powerful enough to—”
“Yes you are.” He stepped away from her warmth and lifted her chin to look into her eyes. He closed his hand around hers, her fingers lacing through his alongside the rings. “I wouldn’t have asked you to do this unless I knew you could.”
“H-how do I even start?”
“Close your eyes,” he said as she did so without hesitation. “Breathe with me, now. In and out.”
Persephone inhaled through her nose and exhaled slowly, following as he breathed with her. She could only feel his hand gripping hers and the ground beneath her feet.
“Whatever you may be thinking about, Persephone— any limitations, any feelings, anything at all— let them go. There is only you, the immortal goddess, and there is only the place you want to be. Concentrate.”
Grow, she thought. Persephone felt her other hand raise almost on its own, her fingers bending toward the earth, her wrist curling upward. Aidoneus watched as a dark stalk sprouted out of the freezing earth, turning green and almost glowing as it lifted. One six-petal asphodel blossom opened along its length, then another. She could see it in her mind as the petals peeled back, their anthers unfurling, their stamen standing on end. She frowned, “I only made a flower, Aidon. I’m not—”
“Concentrate!” he said sharply. Aidoneus felt an echo of energy surge all the way through him from the earth itself and flow out to her through their joined hands. His rings smoldered like coals.
Upward through her feet, outward through her hands and pulsing like the touch of her husband through her core, she felt the raw earth and all that lay beneath it surge into her. With a turn of her wrist, she channeled it through her outstretched fingertips. The asphodel stalk grew faster, the top bursting with an impossible mass of buds.
In her mind she saw fire— Aidon’s chariot in the bowels of the earth outside Erebus, just before he claimed her. She saw the wreath from her hair, in her betrothed husband’s uplifted hand, the ashes flying away as the heat set it aflame. She remembered picking the asphodel to make that wreath from this very ground, how the red-orange anthers had ignited as they traveled through the fires of the earth.
As the buds opened in front of her outstretched hand, one ember emerged, then another, swirling, the flames increasing as more buds opened in orange flames. The fire itself became a blazing ring that stretched in front of them, flaring with heat, melting the snow that clung to the plants around them.
Through the ring of fire, Aidoneus saw the silver threads of the ether and smiled triumphantly. They pulled and tugged at the flames and latched themselves to a speck in the distance that grew wider, coming into focus and pulling their destination toward them. He could make out the garden of the palace, the stone walls, and the fields beyond. His mouth dropped open as a shiver crept up his spine in a mixture of arousal and astonishment. This was impossible— no one could bridge the ethereal reach this way. Except for his wife. Aidoneus had been wrong— intriguingly wrong about her— Persephone was a goddess beyond his reckoning.
She opened her eyes and shuddered out a long breath, staring into the fire, her arm outstretched toward its center. She felt her husband’s wonder and admiration; she felt the earth’s energy and the pull of the fire. “The Phlegethon,” she breathed.
It was only when she whispered it that Aidoneus recognized the circle of flame. He opened his eyes wide and a very old emotion he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in aeons came rushing through him. Fear. She was drawing the fires from Tartarus itself. He swallowed hard. “Persephone…”
The voice was small— too small for him to notice. “I hear someone—”
“Persephone, don’t listen to him! Close the gateway now! CLOSE IT!!!” he shouted at her.
“No,” she replied calmly. Persephone felt his fear pulse into her hand and looked back to comfort him. “It’s all right, my husband.”
Aidoneus almost staggered back as she turned to him. Her eyes were rimmed in fire, glowing an orange that matched the circle before them. She calmly turned back to the ring of fire. For a moment he considered letting go of her hand, breaking the Key’s connection to the ether and their home beyond, but feared that she would be pulled in and lost to either the Pit or the void. He had to try to reason with her. “Persephone; wife, do not listen to him. No matter what he—”
“She. It’s a woman,” she paused, listening, “Her name is Merope.”
“Merope?” He had never sent anyone to Tartarus by that name. His brow knitted in confusion, and fear was slowly replaced by curiosity. He closed his eyes and connected with Tartarus all the way through her body toward her outstretched fingertips, focusing on the gateway she created. He listened for the voice.
Please help me, it said. I don’t belong here.
“They all say that,” he scoffed, withdrawing from it.
Aidoneus stopped. Now that was a name he recognized.
“Sorcerer king of Ephyra,” Persephone continued. “Merope was his wife. He tricked them.”
“The brothers. Your judges, Minos and Rhadamanthys, with a glamour. They thought she was Sisyphus. They presented her as Sisyphus to you and you sent her to Tartarus.”
“Impossible. No mortal could ever summon sorcery strong enough to fool—”
“Gods above…” Persephone cursed under her breath shaking her head in shock, “…the things he did to her. Listen, Aidon.”
He closed his eyes and focused again on the crying voice.
…us both on the funeral pyre… imprinted his essence on me as I burned… calls himself a deathless god king in Ephyra, now… a kinslayer… blasphemer… sent me in his place. Please Lord Hades, Polydegmon, you are a just god…
“Aidon, please, we must help her,” she echoed, looked back at him, her eyes rimmed in fire, her face pleading with him.
A pyre, he thought. Ephyra’s people were Thessalonian. The people of Thessaly don’t build pyres; they bury their dead. Unless… He nodded to Persephone. “All right. I’ll speak to the Hundred Handed Ones.”
“They hear us,” she said. The fire told her everything. They were the guardians of the Titans and the wicked. The jailers of the Pit of Tartarus. The vision of their home faded from the center of the circle, replaced with the gaping maw of black flames from her nightmares last night. She shuddered.
This time, Persephone recoiled. A sound so deep and resonant it almost made her nauseous welled up in fifty voices speaking as one from the dark fires. Aidon could hear it too. He protectively tightened his grip on her hand. “I’ve got you,” he whispered.
“Wh-who are you?” she said.
More importantly, the many-voiced one asked, who are you?
“Kottos,” Aidoneus said to the Hundred Handed One, “you are addressing my wife.”
Ahh, Kottos said, my brothers and I have waited aeons for you, my queen. Persephone Praxidike Chthonios. She Who Destroys the Light. Carrier of Curses. The Iron Queen of the Underworld.
“What am I?” she whispered to herself, trembling.
Aidon could feel her faltering. “Sweet one, it’s all right.”
We are yours to command, Praxidike.
She straightened, then looked back at Aidon who nodded to her. She spoke to the fire, “A woman is being held in Tartarus. A glamour has been cast over her. Her name is Merope, and she was sent there in place of Sisyphus of Ephyra. I command that you release her at once from the Pit.”
And what should we do with her?
“See that she is brought to the Palace of Hades. We must learn all we can from her,” she turned back to Aidoneus, her eyes flaring in anger. “The sorcerer king must be brought to judgment for what he did to her.”
As you wish, Praxidike.
The fire flared once and the maw of black flames vanished back into the ring. The fires calmed and grew friendly. Their home once again stood on the other side. Persephone looked at Aidon, her eyes returned to normal and her hand shaking in his grip. The sun started to dawn in the east, nearly obscured by storm clouds whipping flurries of snow around them. “Can we go home now?”
“Yes,” he said quietly with a nod. She gripped his hand. He took a step forward and held her at the small of her back. Aidon just watched her, his heart racing. This was not the screaming girl he dragged into his chariot from the field of Nysa. His wife was a darkly magnificent creature, stepping through the ring of fire she created with him at her side. Persephone— his Queen.
The journey home was quick; mere steps. When the threads of the ether closed the ring of fire behind them, they found themselves standing in the palace gardens. The blanket of misty clouds above was awash in the brilliant colors of dusk, reflecting the light from the river Styx. It was so much warmer here, and she realized that she still had her husband’s robes wound around her shoulders. The cold from mere moments before still clung to him. Persephone took off Aidon’s himation and draped the dark fabric around his shoulder once more. He closed his eyes and inhaled as she sweetly attended to him; it smelled like her now— lilies, ocean mist and warm earth. He watched her carefully pin the golden brooch at his shoulder.
Aidoneus wrapped his arms around her, and she leaned into his chest. He pulled her closer, his hands gripping at her skin. They breathed shakily, both trying to understand what happened, what it meant, what they saw, what she was able to do. The tension left his fingers and he flattened his hands against her back, soothing and holding her. She sighed and closed her eyes, listening to each slowing breath. Her ear pressed over his heart, she slowly opened her eyes.
Persephone blinked at what she saw. “Aidon, this is the garden, isn’t it? I didn’t accidentally take us somewhere else, did I?”
“No, sweet one; you brought us home.”
“What is that, then?”
He followed her gaze and saw rough bark on a slender tree trunk. When he looked up through the canopy of branches, he saw vibrant green leaves unlike any he’d ever seen, the boughs winding through the branches of another similar tree. Aidoneus and Persephone turned in a circle to see that they were surrounded by six such trees that stood twice their height, each one spread out to touch the one next to it.
“My dreams,” they whispered in near unison and looked at each other in shock.
“You’ve seen these too?!” Persephone said.
“I hardly sleep as it is, and I see them every time I shut my eyes,” he said, stunned. “They started when I brought you here. What about you?”
“Same,” she broke away from him and walked over to the tree, smoothing her hand over the rough bark. “Every night. Last night, when I woke up and you held me… I saw these trees; then fire.”
He walked over to a different tree and reached up to run his hand along one of the waxy leaves. “This is impossible…” he said under his breath. “Persephone! Touch the leaves; they’re warm. Like the sun has been shining on them all day. Do you have any idea what they are? I’ve never seen anything like them in my realm.”
“Pomegranate, I think? …Hard to tell when they’re so young.” She walked around one tree and stared up through its branches at the sky. “It’s getting dark; I’ll be able to see them better tomorrow.”
They circled the small grove, touching the leaves and branches as they went, and met on the opposite side under one of the trees. Persephone almost ran into the wall of his chest, distracted by the winding branches. She saw the same astonishment she felt written across his face.. Aidon drew her close again and held her face in his hands. “In all the aeons I waited for you, I never dreamed—”
She cut him off with a kiss, interrupting him before he said something she wasn’t ready to hear. Persephone kissed him hard on the lips, and felt Aidon surge against her. A familiar coil tightened in her stomach. His hands wandered down her waist and over her hips as her tongue played against his. She brought her hands around him, her fingernails raking over his clothed back. They broke away and watched the fading light of dusk frame the silhouette of the trees.
“Aidon, we have to tell Hecate.”
“Yes,” he said, “Though I have a feeling she already knows. If these are tied to our dreams I should also speak with Morpheus…”
She looked up at him for a long moment and swallowed. “In Nysa when I created the ring of fire, I… I never thought I could do anything like that. Not ever. Thank you for showing me,” she said, running a hand along his cheek. He turned his head and kissed her palm.
“You were magnificent.”
“Then, you’re not… upset that I can create a gateway like that? That I have more control over the ether than I thought I did— than you thought I had, and possibly more than you, even?”
“What?” he said in amused bewilderment.
“I’m just worried,” she said looking at the ground and fidgeted, tapping her fingers together, “that you don’t want me, as your consort, to be able to just create something like that my first time out. That what I did would somehow make you feel… emasculated… and that you wouldn’t want me afterward.”
His lips curled into a half smile as he tilted her chin up to look into her eyes again. Aidon’s face turned serious once more. He grabbed her wrist and stepped toward her, pressing her hand over the hardness quickening under his clothes. He smirked when her eyes grew wide, then circled his arm around her waist and pulled her even closer. His heat arched into her hand, and he sucked in air through his teeth as her fingers closed around him through the fabric. Her lips parted and she shuddered, warmth flooding into her and echoing his arousal.
“Tell me again, Persephone, how you think I could feel emasculated by you,” he crooned in the deepest register of his voice.
Her voice cracked, “I—”
He stole a kiss from her then, drawing her figure into his arms and tipping her back as she clung to him. Aidon mated his tongue with hers, the depth of their kiss a portent for all he wanted to do to her that night. His voice was low and dangerous, his words whispered against her neck when he broke away from her lips. “On the contrary, sweet one, I’ve never desired you the way I desire you now.”
She kissed him just in front of his ear, feeling light headed, her stomach fluttering at his words and the sway he held over her body. “Aidon…”
“Please Persephone,” he said grinding into her once more, “do not deny me anything tonight. I need you…”
He felt her tense.
He let out a long breath before continuing. “I would never dream of taking you unwillingly,” he said, “but if this is what you want—”
Persephone kissed him hard, her body quaking. She felt her thighs twitch and moaned into his mouth as his hand came up to her breast, roughly cupping and molding her clothed flesh in his palm. She pulled back and whispered hoarsely to him, “Take me inside.”
That was all he needed to hear. Aidon grabbed her hand and marched them out of the garden. He took them through the portico toward the entrance to the palace, pushing her against one of the heavy doors and kissing her hard as he pulled the other open. She darted out of his grasp with a nervous titter as the door swung wide and ran along the hallways ahead of him, bidding him to chase her, stopping suddenly at the column base of the stairs and biting her lower lip. He stalked toward her and crushed her body between the stone column and his own, his lips moving over her neck, earlobe and jaw line before capturing hers.
She took his hand as they walked up the steps, pausing for a long kiss at each landing. When they neared her room she laughed and ran down the hall ahead of him, looking back to see him give chase once more as she disappeared into the amethyst room. He found Persephone again near her door and pulled her against him. He moved her backward, clasping her hands within his at their sides as they walked through the ebony doors of her bedroom.
Persephone broke away and sat on the bed, scooting back toward the pillows. Aidon slammed the doors shut while she untied and kicked off her sandals. She looked up at the lights in the room and back at him, expecting them to be extinguished. They were not. Her breath hitched as he strode toward the bed.
“Not tonight,” he said, following her gaze to the lamps above. “I’m through hiding in the dark from you.” Her eyes lit up hearing him say it, he sat next to her, quickly removing his sandals.
“Then don’t leave before the light comes,” she said.
He stroked her face. “I won’t.”
She kissed him, feeling him tug at the edges of her clothes, exposing her collarbone. He kissed her jaw line and across the hollow of her neck before sliding the fabric over one shoulder. “Why do you always go?”
He looked up at her, then back to the pins holding the fabric to her. “Rulership over this realm comes with many responsibilities,” he said, avoiding her question. I leave so that I don’t have to look into your eyes and see that you do not yet love me, he thought. He swallowed and continued. “Besides, I only ever sleep a few hours at a time. Holding the Key means constantly hearing the voices and prayers of everyone in this kingdom. It’s why I remove my rings when I’m with you.”
“Aren’t you worried someone will take them?” she said as he pulled them off his fingers, their gold bands clicking together as he set them on the stand.
“If someone tried, they’d just return to my hand. They’re bound to me alone.”
The chiton clung to the curve of her breasts as he expertly pulled at the ribbon girdle, quickly unwrapping its length from her waist. He’d had enough practice removing it in the dark. Persephone grabbed for the pin holding up his himation and pulled it free of its housing, watching the heavy fabric fall around him. He pushed it away behind him, casting it to the floor, and lay back on the bed to watch her rise to her knees above him and remove one of the pins in her chiton.
The fabric fell away from one breast and exposed her all the way to her navel. Aidon shuddered, transfixed as she pulled away the long ribbon that bound her hair into a careful chignon. Persephone leaned her head back and shook free the long waves of her hair, emphasizing each motion for his enjoyment. She smiled and bit the corner of her lip as he eyed her hungrily. She took her time, moving her hand slowly up the length of what fabric still clung to her, watching him shift on the bed. He bit down on his cheek and clenched his fists until his knuckles turned white, willing himself not to tear the rest of her clothes off her body.
Persephone pulled apart the last clasp of her chiton and heard Aidon groan in appreciation as the fabric fell from her naked body and pooled around her knees. She brushed it over the side of the bed and tousled her dark hair once more, the curled ends falling over her breasts.
Aidon leaned forward and pulled her body to him, his mouth latching onto her breast. Persephone thrilled and gasped as his tongue laved the tender flesh, the tip twining around her hardened nipple. He gripped her waist and swung her smoothly to his side, pressing her back into the rumpled sheets and kneeling over her. Persephone pushed firmly against his chest until he was upright again and propped herself up with an elbow. She reached to his shoulders and pulled the pins from his tunic, the fabric falling to his waist. He breathed heavily through his nose and focused on her movements while she tugged at his knotted leather belt. She paused, distracted by that irresistible line that traveled from his hip straight into his groin and lightly traced its indent on his skin, watching his stomach jump.
“Persephone…” he ground out through clenched teeth, the scent of her arousal driving him mad.
“Hmm?” she said innocently. She fumbled with the belt once more, her wrists grazing his hardness as she struggled to free him.
“If you keep doing that, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop myself…”
Persephone looked up into his eyes as the knot came loose. The released fabric fell and caught on his flesh before she tossed it aside. She met his eyes with a smirk and threw his belt to the floor, not breaking eye contact with Aidoneus. “What makes you think I want you to hold back?” she said breathlessly.
He inhaled sharply and pushed at her shoulders, lunging forward between her legs and pinning her underneath him. With all his might, Aidoneus thrust into her to the hilt.
They shuddered together and cried out in pleasure as he cleaved to her. He paused only to let Persephone wrap her splayed limbs around him, anchoring him inside her body, before thrusting in again. Her fingernails scratched pink lines down his back.
Aidon gripped the sheets and laid his head beside hers as he formed their rhythm, his breath coming out in hard pants against her neck with each sharp thrust. She answered with punctuated cries, which changed to a long low moan as he took her faster, gliding through her.
Shifting his weight to one elbow, Aidon reached between her legs with his free hand and searched the top of her mound with the tips of his fingers. He smiled, feeling her keening against him when they found the source of her pleasure. Aidon drew the tender bud out from under its hood and stroked it in time with each thrust, her body writhing under his. When her body started to tremble, he lightly pinched and rolled it between two fingers.
“AIDONEUS!!!” she screamed, clinging to him.
She used his true name— the name she once feared, the name that declared him the Lord of the Underworld and master of all the souls within it. He startled, the realization jarring him. Then her sheath squeezed around him in waves and erased all thought in a blinding flash of pleasure. He cried out and strained forward, emptying himself inside of her.
Aidoneus collapsed and Persephone held him close, listening to his ragged breathing. He slid out of her with a sigh, but stayed locked between her legs. She finally opened her eyes to the marble reliefs above them. The images seemed animated by the soft play of shadows from the flickering light of the hundreds of tiny oil lamps. Persephone tilted her head forward to watch her hand run along the smooth muscles of Aidon’s shoulder and back.
When her hand moved over a ridge on his skin, she felt Aidon tense and hold his breath. The line of a raised white scar stretched underneath her fingers. It thickened and pitted slightly, cutting a widened swath down his shoulder blade and traveling in a jagged line across the center of his back before disappearing under his right arm.
He stayed still, vulnerable, as she examined it. Persephone moved to sit up and Aidoneus slowly rose with her, his legs folded under him. She crawled behind him on her knees to view the scar in full. Closing his eyes, he willed himself to let her look. Just when he thought she would be repulsed and recoil from him, her palm gingerly touched his skin again and caressed his shoulders.
“What made this?”
“Cronus,” he said quietly.
Persephone cringed. She knew the story well— how Father Cronus had devoured his children one by one as they were born to stop an ancient prophecy. How Zeus, her father, had escaped that fate and later freed the other five Olympians, her mother among them.
“I was the first. He saw himself, his likeness in me when I lay in Rhea’s arms. He’d never done it, or thought to do it, before he saw me, and I was not devoured… cleanly.”
He tried to stop himself from shivering as buried memories of twisting pain and half his life spent in claustrophobic darkness rushed back to him. He remembered screaming and crying as a child, wondering what he had done wrong. More children arrived, and he swallowed all emotion to stay strong for the others. Hestia came soon after him, and later Hera. Then Poseidon, and lastly, squalling and terrified, the infant Demeter. As they grew up in oblivion, they feared him— when they saw him in the dark, they saw their father’s face. He’d earned his epithet, Receiver of Many, far before drawing the lot to rule the Underworld.
She felt his body shudder. His chin tipped forward to hide his face behind the curls of black hair that had come loose in the throes of passion. Persephone wrapped her arms around him, pressing her breasts against his back, and against the scar. She stroked her finger along what was still visible on his shoulder and gently kissed the top of his head.
“You shouldn’t look at it so closely, Persephone,” Aidoneus murmured, trying to pull away. “It’s not a sight for someone like you.”
“No,” she said softly, her fingers tracing the scar once more as his shoulders tensed underneath it. “It’s part of you, Aidoneus. It’s part of what made you who you are now.”
He sat stiffly and felt her body draw back from his. Just as he was about to turn, he felt her lips meet his shoulder and press a kiss to the scarred flesh. Aidon’s breath caught in his throat and he stayed perfectly still while she slowly planted a trail of kisses down its length to the side of his arm.
She moved to face him. His lips were parted in shock, his eyes watering and staring deep into hers. Aidon rose up on his knees to meet her, and ran his fingers up her spine to tangle in her hair as he kissed her. “My love…” he whispered against her lips.
The words Persephone wanted to say to him burned in the back of her throat. In this moment, she wanted so badly to give in completely; to surrender to him and be his wife, to tell him how much she loved him. Instead, she kissed him again, feeling his arms come up her back, his hands caressing her neck. Persephone realized that after tonight this man, this king, this god, would never let her go— and she was certain now that she didn’t want him to. But if Aidoneus knew that he’d won her…
She shuddered and drew back, looking at his face. Her gaze trailed across his body, taking in his wide shoulders and strong legs built with lean muscle. She reached out and smoothed her hands across his skin, learning him. Aidon sat still and let his wife’s eyes, then her soft hands explore him. She moved in a circle around him, her knees pressing into the mattress. Persephone took one of his hands, drawing his long fingers out and tracing each knuckle, then his wrist.
“Did this place change you as well?”
“What do you mean?”
“Today I spoke with Hecate, and she told me that this place is changing me into the goddess I was born to be,” she said, thinking about Kottos’ words, and trying to picture her husband after he’d been freed from Cronus.
“This place calmed me considerably,” Aidon said. “I was young and fresh from the war when I arrived; this lot was not what I’d fought for, and at first, I seethed. The Underworld tempered that anger, and turned me from a warrior into a king.” He looked at the rounded curves of her breasts and hips, her darker hair, and understood what she really meant. Persephone was trying to picture him in earlier days. “Physically, I haven’t changed much.”
“What did change?”
“Well, I didn’t trim my beard as often back then. And I got more sunlight on my skin. I kept my hair a bit shorter, but still wore it pulled back from my face for battle.”
“The few gods I’ve seen keep their hair shorter than that, even…”
“I suppose that’s the style, now. What— you want me to cut my hair?” he said with a coy grin.
“Oh no! I like it long,” she said. “It suits you. And if you cut it short, what would I hold on to when—”
He watched her eyes widen and her lips part in shock at what she had just implied. Her face and breasts flushed a deep red as she looked away. Aidon grinned at her, and tipped her chin back up to look Persephone in the eye. “If that’s how you really feel, wife,” he said, planting a chaste kiss on her lips, “I’ll never cut it.”
Persephone gave him another shy smile and undid the gold clasp that bound his curls back. She ran her fingertips in circles over his scalp, massaging them through his hair as he sighed and relaxed. Her hands moved over his shoulder and along the length of his other arm until she saw a razor thin white scar cutting upward along the side of his bicep. “Did Cronus do that too?”
Aidon glanced down to where she was tracing her finger and wrinkled his forehead in thought, almost forgetting where he got it. “No; that was from the war.”
“I’ve never seen scars on an immortal before…”
“I was young and we were all very weak once we were freed; the Titans could injure us as easily as mortals wound each other. And I didn’t have bolts of lightning or a trident to help keep my distance. I needed to get up close when I fought them.”
“What happened here then?” she said, tracing its ridge once more.
“I think that one was from Koios, when we crossed swords at the base of Mount Othrys.”
She imagined Aidoneus in his youth, the formidable warrior god, mightier than Ares. She pictured the hard muscles and sinews of his long legs protected by leather-bound greaves, his dark crested helm and golden armor flashing in the sunlit melee of battle. The clash of bronze against bronze, wood, and even flesh echoed in her imagination. Persephone quivered at the idea of Hades cutting down his foes like blades of grass, fighting his way through to duel with the ancient and deadly god of the oracles and intellect. Her eyes lit up and a smile teased the corners of her mouth. “Tell me more…”
“Well, sweet one, there’s not much to tell about that battle… The Helm of Darkness had been very recently given to me for freeing the hosts of the Underworld. I hadn’t had it for long and foolishly thought that because Koios couldn’t see me, he couldn’t hear me either. He turned and slashed in my direction, and I ducked out of the way, just barely.” He looked down at the scar. “Or not enough, truthfully.”
“How did you beat him?”
He tilted his head forward. “Are you sure you want to hear this?”
She nodded enthusiastically. He gave her a half smile, noting how adorable she looked sitting there with her hands clasped in her lap, unaware that her arms were drawing her breasts together into a deep and delicious cleavage.
“All right, then… When Koios’ blade glanced off my arm, and because he couldn’t see me, it gave me enough of an opening to… ahhh… put my sword through his neck,” Aidon said, mumbling the last words.
Her eyes and mouth flew open and she shuddered as the fight played out in her head in all its bloody detail.
“Persephone, I told you… these stories might not be for you.” Between a horrific childhood and his exploits during the war, she was going to think he was a monster. He watched her face carefully. Maybe I am, he thought. Maybe I should have just left well enough alone…
“No!” she pleaded. She took a deep breath and composed herself. “Please don’t stop! I can handle it,” she continued calmly.
His mind played with the innocent double meaning of her words and the palpable heat of her flushed skin. Aidon’s fought back a surprised smile as he caught the scent of lilacs in the air between them. His story was arousing her. He narrowed his eyes and smirked, indulging her. “With the Titans, we discovered that the only way to subdue them was to be quick about it. They were gods of time; a long fight was to their advantage. I ran Koios through and pinned him to the rocks with my sword still in his throat, then opened a gateway underneath him to Tartarus. When I slid the blade out, he fell into the Pit. His hosts saw that their lord god was gone and fled into the fields of Thessaly, where your father’s Cyclopean army crushed them.”
Her breath hitched and she leaned toward him again, her finger dancing across the scar once more. “Did it hurt?”
“It certainly stung, but it was just a flesh wound. Now this one,” he said, turning to lay on his side and showing her a short scar on the outside of his right knee, “this one hurt.”
She leaned over him as he sat back against the pillows and ran her hand over the jagged white scar. “How did you get it?”
“I was… protecting someone,” he said, freezing. I’ve gone too far; I shouldn’t be telling this story, he thought.
Persephone paled. Her mother had told her stories about Cronus’ right hand, Iapetos the Piercer— the cruel god of finite mortality itself. “Wh-who were you protecting?”
She looked up at him in shock. “But my mother said he went to Tartarus before I was born.”
“He did,” Aidoneus said. “I sent him there.”
Persephone leaned against his chest as he lay back and felt him take a long breath. He ran his hand through the long strands of her hair that had spilled across his shoulder.
“Right after Zeus freed us, and before we convened on Olympus, the six of us scattered across Hellas so Cronus couldn’t find us. All of us were very weak, and it was only with the intervention of a few of the old gods that we survived at all. Zeus retreated back to Crete with Rhea, Tethys took Poseidon and Hera to Samos, Themis hid Hestia on Cythera, and Hecate took Demeter and me into the ether so she could hide us everywhere and nowhere all at once.”
“My mother never said anything about— Hecate took both of you?” Persephone ran her hand along his chest. No one had ever told her this. She leaned into him, eager to hear about a history that had been kept from her, secrets that her mother had shied away from when she asked too many questions as a young girl.
“She was our teacher; our priestess. Hecate is still my greatest mentor— more of a mother to me than Rhea ever was.” I shouldn’t be telling this story. He stroked Persephone’s arm and wondered if he should continue. She needed to hear his past and if he didn’t tell her now, he would have to answer these same questions if she spoke with Hecate. He had trusted her with it this far. “Your parents were deeply in love with each other from the moment Demeter was rescued by Zeus. Nine years of bloody fighting passed before it was safe enough for the six of us to meet on Olympus. We gathered to draw up plans for how we should end the war and what would become of us once it was over. We didn’t come to any kind of an agreement. As far as I’m concerned only one good thing ever came out of that first meeting— you were conceived that night.”
Persephone looked down. She had been told that part, at least. It was the part Demeter would talk about most— how the young rebel god had caught her as she fell from Cronus; how he had fallen in love with her the moment she landed in his arms, shaking and blinded by the daylight; how his was the first face she had seen since the darkness, his youthful mop of golden hair shining in the sun. Demeter told her how Zeus fell in love with her first out of all beings— that they waited for each other after he freed her. “She told me that part at least; she always told that story. But never any of the other… details. Mostly because she said I was too young to hear about romantic love.”
“That’s a pity,” Aidon turned toward her, “because then you would know about how your mother crept up on the sleeping Iapetos and tried to steal his spear.”
“Oh, she was very brave,” he said. Brave and foolish, he thought.
“Why did she do it?”
“Because Zeus started… turning his affections elsewhere.” He caught her stilled hand in his and looked down at her. “I’m sorry.”
“Why? I mean, it’s sweet of you to consider my feelings, but I’m all too familiar with those stories. You don’t need to protect me from them,” she scoffed. She masked her pain well, and must have masked it for centuries, but Aidon could hear the hurt in her voice. “His infidelities are nothing new.”
Is this why you cannot fully open your heart to me, Aidon thought, because you think I’ll be like him? He massaged her palm and wrist in his hand. “She was trying to win him back with an act of bravery. Demeter was already carrying you, loved you— grabbed my hand once and pressed it to her womb so I could feel you kicking at her. We hadn’t become the Olympians yet, and all six of us were more or less fighting individually for our own survival. She ‘borrowed’ my helm in the dead of night and went to the heart of Mount Othrys itself, not knowing that its invisibility only works for others if I explicitly allow them to use it. She took the spear, but Iapetos woke and saw Demeter run away into the ether with his favorite weapon. She led him straight to me.”
“What did you do?”
“What could I have done? I woke up to Demeter flying at me through the ether with the deadliest Titan on her heels. ‘Aidon, forgive me! Save my daughter!’ she screamed. I pulled the three of us from the ether into Chthonia, where I had allies. Hecate and Nyx gathered up Demeter, and I met Iapetos at the river Phlegethon.
“I had him; I was about to push him into the Pit, but I forgot to keep an eye on his other hand. He plunged his knife into my leg here,” he said indicating the raised, jagged scar above his knee, “and I lost my footing. Hecate took my helm from Demeter and pushed it to me through the ether. I put it on just as his sword was about to come down on me and disappeared, rolling out of his reach. But if I moved again, he would be able to hear me.”
“How did you escape?”
“I didn’t. Your father came charging in on his chariot, bellowing in rage, eager to defend your mother with the lightning he had just been given. The cacophony distracted Iapetos enough that I could rise to my feet. But with my helm on, Zeus couldn’t see me standing in front of the Titan. If he used the lightning, he would have struck me down instead of Iapetos, and despite being in tremendous pain, I had to act quickly.”
Aidon paused and looked down at Persephone, enraptured by his story, and didn’t know how to continue. He had never told these things to anyone before. Everyone he knew was in the war fighting alongside him.
“Don’t hold back,” she whispered. “Tell me.”
“I took off his head.”
She shuddered against him, her eyes wide. He felt her hand trail along his chest and her thigh squirm over his.
“One clean stroke. We threw him into Tartarus. When it was done, Hecate had your father, your mother and me take an oath and drink from the river Styx. We began the alliance of the Olympians that very moment by sealing yours and my betrothal.”
“Did Iapetos die?”
“He can’t; Iapetos is a deathless god. He’s chained down there with the others, but can only speak in whispers now. Your father and I went to Tartarus to make sure Iapetos stayed there, and won the alliance of the Hundred Handed Ones. Given their… history… with Cronus, they agreed with pleasure to become the Titans’ jailers.”
Persephone looked at him. “I want you to take me there to meet them.”
“Persephone, speaking to the Hundred Handed Ones and seeing them are two different things. These are beings that can subdue gods. And there are other ancient horrors in Tartarus that you shouldn’t see— that no one should ever see.”
She had drawn the power to reach into, the ether from Tartarus itself— had watched terror sweep across Aidon’s face as she opened the gateway and looked back at him. Ancient horrors. Was that what she was becoming? “Aidon, I need to know why they called to me; why they knew me. What am I? Am I… a thing from the Pit?”
“No, my love, of course not,” he said drawing her into his arms. “Why would you ever think that?”
“They called me ‘She Who Destroys the Light’.”
“But, sweet one, that’s what ‘Persephone’ means in the old tongue.”
She froze in fear. Was she cursed? She had been carrying that name all her life, though few ever called her that. The only one who had ever done so with any regularity was holding her right now. An invisible weight started crushing her chest. “Is that why my mother called me Kore, hid me, and kept me ignorant of you? …of all of this? Because she knew that if I came here I would become…”
She didn’t finish, her voice cracking. Aidon hushed her and held her as she shook. He kissed her forehead, and smoothed his arms down her back as he held her. The world above was cold and dark without her in it. He wasn’t about to tell her that. Besides, Demeter was to blame for that, not Persephone. Her mother would stop this nonsense soon enough. If not, Zeus would stop it for her.
“They called me Praxidike.”
“It means ‘justice’.”
“It means ‘vengeance’,” she countered.
“It’s the same thing.”
“No, it’s not!”
“Sweet one,” he said, turning to kiss her on the cheek as they lay side by side. Aidon laid his head on the pillow beside hers and looked into her eyes, watched her tears spill out and spread on the pillow. “There is nothing— nothing evil about you. You shine like a light down here. The reason I won’t let you go to Tartarus isn’t because I think you’ll become one with the Pit. It’s because you’re my consort and queen. You are my wife. I’m sworn to protect you and would never forgive myself if he— if anything happened to you down there.”
She looked up at him as he took her cheek in his hand and brushed her tears away.
“I love you, Persephone.”
She looked away, fresh tears brimming in her eyes, unsure of how to respond to him.
He closed his eyes and pulled her closer, whispering in her ear. “You don’t have to say anything right now, sweet one.”
She shivered against him as his breath tickled her ear and neck. Hiding her growing feelings for him would soon be impossible. Persephone could feel the same energy she called up from the earth flowing freely between them right now. She knew he could feel it too. The reverberations of it raced wound their way through each other as though their very souls were merging. “What if there is something wrong with me? What if I’m an evil thing?”
He pulled back from her with a smile, his gaze traveling the length of her body. He ran his hand over her waist and slowly down her thigh. “If there were any evil part of you, I surely would have discovered it by now, no?”
Persephone blushed hot and tilted her face toward his. She kissed him, his hands running across her body, his flesh quickening between them.
“Of course,” he said with playful eyes and half a smile, “I could look again.”
She giggled and felt him draw away from her, crouching at her feet. He lifted one foot and then the other, running his hands from her toes to her calves and peppering her feet and ankles with kisses.
“No evil here,” he said, smiling up at her. He ran his hands up her legs, and across her thighs, kissing the back of her knees.
Persephone squealed, surprised that she was sensitive there. She felt the heat of his kiss shoot up her spine and bucked as he held her steady. Amusement crept over his face at her reaction.
Aidon turned his attention to her hands, massaging her palms while Persephone sighed and sank deeper into the pillows. He planted a kiss on each knuckle and then sucked one finger after the other into his mouth, her breathing growing ragged. “None here,” he whispered.
His hands, then his mouth moved up her arms to her shoulder. She shuddered when he reached her neck and gasped when he arrived at her breasts. He gathered the liquid flesh in his palms, carefully kneading them and teasing her nipples to points before sucking one into his mouth. She moaned as his fingers and tongue alternated back and forth between each peak.
“None here,” he rasped between them with a last kiss placed over her heart. Aidon knelt between her legs and kissed down her stomach. She felt him grip her lower back, then her thighs, lifting and tilting her backward and drawing the back of her knees over his shoulders until at last he was facing his destination.
He looked into her heavily lidded eyes, then kissed below her navel and above the line of her dark curls, running a finger between her labia. “And certainly none here.”
“Aidon…” she whispered.
She gasped and watched his mouth move lower, kissing along her hip bone and the inside of her thigh. “Wait, Aidon, I don’t know if you should—” Her words were lost and her shy resistance to where he kissed her next wore off very quickly.
Aidon’s eyes rolled back and closed, his senses filling with her heady taste and scent as he ran the flat of his tongue through her wet folds, then speared it to gently probe her entrance. She bucked forward and he wrapped an arm around her waist to steady her body so he could explore her with his mouth. Every kiss, every time he snaked his tongue into her, every nibble and every hum of adoration that vibrated into her wet flesh made her body twist and her voice cry out for him. Gods, why hadn’t he thought to do this sooner?
Her thighs shook, splaying out one minute so he could hear her then trapped his ears the next, muffling her sharp cries. When he reached the top of her labia and flattened his tongue against her bud, Aidon opened his eyes to savor the sight of his wife lost in pure pleasure. He marveled at how profoundly each small movement affected her and watched her hands land [press?] hard on the sheets and pull the fabric into her clenching fists. Her half closed eyelids fluttered.
Persephone couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. Every ripple of his tongue through her nether lips drove a new wave of pleasure through her, arching her back, rushing through her breasts and up her spine as he hungrily kissed and drank her essence. She felt him shift her body as he bent forward over her and pushed two fingers into her channel. Persephone wanted to cry out his name, but had lost her ability to form words some ways back. Now she hovered at the precipice, singularly aware that this time felt different. The room started to tilt back and fall away.
Aidon felt heat dripping around his fingers as he thrust them back in, curling them forward. His fingertips searched her channel carefully for the spongy ridges of flesh he’d been told to find, and when they reach their goal, he felt her hips rock and heard her voice cry out even through the wall of her thighs squeezing around his head. He sucked the hood of her clitoris into his mouth again, and the pull of his lips and the pressure of his curled fingers became an axis of pleasure piercing through her. She came with a scream, her channel pulsing wildly around his fingers. He stroked them through her as she climaxed, mimicking the motions of their lovemaking and prolonging her pleasure.
Her essence coated his lips and his chin. Aidon flexed his arm around her to steady her as she undulated, her head thrown back against the sheets. Her fingers threaded through his hair. Another wave rolled through her and she tugged at his scalp, not knowing whether to pull him closer or push him away, unable to withstand anymore. He opened his eyes to watch the peaks of her breasts rise and fall as she gasped in release. Aidon slowly pulled away from her and delivered one last light kiss below her navel, bringing her back and legs to rest on the bed once more. He shifted to lie next to her.
Persephone opened her eyes to see Aidon run his hand hard over his mouth and the point of his beard. He brought it up and carefully licked each of his fingers, humming in pleasure as if he were drinking the last ambrosia in existence. She stared up at him wordlessly as he fitted his body next to hers, the tip of his member slick and weeping against her thigh.
“And now I’m convinced,” he said breathlessly and licked his lips with a smile, “that every last bit of you is good and beautiful.”
She breathed through a grin and closed her eyes once more, unable to move. “That was… How did you…”
Aidon smiled silently as his hand glided along the light sheen of sweat covering her neck and breasts. She glowed in the lamplight. Persephone saw him position his arm at the side of her head, ready to move over her and fill her once more.
His eyes glazed over at her meaning and he exhaled long and low as she turned toward him. Aidon lay on his back, silently swearing to himself that he wouldn’t stop her. Every inch of him wanted to take her under him this very moment and join their flesh as deeply and thoroughly as he possibly could. Instead, he watched Persephone kiss his chest, moving her hands over his shoulders and tensed arms.
She stared at one of his flat nipples then darted her tongue out, listening to him hiss through his teeth as his entire body quaked. That was unexpected for both of them. Veins pulsed under the skin of his forearms and his knuckles turned white from clenching his fists. Persephone knew then that he was using every bit of will not to take her then and there. She would have to revisit them later. Greater temptations awaited her and she knew her time to explore him was dangerously pitted against his desire to drive mercilessly into her. She kissed over Aidon’s stomach and heard him sigh, allowing himself to relax against her careful exploration. She ran her hands carefully down the path of coarse hair that started at his navel, not touching his most sensitive flesh just yet. He drew his legs slightly apart so she could kneel between them.
Persephone stroked her hands up his inner thighs. She cradled the soft globes of flesh at their juncture that felt vulnerable and potent all at once. His thighs tensed as she rolled them in her hand. She startled as his cock jumped on his clenching stomach, reacting to her caress. Aidoneus exhaled sharply as her fingers trailed up the ridge of his shaft, then groaned when her hand wrapped around its base. She stroked upward, lifting it off his stomach as he shut his eyes. Her fingers circled his girth, her thumb barely meeting her middle finger over the pronounced vein pulsing along its length. The skin was softer than she imagined, almost delicate, a surprising contrast with the powerful hardness underneath. She gently pulled it back, then stroked her hand up its length and heard him sigh, his back arching forward. She recognized that reaction, and wanted so badly to give him the same pleasure he had just given her. She ran her thumb over the head and felt the drop at its tip slick over the crown’s uneven edges, smiling in delight when he moaned once more. Another clear drop welled up and replaced it, filling her with an irrepressible urge to taste him.
Persephone brought her lips down. Aidoneus felt himself straining closer to her waiting mouth. She smiled and stopped for a moment, faintly remembering something Hecate had said just after she arrived, and looked up at him with a playful glint in her eyes. “Aidon?”
“Yes, love?” he said, his own eyelids heavy with passion.
“I won’t be trapped here, will I?”
“What?” His forehead was etched in lines of strained confusion. “What do you mean?”
She gave him a half smile. “Well, if you eat the fruits of the Underworld…”
“But, sweet one, ‘fruits of the Underworld’ are the asphodel roots out in th—” He stopped as a smile curved his mouth upward, understanding her meaning. The laugh started deep in his throat, his entire body shaking forward. He brought his hand up to his forehead and smoothed his hair back. His laugh sounded unnatural yet beautiful to her, as though such a sound never before existed.
“What?” she said in mock innocence.
“No, sweet one,” he laughed, “I don’t think that counts.”
She watched his chest and stomach clench again in another laugh, his eyes squinting against his smile. He stopped and breathed a sigh, looking up at her tenderly.
“You’ve never laughed like that before,” she said quietly.
“No,” he breathed, “I don’t think I’ve laughed like that in my entire life.”
She returned his smile. “Really?”
“I never had cause to,” he said softly, sitting up and staring into her eyes. He looked to where her hand still rested.
She squeezed him, and his eyes glazed over once more. Persephone stroked upward again while he rested back on his wrists and tipped his head forward to watch her. She licked her lips and placed them against the tip, feeling him tense. Aidon moaned as she descended to taste the salt and warm spice of his flesh. Persephone felt his hand reach softly into her hair as she enveloped him with her hot mouth. With her hand, she gripped the shaft below her lips and felt him fight to keep from thrusting into her throat. She tightened her grasp as he strained, his breath coming in ragged bursts when she darted her tongue across the crown. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the fabric of the bed sheets crumpling in his other fist and smiled, knowing that she was bestowing the same gift of pleasure on him that he had just given her.
Aidon was dying. Every sensation in his body pulled him toward her tongue circling the head of his cock. Rational thought left him when her hand closed around him, then her lips, then her tongue, then the hot touch of the back of her throat. He moaned. Her lips dragged upward with straining pressure before descending once more, enveloping him in the soft wet heat of her mouth. Her rhythm reflected his when he made love to her, each pull upward making him feel twice as hard as before. The feel of her loving him with her mouth became all consuming, pressure building up in the head, ready to burst. He felt himself edging toward the point of no return.
“Stop, stop! Persephone, please…”
“Did I hurt you?” She looked at him, her face falling. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No! No, far from it. I just—” he ached for her, veins throbbing under his skin, pulsing his desire for her. He needed to look into her eyes once more. “I need to be inside you, my love. Please…”
She sat up and moved over him as he tilted upward. Her body crashed against his chest and she brought her legs over his hips to straddle his lap. This wasn’t how he’d planned to take her, but her advances were very welcome, nonetheless. He felt heat pouring from her center. Aidon drew her into his embrace, his tongue searching hers out in a kiss, his hands tangling in her hair. He reached under her and lifted her up, crossing his legs in front of him while she wrapped hers behind his back. He had dreamed of making love to her this way since they first met in Eleusis, but in the three weeks he’d spent coupling with her in near silence, he wouldn’t have even known how to suggest it.
Persephone reached between them and gripped his shaft once more, guiding him to her entrance. With a swift thrust, Aidoneus was inside her. He broke off their kiss and kept his eyes open, face to face with her, watching her gasp, feeling her shudder in his arms as her channel stretched once more around him. Aidon held her hips steady so he could guide their lovemaking. His movements became slow and stilled when her eyes opened to his again. If he went any faster it would be over too soon. He needed this to last as long as possible, to experience the love he knew she felt but still could not voice to him. He needed to show her that it was safe to open up to him fully. Persephone shifted in his arms, needing to feel the sweet friction of him plunging into her, frustrated and mewling for him to go faster.
“Not yet…” he whispered.