"What do you mean by 'he's been acting weird'?" Hermes asked Persephone, confused. She shrugged and looked around the small courtyard where they were talking.
"He's quieter than usual, and every now and then I see him, well… It looks like he's clutching his chest." Hermes frowned, concerned suddenly at the odd behaviour of the lord of the dead.
"Have you asked him about it?" Persephone did not even bother to answer; she just looked at Hermes. The messenger god winced and answered his own question,
"Right, well, I'll see what Apollo says. He'll have some idea of what is bothering Hades."
Persephone looked at Hades, truly looked at him, for the first time, as he stood across the room from her. His hair, in contrast to his beard, hung long and unkempt, ending in greasy strands. It was black, and gleamed dully in the little light given off in the Underworld. His beard, however, was neatly trimmed and was not long, as Zeus or Dionysius' was. He had shaven his upper lip, and she could not keep the question from coming out,
"Why do you shave your upper lip?" Her hands flew to her mouth, for she had not spoken to him since that first, dreadful night, and she watched him to see what would happen.
His dark, suspicious eyes gauged her carefully. His thick brows scrunched together, creasing the skin of his sharp forehead. In fact, every bone in his face was sharp, making it a mass of shadows overlapping and adding to the fearsome demeanor the lord of the underworld.
"One day a race of warriors, of brave men, will shave their lips as I do. When they arrive, I will welcome them to the halls of the underworld, for they will have faced death without fear."
Persephone's lips formed a soundless "oh", and she watched him, waiting for his next move. Like opponents at a chess game, they stared at each other, trying to decipher the other's strategy. Hades finally spoke,
"If you don't want anything else, go. I'm not feeling well."
"I…It's about that," Persephone squeaked, wondering how Hermes had talked her into this. "Hermes says that Apollo wants you."
Hades stared at her, his face growing darker and darker. Though she had not known so before, it now became very clear to Persephone how much Hades hated to leave his domain for the world of light above.
"Why?" he asked quietly, and she found his soft voice to be more terrifying than the thunder which her father, Zeus, was accustomed to sending down.
He may have repeated the question, she did not know. Her mind had become so terrified at the sight of a very angry Hades that the emotions and fears of her first travel down to the underworld came back. She later realised that she had run to her room, but she had no memory of it.
A hushed cough broke into her thoughts, and she looked towards the doorway. A small spirit wavered there, a messenger from Hades.
"I'll be there in a moment," she whispered softly and the ghost drifted off.
Persephone smoothed her dress, patted her hair, and after checking her face for redness, she walked down to the main hall. Hades stood there, frowning, and Hermes, eternally cheerful, stood beside him.
"You'll have to hold court today," Hades said simply. She stared at him, shocked. She was only his wife, not his queen. Why was he asking her this?
"Fresh load of souls," Hermes piped in, and Hades nodded his head.
"Thanatos will inform you of the procedure; you will merely need to listen to the soul's behaviour and judge." She nodded weakly and watched as Hades stepped into his chariot. Hermes, already in place, clucked the black stallions on and the two were soon gone, heading back up to the realm of the living.
Persephone made her way to the central court, where the spindly Thanatos waited for her. He was a pale god, his hair so light it seemed almost translucent. The only dark thing about him was his eyes, and they stared at her intently as he explained what she was to do. It was not hard; she merely had to sit and look imposing.
"Hades and you are lucky Apollo called him today, after a battle. Most of the souls move on to the same place. There's only a few who you will have to judge."
And so she sat there, nodding her head one way for the majority of the battle dead, and judging the few who had run away and the few who had been so honourable as to deserve a better place. The cowards went to the left.
When all of the souls had gone, Thanatos, beaming as much as he could, assured her of a job well done.
"Lord Hades will be happy," he said smiling.
"Is he ever happy?" Persephone asked.
"Yes," Thanatos answered, not surprised at her question, "It's just very hard to tell."
With that answer ringing in her mind, Persephone returned to her chambers and prepared herself for bed. She sat in front of her mirror and then became lost in thought, trying to think if she had ever seen Hades happy. Thinking back on her stay in the Underworld then lead back to that first, terrible, dark night…
She screamed, beating the back of the dark man who had grabbed her. He remained impassive, and his black hair mingled with hers in the raging winds. She could not see much, only his dark frame and the black stallions that pulled his chariot, but she knew that they were descending down, below the earth to the Underworld. Hades was the only god who had black stallions to pull his chariot.
When they had arrived, he had dragged her to a room she had not since been in. Then he looked at her, his face dark and terrible. His black eyes burned as he stared at her, and his hair had settled around his shoulders, forming a black halo. He took one step towards her, and she had backed up, only to fall onto the floor when she stumbled. A small cry had escaped her lips, and Hades stopped. His eyes lost some of their fierceness, and he turned away, walking out of the room.
A spirit servant had come and taken her to her new room. She refused to eat until Hermes came down, telling them both of Zeus' decision. Hades had only shrugged and handed her a pomegranate.
"I won't have your mother yelling that I never fed you," was all he had said as he walked off. She remembered looking in the mirror and being shocked at how pale she was and deciding that maybe some of the pomegranate would not be a bad idea after all.
Those few seeds now kept her in the Underworld for part of the year. Her mother's rage at Hades' trickery and selfishness had shocked her. But what had been even more surprising was Hades' behaviour when she had returned. He no longer seemed to care about her…
Hades stormed off, leaving the chariot and stallions with Hermes, in search of Apollo. He hoped that the temperamental beasts would bite the young god. He certainly deserved to have that grin wiped off.
Apollo was waiting for Hades in a secluded part of Olympia.
"What did you want nephew?" Hades asked quietly, making his displeasure clear. Apollo may well be as powerful as Zeus, lesser only in years, but he was still Hades' nephew.
"Sit," was all the golden god said, indicating the seat near where he stood. Hades remained where he was, raising an eyebrow in question. Apollo sighed.
"Hermes told me that you were acting odd," he said. "Now, seeing as Eros and Aphrodite have been sniggering whenever you or Persephone is mentioned, I would assume that you have the arrow he shot at you did not dissolve as it should have. Do you want it out or not?"
Hades' lips tightened, and he sat.
"How did he find out?"
"Who do you think?" Apollo asked, prodding his uncle's chest in search of the arrow. Hades stiffened when the prodding finger hit the skin above his heart.
"I don't like guessing games," he said stiffly.
"You don't like any games," Apollo muttered. "It was Persephone."
Hades did not know what surprised him more, that she had noticed or Apollo slicing open his flesh.
"Don't move," he was told, and he sat still. It was not until Apollo had finished closing the incision that he spoke again.
"Why should she care?" he asked, a little sharply. Apollo merely looked at him.
"I do not know. Why not ask her?"
Persephone was with her mother for the second time since she had held court for Hades. When Thanatos had told him of how well the judging went, she noticed that his face was not quite as gloomy, but it also could have been due to Apollo's treatment. She did not know what had been wrong, nor did he feel the need to tell her. He had not asked her why she had felt the need to tell Hermes of his behaviour, nor did she feel the need to explain her reasons to him. They went on as they had before, silent, though with more respect for the other.
This summer had been one of sunny skies and bearable temperatures. Wildflowers were abundant, and the earth had been bountiful. Persephone walked slowly towards the stables, where Hermes waited for her. It was time, once again, to return to the dark depths of Hades. After a bright summer, she felt reluctant to return to her husband.
"Well, well," a voice sneered, and a vice grip grabbed her hand. A sharp jerk had her facing Ares, his proud face lit up with savage joy.
"Hades' little wife," he teased. "Why do you drag your feet so? Is the dark lord of below not pleasing for you?" Persephone tried to speak, but only partial syllables would come out. She was terrified, and Ares could sense it. That pleased him, and she could feel his pleasure. He backed her up, until she was pressed against a column.
"Maybe you want a real man? Is that it, little Persephone?"
His body was pressed up against hers, and she could feel his hot breath against her neck. Ares slid his free hand down her abdomen and then down her leg.
"You will tell no one," he breathed into her ear, and then pressed his mouth against hers, hard.
Persephone stood in the chariot, silent and unresponsive. Hermes, after trying to talk to her, had let her be. She was usually quiet and tearful on the rides back to the Underworld, so she assumed that he would think nothing of it. As much as Hades scared her, she feared Ares.
But she had forgotten how perceptive Hermes was and how persistent he could be. He normally left after he saw her enter Hades' palace, but this time he sought out the dark god after she had disappeared into the halls. Hades was holding court, as Hermes well knew, but he made his way to Hades anyway.
"Hades, listen," he whispered after receiving a glare. Hades apparently had not gotten over his ploy to get him to see Apollo.
"Listen, something is wrong with Persephone. I don't know what it is, but it's bad." Hades had looked at him, long and hard, before beckoning to Thanatos.
"You will help him," was all that he said to Hermes as the god of death sat in the throne vacated by the god of the dead. Hades then exited the hall.
Hades strode down the dark hallways, listening to the quiet murmurs of the souls. Zeus and Poseidon had never understood why he hated to leave the dark underworld, and he never felt like informing them of his love of silence and quiet. How could they understand, they would loved the crash of waves and thunder?
When he noticed a lack of souls muttering, he turned down a corridor. He followed it to the end, where a room waited. This was the same room he had dragged Persephone to that first night, when Eros' arrow had burned in him the strongest. He had almost raped her that night, only to be stopped by her small cry of pain. He had then left, ashamed and angered that he should be so affected by an emotion, even if it was love.
He opened the door and noticed the small form of Persephone huddled in the corner, sobbing as silently as she could.
She looked up, in shock, when she heard Hades call her name. That was the first time he had called her by her name.
He stood in the doorway, illuminated by the oil lamp by the door. She could see his face clearly, and the concern that lay uncovered by shadow shot its way to her heart.
"Persephone," he said again, "What happened?" Hades took a few steps forward, stopping when she recoiled, and held out his hand to her.
"Please," he whispered, "Tell me. You… you helped me by telling Hermes of my ailing. Let me help you."
The pure, honest concern undid her. How often had he stood aside in the corridors for her to pass; how often had he let go without comment her tear stained face, knowing that she missed her mother and the sunlight? And, more importantly, how often had he left or changed his demeanor when he saw that he was frightening her?
Suddenly she was in his arms, her face pressed between his chest and arm, sobbing. He was surprised at first, but then encircled her within his arms, folding her within his cloak. He rested his head on hers, whispering soothingly.
"It's alright, I will protect you."
Hermes was surprised when he came down to bring Persephone up. Hades stood with her, and she had her hand on his arm.
"You're both coming up?" he asked, shocked. Hades raised an eyebrow.
"Why else would I be standing here?" he asked quietly.
"To confuse me," Hermes replied quickly. While it was not as good of a reply as it could have been, for Hades never saw the point in games, Hermes could not be lost for words. He would loose some of his reputation if he was.
Persephone smiled weakly, and Hermes wondered if whatever had happened when he last returned her to the Underworld had anything to do with it.
"Oh right," he finally said, rolling his eyes. "Apollo needs to check up on whatever it was that I had to drag you up top for."
"What was it, anyways?"
"You have no need to know." Hermes grinned and stepped onto the chariot, picking up the reins. He liked being somewhat in on whatever his uncle had planned.
When the three of them arrived at Olympia, Demeter was waiting for her daughter. She gave Hades a suspicious glare, but he ignored it, nodding a greeting. She hugged Persephone tightly, noticing something amiss. A whispered flurry of words flew between the two, in which Persephone only partially managed to convince her mother that what was wrong had nothing to do with Hades. But then, Hades was involved, just not as Demeter thought he was.
The lord of the Underworld had already made his way into the inner halls and gardens of Olympia. But he was not headed towards the preferred resting places of Apollo. Instead, he was making his way to where Ares constantly practiced.
The war god turned upon Hades' entrance, confident as always.
"What can I do for you, uncle?" he sneered. Hades walked up to Ares, until he was within normal conversation distance. Grabbing Ares' arm suddenly, he twisted it around, and threw him onto the ground. He placed his foot on the small of Ares' back and leaned forward, still holding the war god's arm.
"I would suggest," he threatened softly, "That you leave my queen alone if you wish to remain on this side of the earth's surface. I am not bound by law as your father is."
Then, twisting his nephew's arm a little more, he left.
A/N: The race of warriors Hades refers to are the Spartans, who traditionally shaved their upper lip.
One of Zeus' wives was Themis, Law. His marriage, and adherence to the concept of Law, is the basis of his kingship; theoretically Poseidon or Hades, as the elder brothers, should be king.
And for those so inclined, the picture that inspired this retelling: faespirit./art/I-will-protect-you-78378805