By the time she meets Mr. Hades for the first time, Persephone's had multiple marriage proposals.

Never any she considered actually accepting. But still. It's nice to be asked.

Mortal men—more like boys, in her eyes—singing of her beauty, writing poems of her eyes and skin and glowing smile, begging for her favor, are common guests in Demeter's garden. Demeter, Persephone's one and only Mama, tolerates it only because Persephone's made multiple assurances that she doesn't actually want to go off with any of them.

"They're just funny, is all," Persephone says to her mother one day, after another poet has been sent away brokenhearted. "Nothing wrong with a little laugh."

"As long as that's all it is," Demeter replies. Her hand goes to stroke her daughter's hair. "The day you were born, I knew you'd grow into a real beauty. I knew that once you were old enough to get men's attention, it'd be nothing but trouble from then on."

She's right, of course.

Mr. Hades comes in a mighty train, one that Persephone has been told she absolutely cannot take a ride on, and it doesn't matter where it goes, so stop asking. Actually, Persephone doesn't know much about the world beyond the garden, so she supposes she's lucky it's so big. Still, there are only so many years a girl can be among flowers and birds and rabbits without wishing for a change of scenery.

What his business is with her mother, Persephone doesn't know and quite frankly doesn't care. She's too excited at the prospect of meeting somebody new. He's... not what she expected. For some reason, she pictured a man much younger than Hades. Still, the moment she sees him, she's struck by an emotion she can't name, but she's sure she's never felt before in her life. She's also sure that if her mother had even an inkling that Persephone would feel it upon seeing Hades for the first time, she never would've allowed them to be anywhere near each other.

In Demeter's eyes, no man, mortal or divine, could ever hope to be good enough for her daughter. Fortunately, Persephone's never been too invested in what's "good" for her.

Demeter makes the mistake of leaving Hades alone, which Persephone takes as an opportunity. She doesn't bother introducing herself—he must know who she is, everyone does—and simply launches into her first question as soon as she's close enough for him to hear.

"Where's the train take you?" she asks him.

He's visibly surprised at her addressing him directly, but answers obligingly: "Hadestown."

"You come up with that name yourself?"

"Cute." But she can see he's smiling. "Do you often get guests here?"

"Yeah, but Mama usually sends 'em away before too long."

"Why is that?"

"She thinks one of them will lead me into trouble."

Hades laughs, then, a great, booming noise that floods her with warmth. "Oh, why do I feel like that was a lost cause a long time ago?" He looks into her eyes, and Persephone's struck by the way she feels truly seen. "You are completely incorrigible, aren't you?"

Persephone grins. "You have no idea," she says. "What's in Hadestown?"

"The souls of the dead. It can be a dreadful job, but someone has to do it."

"I wish I could go see it. Actually, I wish I could go see anyplace."

He smiles, but it's lopsided. "Us gods are frequently more trapped than I think the mortals know," he said. "We're bound to our duties, and our domains. Brother Poseidon can't leave his ocean for too long, Brother Zeus can't stay away from Mount Olympus, and I can't leave the dead unsupervised."

She draws closer, and he bristles up slightly, but makes no move to stop her. "Do you get lonely?"

"More than you could possibly know."

"I get lonely, too."

And then, without thinking, she raises a hand and gently touches it to his face. Hades shudders, as if he's unused to such gentleness, but when Persephone starts to draw away, he shakes his head, telling her to keep touching him—keep talking with him.

"I bet we could make each other less lonely, if we saw each other more often," Persephone says. "I bet we could make great friends."

"I bet we could. May I come and visit again soon?" Hades asks.

"It's Mama's garden," she says.

"It's not her permission I want."

Persephone smiles, and tells him he's free to come to the garden whenever he wishes.

That night, her dreams are full of the Underworld, and of its King. She dreams of what his arms would feel like around her. And of how his lips would taste if she were to kiss him.

Demeter begins to suspect there's something going on when Hades makes his third visit in a month, but Persephone insists there isn't. It's technically true, she tells herself. Hades has never even so much as tried to kiss her, despite her many hints that she wouldn't mind if he did. He's so... old-fashioned. He always keeps a respectful distance between them as they walk down the paths that Persephone knows by heart. They've held hands, but he's never initiated—that's always up to her.

Still, though, she knows she's not being entirely honest. Nothing is between them yet, but there could be. They both want it to be. He hasn't said he wishes there was more than friendship, but Persephone notices the way he never takes his eyes off her, the way he's always just a little hesitant to let go of her hand.

She feels a little bad, lying to Mama, but she reminds herself that if her mother had it her way, Persephone would be kept under lock and key whenever any male came anywhere nearby.

One afternoon, Demeter finds her daughter asleep on the riverbank next to the King of the Underworld, and just about loses her mind. Even as Persephone attempts to explain that, really, all they did was sleep, Demeter drags her home without so much as a "goodbye" to their guest.

"I knew allowing him to visit so often was a bad idea," Demeter frets. "I knew he'd try to take advantage—"

Persephone snorts out loud in a most unladylike fashion. "Mama, he did nothing of the sort. We were sitting by the river talking, and we fell asleep."

"He wants more."

"So what if he does? Maybe I do, too."

Demeter's eyes are full of steel as she looks at her daughter. "Banish that thought at once," she says. "Persephone, even if there was a man on this Earth who was good enough for you, Hades would be the furthest thing from. You are full of life and beauty and goodness, and he—he... He is of the dead. He is nothing but pragmatism and distance. He wouldn't truly make you happy. Nothing can truly warm a heart of stone. Even you couldn't do that."

"Heart of stone," Persephone repeats. "Mama, if you talked to him at all, you'd know that isn't how he is. There is a heart, he just doesn't wear it on his sleeve."

"Is that really the sort of husband you'd want? The kind where you have to dig through layers of dirt to find anything of worth? The kind where everything is a guessing game?"

Persephone doesn't answer, mainly because she can tell this is one of those times when Mama is asking questions, but doesn't actually want an answer.

Demeter massages her forehead in the way she always does when Persephone's gotten on her last nerve. "I don't want you alone with that man again," she says. "I don't trust either one of you."

"What do you have against him?" Persephone asks, barely containing her anger.

"Nothing!" Demeter says. "I'm only thinking of you. Life and death are equal, but they are also opposites. The King of the Dead is forced to exist on a completely different plane than us. Your existence must be separate from his, my dear, and if you were married, that'd be impossible. I'm very sorry, but... I'm trying to protect you."

"I could do with a little less of it, then," she snaps, before walking away.

That night, when the train returns to Hadestown, Persephone closes her eyes and listens to the rattling and whistle, and desperately wishes she was in the car with him.

The King of the Dead is on his knees, and it's all for her.

How he got into the garden without attracting Mama's attention, Persephone has no idea. But when he came to her and asked to speak privately, she happily agreed. When he lowered himself to the dirt, however, she found herself at a loss for words, which was a very unusual experience for her, but it gave him a chance to speak first.

"I feel disrespectful simply for asking this," Hades says, "but I can't bear it any longer. Persephone, you are—you are the most intelligent, most vibrant, most beautiful person I've ever met, and I... I love you. I simply love you. I know that it's absurd to ask you to leave the garden, and your mother, for an old man like me... for an old man who has nothing to offer but a cold, dark city, filled with the souls of the dead... but I wish to offer it anyway. I offer you my city, the place next to me everywhere I go, my love, and my hand. Marry me, Persephone—have pity on my heart." He offers her a sad sort of smile. "In this way, I'm just as vulnerable as any mortal man. Perhaps more. Mortals seem to fall in love at the slightest provocation. But I... I have only loved you. You are the only woman I want as my wife. So... will you, Persephone, grant me the honor?"

She's thrown herself at him, causing them both to fall to the ground, before she can even get out her response—"Yes." Taking heated, greedy kisses from his mouth, she repeats her answer like a refrain, unable to pull away.

It is then that she goes from being Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Goddess of Spring, to Persephone, wife of Hades and Queen of the Underworld. She has no crown, no throne, and no wedding band.

But she has Hades. There is no doubt in her mind, as she hears him whisper, "I love you, I love you, I love you," that she has him.

He is hers. And she is his.

Their wedding bed is made of dirt and moss and flowers. It's not Persephone's first time—don't tell Mama—nor is it Hades', but it's their first time together, and that's enough to make everything feel new and exhilarating and terrifying again.

He's quite gentle, which Persephone wasn't really expecting, but she likes it. She also likes the way his eyes widen with surprise and excitement when she tugs at his hair, sinks her teeth into his skin. She loves the sound of his shuddering, uneven breath, and the way he can't seem to keep his hands in one place. She always thought that when this happened, when they became husband and wife, when they became one flesh, she'd be able to think of nothing else, but instead, her senses are flooded, not just with him, but with everything around them. The smell of the flowers drifting through the air. The sound of birds singing and bees buzzing. The feeling of his skin, warm, and the dirt, cool beneath them. The taste of the wedding wine in his mouth. And the sight of him above her, completely and forever hers, with a perfect blue sky stretching out eternally above them both.

Finally, when they've both reached their ends and all is quiet, the newlyweds lay holding each other in the garden, enjoying their last few hours of peace before they have to face the world. Before they reveal their elopement and face the reactions of gods and men alike. As deities, they don't technically need to breathe, but in this moment, Persephone is particularly glad that they do. As her head rests on her husband's chest, she can't help but be soothed by the feeling of his breath going in and out of his lungs.

"Your mother," Hades finally says, "is going to kill me."

Persephone laughs at that. "Yeah, but you're King of the Underworld. She'd just be giving you a faster commute home."

"Still," he says, "I can't help but feel poorly. Taking her only daughter away from her."

"Don't tell her that. She'll try and forbid me from going to live with you in the Underworld. Give Mama an inch, she'll rip your arm out and demand a mile." Even so, she sighs and admits, "It'll be an adjustment, though. Going from here to the underground. That's what happens when you have a mother that won't let you go anyplace."

His hands trails down her hair, stroking it absentmindedly. "I may have a solution that'll keep everyone—well, it'll keep everyone equal, if not 100% satisfied."

Hades sits up slightly, reaching for his coat, which was the first thing his new wife cast off of him after their vows were said and the ceremony was done. In one of the pockets sits his wedding gift.

"The fruit of the Underworld," he says, showing her the pomegranate. "If you eat twelve seeds, you'd be bound there forever."

"Will I need to eat it to go with you?" she asks, suddenly craving it more than she's ever craved anything in her young life.

Hades offers her the fruit, red and ripe in his hand. "Eat six seeds, my love. One for every month that you belong to me and the Underworld. The other six, you're free to come and visit your mother and the mortals."

Persephone doesn't even try to hide her surprise. "You'd give up half the year?"

"If it keeps my wife happy, I'll learn to stave off loneliness."

And so Persephone eats the seeds, licking the juice of her fingertips, and they taste like promises and new beginnings and freedom.

Life and death are equal and opposite, completely separate for the most part. But there are a few rare moments where the two intersect. Where the souls of the dead can pass into the mortal world, and those up on top can see what's going on down below. Where flowers grow from stone, and a lover's song is enough to stir life out of the departed.

That, Persephone decides, is where she and her husband will exist.