A/N: I'm not too clear on dining rituals in ancient Greece, so everyone will have to bear with me. I'm planning on taking a class on Greek Culture next semester, but that's next semester. I don't think I should wait to write this chapter until then. :) I haven't changed the rating of the whole story because as far as I know so far, this is the only chapter that would earn an R rating. So—warning before you read, this chapter is rated a soft R. And if that doesn't bother you, then read onward!
By the time that Hades made his way to his own dining room, Persephone was already there. He stopped in the recesses of the doorway, his eyes narrowed as he watched her. She illuminated the dark room simply with her presence—already it seemed brighter than he had always seen it. She wandered throughout the large room, studying the priceless art and jewels that were scattered randomly throughout the room. Although the room was tasteful, it was also austere, just like its master. He could already see her itching to move things around, and he felt a little bubble of dark amusement in his chest, although his eyes didn't smile.
He moved silently into the room and toward her. She turned, her eyes gleaming with pleasure, and found him very close to her. She yelped—a very undignified sound for a goddess, no matter how young—and jumped instinctively away from him. His hands whipped out and slid around her upper arms to hold her still.
"My lord!" she gasped, staring up at him with huge eyes. "My lord, you frightened me!"
"Apparently so," he said dryly, and he saw her mouth twitch before she said repressively, "You should make more noise! Or do you always sneak up on people?"
He arched one dark eyebrow at her in a supercilious movement. "When I choose," he said dismissively, and saw her remember that he was one of the oldest gods—Zeus's brother. But then, bloodlines didn't mean too much to the gods. At least not in romantic terms.
She dropped her eyes to stare resolutely at his sternum. "I apologize for my shrewish behavior, my lord," she said meekly. Since she wasn't looking at his face, she didn't see his brows drop down over his eyes in consternation. He had wanted her to be the meek and obedient woman that he had always envisioned in a wife—Chaos forbid, nothing like Hera—but now that he had her, he wanted back his little spitfire.
"You weren't acting like a shrew," he said curtly. "You have no need to apologize, Persephone."
Her gaze flew back to his eyes, and her smile burst forth like the sun from the clouds. "You said my name," she breathed, and he blinked in surprise. So he had.
"Yes, my lady," he said coolly. "Did you not ask me to do so?"
She deflated. "Yes," she admitted. "It's just—earlier you weren't calling me that. You called me 'little cat'."
Hades eyed her frostily. "Did you not like the epithet? I thought it accurate."
"Accurate?" she repeated curiously. "Do I seem catlike to you, my lord?" She arched one eyebrow at him in a gesture he knew was similar to his own. And since he recognized it, he also recognized that she was subtly teasing him.
His fingers slid slowly up her throat to grip her very gently beneath the jawline. Her eyes flew to his, her mouth opening slightly in surprise. He leaned closer to her, and saw the brief flare of panic in her eyes, only to be replaced by confused heat. "You're little, and delicate," he breathed, his eyes on hers. "Playful. Like a kitten."
She stared up at him, momentarily speechless. Finally she whispered, "I like it, my lord."
A slow, almost cruel smile curled his lips. "So I gathered, little one." He released her slowly, letting his fingertips trail down her silken throat before he removed them. He saw her convulsive shiver, and saw that her pulse was pounding in her throat. With a sense of satisfaction, he knew that she was starting to realize that she wanted him. And perhaps that she had penned herself in with a very dangerous creature.
"Shall we dine?" he asked silkily, and she nodded unsteadily. He seated her on one of the couches, and almost as if they had been waiting, several nymphs hurried into the room and made obseiences before the pair. Persephone blinked rapidly. She had expected them to make the gesture to Hades—he was their lord—but she hadn't expected it to be aimed at her as well. She looked up at Hades for guidance, wondering what it meant. But he wasn't looking at her—rather, he was looking at one of the nymphs. Startled, Persephone turned to look and saw that the nymph was staring at her with her mouth open in shock.
Persephone gave her a puzzled look, then leaned closer to Hades. "What's wrong with her?" she whispered, trying to keep her voice low so the nymph in question didn't hear her.
Hades never took his eyes off the nymph, whose mouth had snapped shut and had rapidly exited the room. "She's just surprised to see you here, little cat."
Persephone suppressed a shiver at his dark, sensual voice saying her new epithet from him. Then she forced herself to focus on his words. "I'm sure she would be surprised—I'm here unescorted, and no one probably knows where I am." She bit her lip, suddenly realizing that her mother would probably be dreadfully worried.
As if he had heard the thought—which she knew he hadn't, gods didn't intrude upon one another's thoughts—he turned to face her, his eyes intense. "Don't worry about your mother, little one," he murmured softly, his fingertips brushing lightly over hers as he reached for his goblet sitting before him. "She'll be just fine."
Persephone nibbled on her lip anxiously, and Hades couldn't resist the compulsion to watch her in fascination. "But she'll be so worried," she fretted. "I don't want her to worry, I just want to get away from her!"
There was a low rumble in Hades's chest that Persephone realized was his version of laughter. Although in anyone else it would have been just a threatening rumble, she realized that this god never laughed, and this was as close as he would probably ever come. She smiled to herself, knowing that in some way she had amused him.
"You've certainly done that," he said dryly. He hesitated for a second, then awkwardly patted her hand. "Don't worry, little cat. Your mother will survive."
"I know," she said miserably. "I guess I was a little foolish, to think that she wouldn't worry."
"Yes, you were," Hades said blandly, and she shot him a dark look from beneath her lashes. She saw a flicker of amusement in his eyes again, though his mouth didn't curve. Nettled, she dipped one finger into the soft golden cream sitting on the plate before her. She licked her finger clean delicately and then glanced over at Hades to see him staring at her, his lips slightly parted in shock. She felt heat climb up over her throat and spread over her face.
"Do I have something on my face?" she mumbled self-consciously, dropping her gaze to her hands as she watched her fingers pleat her skirt nervously.
She felt his cool fingers tip up her chin so she could meet his eyes. They were intense—almost frightening. She tried to drop her gaze away from his, but his fingers were firm on her chin, holding her immobile. "Look at me," he breathed, and his voice was so gentle—so different—that her eyes flew to meet his. Immediately she froze, her breathing suspended in her throat. His eyes were intense, and they pinned her without struggle. She didn't even notice the nymphs silently leave the room, leaving them completely alone.
"My lord—"she began, but then his thumb brushed over her lips, rendering her silent.
"Don't," he said softly. "Say it."
"Say what?" she murmured, her eyes flicking nervously up to his as she stared resolutely at the bridge of his nose.
She saw his mouth move slightly, and could have sworn that it curved. "Say my name, Persephone."
Her startled eyes flashed up to his. "But my lord, you—"
She saw his mouth harden. "Say it," he said harshly. "I want to hear you. I want to hear it on your lips."
She blinked, then he saw her eyes soften helplessly. He looked so alone, so desperate for one moment that she couldn't help but feel her compassion stir for him. Without reservation or thought, she raised her fingertips to lie gently on his cheek. She felt his body jerk convulsively beneath her touch, but knew that it wasn't from revulsion. He was staring at her with a look in his eyes that she knew he wouldn't like if he knew he wore it. He looked—desperate. Like the only thing keeping him alive was that her fingers rested like a butterfly on his cheek.
"Hades," she murmured, and saw his eyes flare. "My lord Hades."
"No," he said hoarsely. "Just Hades."
She smiled serenely. "Hades," she repeated, her voice a tender caress. His eyes closed for a moment, as if he were savoring the sound of his name on her lips. Then he opened them and stared at her. She was terribly conscious of his fingers on her chin, and his gaze that moved slowly over her face.
He leaned closer to her, and she stared at him in shock and trepidation. "Don't be afraid of me," he whispered. "I'd never hurt you, little one."
Staring into his hard, almost cruel face, she felt the icy edge of premonition grip her suddenly. "Swear it!" she said hoarsely, her fingers going to his wrist and wrapping around. Her slender figures barely spanned his wrist, only emphasizing how much stronger he was. "Swear it by Styx."
He blinked down at her, seeming to withdraw slightly. "I beg your pardon?"
"Swear it," she said stonily. "You're a hard god, Hades. I want your oath-bound word that you'll not hurt me."
He stared at her in silence, his face seeming to be engraved in stone. Finally he said solemnly, "I swear by the great Styx, that I will never physically harm you, Persephone."
She instantly relaxed, the terrible tension draining from her muscles. She didn't notice the condition he had placed upon his oath. She wouldn't have thought it important even if she had noticed. She looked up at him and smiled slightly. "Thank you, Hades."
He stared at her in silence, and she could see the silent war playing itself out behind his eyes. "I would never hurt you," he said slowly. "Even without the oath, little cat."
She smiled, and without thought she brushed her fingertips over his cheek again. "I believe you," she said softly. "But I had to be sure." She smiled impishly. "After all, I am here alone. A lady has to protect her virtue." She winked at him, and heard him suck in his breath sharply.
"And that's being a lady?" he asked sharply. She blinked over at him.
"That," he said furiously. "That—vulgar gesture!"
"What vulgar gesture?" she asked in confusion. "I haven't done anything!"
He looked absolutely infuriated, a fact that she nearly cowered from. Instead she held her ground, although her hands trembled in the face of his very formidable anger. "You. . .winked!" He said icily, nearly snarling with rage. "You will never make that gesture toward any man, Persephone!"
This time she did flinch. Although she had his oath not to harm her, it was an instinctive reaction. "I don't understand!" she said tearfully. They had been so close a moment before, and now he was yelling at her! What had happened? "What did I do, Hades?"
He rose to his feet, his anger nearly crackling the air around him. He didn't pace, although she sensed that he had the intense desire to do so. His black robes flared around his body as he took a few steps away from her. "Persephone," he said with exaggerated calm, "I know you are a gently bred girl, one who has been kept away from men for most of her life."
"Yes," she said cautiously, still feeling the dampness on her lashes. She eyed him warily.
"However," He said, his voice heating slowly, "That is no reason for common sense to elude you. I am a male, and you are a female. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"
"No," she said slowly. "I don't, Hades. Could you please be more specific?"
said, some of his icy façade cracking. "Persephone, you are a woman, and I am a
man. There are limits to my patience. You drive me to want you, Persephone."
She blinked rapidly. "Want me?" she asked blankly, and he nearly groaned. Gods, could any woman be more sheltered?
He stepped toward her swiftly and knelt at her feet. The motion was so swift, and she was so startled to see the Lord of the Underworld kneeling before her that she was held speechless and immobile. "Persephone," he said hoarsely. "It means this." His hands came up and slid into her hair, scattering pins and causing the golden mass to come tumbling down around her shoulders. She blinked rapidly, but made no outward protest against his actions.
He threaded his fingers through her hair, and then drew her down to his mouth. His lips brushed hers, and she gasped in surprise. Taking advantage of her opened mouth, he slid his tongue along the edges of her lips and then inside to caress her tongue. He could feel her trembling, but knew from her tentative touches on his shoulders that it wasn't from fear. He pulled her closer to him, still kissing her gently. She whimpered softly into his mouth, and he drew away.
Her eyes whipped open, and she stared at him shock. "Why?" she whispered. "Why did you leave?"
He felt his blood surge, making him almost dizzy. But despite that he was intoxicated with her taste, there was a small, cold part of his mind that knew precisely what he was doing and why. He could not allow her to leave him. And if that meant taking advantage of her naïveté, then it had be done.
"Nothing, darling," he whispered softly, using his velvet dark voice to persuade her. Her eyes slid shut, and he saw her pulse hammer in her throat. He felt his body surge at the knowledge that he could seduce her with only his voice.
He rose from where he knelt in front of her on the couch, then seated himself again. "Will you kiss me again?" he asked her, staring at her from beneath lowered lashes.
She caught her breath, and nodded her head mutely. "I don't—I don't know what to do," she whispered, and he nearly smiled.
"But I do, my sweet," he murmured, leaning closer to her. She didn't draw away from him, merely stared in fascination as he came closer. He wrapped his fingers gently around her upper arms and drew her to him. When he pulled her so far that she couldn't sit comfortably, she rose on her knees, staring at him with a dazed look in her eyes. He felt a pang of guilt, knowing that she had absolutely no idea what was going to happen, and no way to stop it. Then those thoughts were swept away when she unselfconsciously slid her leg over to straddle his legs.
He felt his heart hammer so hard he was sure it was going to burst. When she gave him a tentative look, he smiled at her and drew her so that she was against his chest. Then he dipped his head and captured her mouth with his again. He caressed and teased, took and gave until she was whimpering, shifting anxiously on his lap, unsure of what she wanted so badly.
When she slid her hands over his flat stomach, he felt his muscles jump anxiously in response. Her eyes flew to his anxiously. "I didn't hurt you, did I?" she asked, her eyes afraid and nervous.
"No," he said hoarsely. "You didn't hurt me. Quite the opposite."
She bit her lip, and with a low growl he moved her teeth aside and nipped teasingly at the same place. He moved his kisses down her throat, his fingers brushing at her robes teasingly, until she pressed herself against him, her fingers digging into his shoulders anxiously.
Abruptly she shoved anxiously at his shoulders. It took him a moment to realize that she was no longer trembling with desire, but with apprehension. He pushed himself up on his elbows to look at her face. She stared up at him, tears trembling on her lashes. The sight hit him in the gut like a hammer. "What's wrong?" he asked hoarsely, not sure if it was from emotional or physical pain that his voice was so rough. He hated to see the distress in her face, but his body was also aching.
"I don't think this is right," she sniffled. "I just don't, Hades!"
"How is not right?" he said persuasively, feeling his heart flutter. He wouldn't force her—it was against his oath as well as his intentions—but he planned on having her tonight. "Does it not feel right, little cat?"
She stared up at him with such fear and trust that he felt a funny little clutch at his heart again. "But, my lord, my mother says that women should only submit to their husbands."
"Submit what?" Hades asked her gently, his eyes glittering as he damned Demeter for her foresight.
He watched in fascination as a blush crawled over her cheeks. "Submit themselves," she mumbled.
Trying to fight his reluctant amusement, Hades cupped her face in his large hands. "Submit what of themselves, little cat? Their will? You have not done that. Your will is your own, and I have not attempted to take it from you."
Persephone bit her lip nervously. "I don't think that's what she means, my lord," she stammered.
"Then what does she mean?" he asked her coaxingly, using his sensual voice to his advantage. He saw her eyes flare, and felt her body move restlessly beneath his.
"It means—it means that I should not be doing this," she said in a rush, putting her hands over her face to hide her shame. Her mother would be absolutely livid for what she had done tonight. If she gave herself to Hades—there would be no returning.
Hades gently removed her hands from her face. "Little one, you don't have to give yourself to me," he said quietly. "Not if you don't want to. But I don't think it is such a great sin if I hold you for a while. Maybe kiss you. Such things mortal lovers do—there is no sin in this."
Persephone looked hesitant. "Are you sure?"
"Quite," he said smoothly. "Am I not one of the oldest gods? We made these laws, little cat, and I know precisely how to keep them." Or break them, he silently amended, although his steady black gaze gave nothing of his thoughts to her.
She hesitated again, then said something so low that Hades couldn't hear her. He blinked. "I couldn't hear you, little cat."
She looked up at him hesitantly. "All right," she whispered. "But—but just until I say no."
"Of course," he said immediately, feeling another pang of guilt. By the time he was done with her, she wouldn't want to say no.
She eyed him, not quite sure how to resume what they had been doing. With a predatory smile, Hades lowered his mouth to her throat and pressed gentle kisses to the soft column. He could feel her shift restlessly beneath his body, and felt himself harden even more. Her fingers wandered over his back, making him feel a little lightheaded.
Although he was wholly unprepared for the emotions that she evoked in him, he also didn't dwell on the newness of it. He had to concentrate solely on her. He was going to have her tonight and bind her to him so that not even Demeter could take her from him. He didn't know how long he lay there, holding her and kissing her before she began to shift against him again, a small movement that betrayed her impatience.
He felt a little kernel of satisfaction bloom as he smoothly slid his fingers around to travel up and down her spine. She instinctively arched from the touch, pressing her body further against his. She made a little whimper in the back of her throat, moving against him again. Hades continued the soft touches for a long moment before he brushed a gentle fingertip from the dip in her waist to the curve of her breast. She stiffened against him, but Hades was relentlessly as he swept back down. A moment later, she relaxed against him. Hades chanced a look down at her, and saw that her eyes were closed, her lips parted slightly. His hands nearly trembled with the urge to possess her right then. But he ruthlessly pulled himself back under control.
Touching her delicately, he made sure that his hands smoothed over every inch of her body so she would become accustomed to his touch. He kept his kisses leisurely, until she squirmed against him. He lifted his mouth long enough to whisper, "What do you want?"
"I don't know," she whimpered. "I ache."
He felt a bolt of pure lust, and his hands trembled before he stilled them. He laid his hand on her breast and kneaded gently. She gasped sharply, arching into the touch. He couldn't suppress the triumphant smile or the glitter in his eyes, although her eyes were closed so she could see him. "Is this what you want, little one? You must tell me."
"Yes," she gasped. "Yes, it is." Then she was clutching at his shoulders as she pulled him back down again.
Hades stared down at Persephone as she lay beneath him. Her glorious halo of hair was tousled, her cheeks still flushed from pleasure. He should have felt triumphant. But all he felt was disappointment and sadness. In himself. As if having the emotions weren't bad enough, he was doubting himself for the first time in centuries. She had done that to him. Made him doubt his own judgement.
But it no longer mattered. She had given herself to him. She was no longer a virgin. She had effectively signed her own marriage writ, because her mother wasn't going to take her from Hades now that he had taken her maidenhead. She had given herself to him for all eternity, whether or not she knew it. And he had an aching feeling that she didn't know it.
He sat up, carefully drawing her robe over her so she wasn't chilled. He scrubbed his hands over his face in a gesture uncharacteristic of him. He felt bone-weary even as he felt energized. His body was sated and happy, but his mind was in turmoil. Seeing her blood staining the couch made him feel vaguely sick to his stomach. It wasn't that he had hurt her that made him uneasy—although her pain had been gone in but an instant. It was the fact that he had taken advantage of the innocence that drew him to her. She had trusted him, and he had taken advantage of her.
He rubbed his hands over his face again, then pulled on his robe and gently dressed her. She remained asleep, her breathing regular and heavy. Just the feel of her silken skin beneath his hands made his blood quicken, even though he had just had her. But he forced himself to handle her as if she were a child, tenderly dressing her and pulled her into his arms.
He stepped into the hallway and was confronted by the nymph who Persephone had noticed earlier. He narrowed his eyes when he saw the tears falling silently down her cheeks. "What are you doing here, Menthe?" he asked quietly, his voice a rumble of quiet thunder in his chest.
"Why did you bring her here, my lord?" she whispered hoarsely. "Did I not satisfy you?"
I don't have time for this, he thought irritably, keeping the thought to himself.
"Menthe, you were a wonderful woman," he said passionlessly, his tone of voice almost giving lie to the words. "But Persephone is going to be my queen."
"But I should have been your queen!" she hissed, and Hades nearly blinked in surprise. The chit actually thought he would have taken her as his queen? He was the Lord of Souls, second only to Zeus himself. His consort would be none but a goddess in her own right.
"Menthe, you would never have been my queen," he said coolly. "You made that fantasy for yourself. I never mentioned such a thing."
Her tears started to flow faster, and if Hades had been any other god he would have shifted impatiently. "But it was understood, my lord!" Her voice had started to rise, and Persephone shifted slightly in Hades arms. Immediately Menthe was forgotten as he glanced down quickly at her face. She was frowning slightly, then she curled closer to his body, pressing her face to the bare skin of his throat.
He could have sworn he felt his heart hit his stomach. That gesture was so full of trust, of innocence. All the things that he treasured in his little cat. His throat was hot and tight, and he stayed for a moment with his head bowed, trying to get himself under control. Then he raised his head and saw Menthe was looking at Persephone with venom in her eyes. Immediately his eyes flashed with fire, and he drew himself up to his full height. "Menthe, this lady will be your queen. If you cannot control yourself to show her the respect that is due her, I will remove you from my realm."
Menthe stared at him in stricken horror. She fell to her knees and almost crawled to him, her eyes pleading. "Oh no, my lord! Please do not send me away!"
"Get up," he told her curtly, stepping back from her. She quickly obeyed, her tears still sliding like liquid diamonds down her flawless cheeks. "Go to your sisters, Menthe."
She hesitated, then nodded and walked away, her shoulders slumped and shaking slightly as she wept. Hades gave her no more than a thought before he strode toward Persephone's chamber. Once inside, he gently settled her in bed, making sure that she was comfortable and warm.
Then he merely stood at her bedside, staring at her face and feeling his heart tremble and fill with emotion. He closed his eyes for a second, praying that someday he would be forgiven for what he had done to her. He didn't want her to wake—because when she woke she would no longer have such blind trust in him. She would hate him, and he already knew that it would rip him apart.
He took a shaky breath, then leaned down and caressed her cheek with his lips very softly. "Good dreams, my love," he whispered, then withdrew from the room, closing the door behind him. In the darkness of the room, light gleamed from the single teardrop that had fallen on her silken cheek.