After taking a simple, calming breath, Hades opened his arms wide as he walked into the great hall of Olympia.
"Zeus," he called. "Brother."
At the heart of the hall, Zeus sat in his large throne, looking up in wonder at the figure walking towards him. His scruffy face burst into a large smile. "Have you surfaced to see me? Such pleasantries!"
Hades didn't feel especially pleasant at all, but he forced himself to keep his arms open in a ridiculous and unfamiliar gesture of compassion as he kept walking forward. "Zeus," he repeated, a bit more forceful. "I must ask a favor."
The wonder in the great god's eyes cleared at once and he leaned back in his throne and laughed, beckoning his finger. Hermes came forward from behind Zeus, with his typical indifferent expression. "A favor!" Zeus said heartily, his large eyes crinkling with mirth. "And here I thought you had simply come to visit."
"Since when do I visit," Hades said a bit sharply, dropping his effort to be warm as he lowered his arms and fixed his younger brother with an annoyed stare. Zeus'a perpetual urge to take nothing seriously was one of the only true things that annoyed Hades about his brother. And the slights against him visitng were even more of an irritation - Hades was quite sure Zeus had never given Posiedon an ounce of trouble for staying out of Olympia. "Take me seriously. Listen to me. I must ask... a favor."
Hermes let out a dry chuckle, as if anyone encouraging Zeus to listen seriously was fighting a losing battle.
"Ask away, Hades, you know I bear you no ill in my ways," Zeus said genially.
Hermes looked up, as if he was semi-interested in what Hades had to say now, and Hades found that he had not quite chosen the words that he wanted to express. Uncharacteristically, he hesitated.
"I ask about the daughter of Demeter."
There was a short silence that was nontheless extremely stiff. Within a matter of seconds, Zeus had lost his carefree manner, and he sighed. "Ah, that is a very dangerous daughter to be asking about, I am afraid. And a very common one, too."
"Meaning Demeter does not enjoy others asking about her daughter. She goes to such lengths to keep others from asking about her."
Hades scowled. "And you take Demeter seriously? You, ruler of all? You give into her temper tantrums?"
"This is not a simple temper tantrum. Demeter guards her daughter at all costs. Hundreds have come to me asking for her hands. Demeter insists I turn down all of them. And if you saw what she was like, you would see I have no choice in the matter."
Behind Zeus, his great door opened and Hera walked in, wearing robes of magenta and her blonde hair pinned with jewels. She stopped short when she saw Hades, oblivious to the discussion she had walked in on.
"Brother!" she exclaimed, continuing forward and sitting next to Zeus on a throne the same color as her robes. Hermes instantly rose to his feet and bowed before, taking her hand and kissing it. "How unusual to see you here."
Zeus glanced over at his wife, before fixing Hades once again with his steady gaze as if there had been no interruption. "You do not understand. The protection this girl is under is astounding. Demeter has charmed a certain area of land by the stream in Nysion so that no one other than her and Persephone can enter or leave without her knowing. The girl is practically a prisoner there. In her anger, Demeter has destroyed entire lands if she finds gods intruding upon her daughter. Persephone adores her mother. She hates to displease her and does anything she asks."
Hades did not surrender so easily. "And Persephone, the young girl, is happy with her adored mother locking her up like so?"
"The girl doesn't know to not be happy with it," Zeus said, shrugging a bit. "It is all she has known. And like I said, she adores her. Adores. Loves her more than anything."
"And you allow this."
Zeus gave a sigh. "Hades, despite what you may think, I do not go poking my nose into everyone's business. I have never heard a word of complaint from Persephone... actually, I do not think I have ever heard a word from her at all..."
"You just admitted it was because she knew no other way!" Hades retorted, crossing his arms and growing frustrated with Zeus's obvious lack of apparent interest. "The girl must be freed!"
"But why the concern, Hades?" Hera asked in her drawl, her grey eyes looking down upon him with much more interest than Zeus. "What about the girl could possibly bring you all the way up here? Surely not just to ask why she is- as you both seem to imply- imprisoned...?"
Hades did not speak for a moment. He had never before asked very much from Zeus, or from anybody. He had preferred mating with mortals than any goddesses before because he did not care for any attention. He chose to stay in his kingdom rather than mingle in Zeus's for the sheer delights of not having to care about anyone other than himself. Unlike his brothers, he had never found anyone good enough to produce his offspring; he had never asked for a wife; he had never even asked for a lover. And despite the amorous view he had encountered yesterday, he was not entirely sure he wanted to.
But lovely Hera and her never-discreet mouth decided for him: "Would you like to sleep with her?"
Hades opened his mouth to give some sort of unlikely reply when Zeus interjected with, "You know I cannot give you a virgin to become a concubine for you, Hades. Especially this one. You truly have no idea the protection this girl in under. She ought to have been married off six years ago, but Demeter absolutely forbids it. Next year, she will come of full maturity, and then Persephone will have to choose to take a purity oath or I will have no choice but to give her to a husband, and Demeter will have no official say."
"And you believe she will take the purity oath, do you not?" Hades asked.
Hera said, "Of course she will. She dreads being married off because of what Demeter feeds to her. She is terrified of all gods and hides herself away to avoid speaking to anyone. She is innocent like a child, and a purity oath is what Demeter will see that she chooses."
"Then it would still not be of her own free will," Hades said determidly. "Surely you admit that she is only repeating the teachings of Demeter."
"Persephone lives like a nymph," Zeus explained. "She lives simply with Demeter. No one else has taught her any other way..." Zeus stopped speaking, leaning forward in his chair as if suddenly struck with another idea. "No one has taught her..."
Hades did not miss his chance. "Perhaps she needs to be taught. By someone who could... look after her, so to speak. To play the father as well as the lover. To help her achieve her full potential as a goddess. That is what you would like to see, isn't it, Zeus?"
Hera frowned at her husband, who was silent, and then looked back at Hades.
"Admit it," Hades said, locking eyes with his younger brother. "Admit it, you hate seeing her locked up. You marvel at her beauty too. You think it is such a waste to see her there. You wish for more for her."
"There are many beautiful goddesses, Hades!" Hera snapped, turning her head so her jewels sparkled in the light unintentionally. "If it is simply beauty you are looking for, I am sure we can lead you to many more suitable mates!"
"Hades has never asked for a mate before," Zeus pointed out to the ceiling.
"Hades has never asked for anything like this in thousands of years," Hera interrupted, throwing her arms up. "And you think he comes by for a simple chat, innocently inquiring about the care of Persephone? Is it not obvious what he truly wants? But I tell you, brother," she said more sternly, fixing Hades with a cold look. "I could give you the best of whores to satisfy you. You would be wasting you time on a waif like Persephone."
"A mate, or a whore," Zeus mused. "What are you truly looking for, Hades?"
Hades had not premeditated the answer. He had never even considered it, but the words came from him automatically, as if some instinct was driving him to say them:
There was another deep silence that Hades knew was wise not to disturb. In his mind, he pictured once again the girl he had seen lying on her back in the flowered field... Her brown curls had created the most stunning effect against the earth, and the profile of her pretty face was breathtakingly precise. There was something about her light and innocence that had struck him in a way that he had not thought ever would. The Underworld was lacking something-the softness of a female presence. And Hades had never seen a goddess softer than that one.
"This is all I can say, brother," Zeus said finally. "I cannot give Persephone to you. I cannot. Demeter's hold on her is too strong. I cannot even promise that the girl would go willingly."
"I never asked-"
"I cannot give her to you."
"You seem to be-"
"Hades! I cannot give you the girl! I cannot give her to you. Demeter watches over her too closely. Do you understand?"
Hera coughed and looked away. Hades narrowed his eyes.
Zeus leaned even more forward, so that he was nearly off the chair. He smiled. "Do you understand, Hades?"
Zeus was not saying he could not have the girl. He was saying he could not give her to him.
He could not...?
"I understand," he said.