A Rose in Winter

Prologue

The wind beat furiously outside, as if it would threaten to level Zeus' mighty palace. It very well might. Wind and rain could bring down the strongest mountain. What chance did man's creation stand when even the work of the gods could fade? Lightning struck nearby and the corresponding thunder seemed to shake the sturdy walls. But perhaps her perception was merely colored by the situation. Most things so often are.

She was only thirty-three years old, she wanted to scream. Too young to be a widow. Her husband's glassy eyes contradicted her. One illness, one fever, and everything he had been was washed away, as easily as the rain washed away dust from a traveler's cloak. Ten years was not enough with her husband. Eight years was not enough for him to be a father.

"My Lady Demeter, I'm so sorry for your loss," she heard a voice say behind her.

Turning around, Demeter saw Zeus. When the High Priestess' husband died, even a king came in person to give his condolences. He meant them. If only he knew… the words fell flat.

"Thank you, my king," she whispered.

"If there is anything you need. Either of you."

Demeter turned her blue eyes, now scarlet from weeping, towards her little girl. She was still perched on the window sill. Persephone had held her father's hand the whole time. She had never let go. Not until he had breathed his last. Then it was Persephone who had opened the window, Persephone who said the prayers. At eight years old, the daughter was more capable than the mother. Demeter only knew to make things grow; she was no shepherd to the dead.

Persephone hadn't cried, not really. How was it that such a young and innocent face held such old eyes? Her little girl stared at her, her dark eyes verging on black, shaggy, unwashed black curls framing a white little face. She was every inch her father's daughter. Demeter's breath caught in the back of her throat.

"Well, I'll leave you to… If you need anything at all," Zeus repeated awkwardly.

"Yes, thank you, my king. I will let you know."

When Zeus left, Demeter's gaze shifted from her haunting child back to her husband's cold eyes. She closed the lids gently with her fingers and kissed him one last time. Somewhere behind her, Demeter thought she heard Persephone whimper, but she must have been mistaken.

Oh, my love, she thought bitterly. How will you help her now?

Ten Years Later

Chapter One:

Dark Horse

The sunlight drifting through the drape covered windows was a comfort to Persephone. She sat, a captive in the darkened room, but the sun's rays pleasantly warmed her face. Persephone faintly acknowledged the harsh murmuring sounds issuing from her mother, although she did her best to ignore them. Who could concentrate on a day like this? Dreamily, she gazed out the cloudy glass where she could see yellow and blue butterflies perched on a lavender bush. But soon the butterflies would be gone. The weather would grow colder and all the flowers would die.

"Persephone," her mother shouted. "Persephone! Are you even listening to me?"

"Ummm… something about Apollo and King Zeus."

"It would be a miracle if you ever actually listened to me!"

"I do listen, Mother, but…"

"I know, I know, the fields are calling to you. But you remember, when Apollo and Zeus arrive you must be polite. No running off to pick flowers. And no sarcastic comments to Apollo. You're going to marry him someday."

"Mother," Persephone began, "Apollo would never marry me. I have no special standing to tempt him and I doubt he'd give me a passing glance otherwise." Even as Persephone said these words, she knew them to be false. And, unfortunately, so did her mother.

"Now we both know that that isn't true," Demeter chided. "Apollo has had his eyes on you for years and as for standing, you're the daughter of a high priestess! What more special standing do you need?"

"I don't like Apollo," Persephone answered sullenly. "He's too flirtatious. Why would I want to marry someone who's always on the lookout for a new girl?"

"I don't understand what happened between the two of you," Demeter said, stroking her daughter's hair. "You used to be the best of friends and now you barely say two words to him! I wish you would talk to me," she sighed.

"Would it matter?" Persephone responded petulantly. "You'd just tell me how I misunderstood something or that I judge people too harshly."

"Oh, Persephone, give it a rest!" Demeter cried in exasperation. "And don't say another word against him. You've insulted him time and again, but somehow he's still interested. If he asks you to marry him, you would be a fool to refuse him."

But Demeter saw that her daughter's attention was wavering. "Fine, go pick your flowers, but come back quickly. They could be arriving at any moment and you need to change clothes before anyone sees you in that."

Persephone, grateful for her release, ran out the door and ignored that last comment about her favorite dress. It was too old, the hem was too short, and her mother said the color was too dark, but Persephone liked the way its forest hue contrasted with her pale skin. She didn't really care how she looked anyway. Right now, she didn't feel like she cared about anything. Lost in her thoughts, she barely noticed the crescendo of approaching hoof beats.

The sunlight coming through the dense trees blinded Hades, too many days spent in darkness. He wasn't comfortable here like Apollo. Hades seemed the opposite of Apollo in almost every way. Apollo, the fair-haired favorite of their father, was famous for his golden locks and brilliant blue eyes which he had inherited from Zeus. Bronze-skinned with the well defined arms and chest of an archer, Apollo was the pinnacle of manly beauty. Hades felt he was a pale comparison, though most women would agree that he was much too harsh a judge.

His shoulder length hair fell in unruly black waves, the bane of many a childhood nurse. His nose was straight and he boasted a strong jaw which was partially obscured by a short black beard. Hades was tall with the sturdy physique of one who fights battles rather than plays at them. Although handsome, Hades may have remained rather unremarkable if it were not for one feature. Hades eyes were a stunning emerald green, a shade that was almost unknown in the Summer Kingdom. If Apollo was the pinnacle of beauty for Summer men, then Hades was surely his Winter counterpart. But unfortunately, this was not the Winter Realm and Hades felt quite out of place.

He heard Apollo and Artemis talking behind him, something about a banquet. Artemis, his sister and Apollo's twin, was a sweet girl in her own way, but she was headstrong. That's why Hades loved her so much. Artemis did what she wanted regardless of what Zeus thought. Artemis wasn't bound to anyone, he thought with satisfaction. She came and went as she pleased. She hunted with the men as a small girl and later by herself when she had surpassed them all. Artemis was bright and vivacious like Apollo and had the same golden hair, though hers was straight as a nail. Her eyes were different though, a deep amber color that seemed so much warmer.

Hades loved them both dearly, though Apollo tried his best to make that difficult. Hades couldn't really blame Apollo for his behavior. He was horribly spoiled, something Hades blamed Zeus for. Hades bore his brother no ill will or jealousy. Sometimes it was more of a burden to be the favorite. Apollo was Zeus' ideal, a miniature replica of his father. Hades thought with regret that it was no wonder that Zeus had chosen Apollo over him. From the moment Apollo was born, Zeus had ignored Hades. Perhaps that wasn't quite a fair appraisal of the situation. Zeus' apathy was long-standing. When Hades was only nineteen, Zeus gave him the coldest, most inhospitable land in his possession and promptly forgot about him. Apollo, of course, got a nice palace by the southern sea.

But that doesn't matter so much, Hades thought as they rode out of the forest and the light engulfed him. He liked it there. For the most part. His eyes struggled to adjust to the light, but when they did, he rubbed them again. Kneeling down by a large patch of violets was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. As she bent over to pick a flower, a cascade of raven hair fell over her shoulder. Tiny bits of flowers and pollen clung to her hair and hinted that she had recently been rolling in the grass. Hades felt the corners of his mouth turn up, imagining her doing so.

From the slow movement of her lips, Hades could tell she was singing to herself. He couldn't help but wonder what song it was, what her voice must sound like. Somehow he could tell without hearing that it was beautiful. Hades felt his throat tighten in anxiety. Would he ever hear her voice? He almost doubted if she were real, as she seemed more faerie than human.

Their eyes met and she looked somewhat disturbed, but seemed to break off eye contact either from avoidance or lack of interest. Although it was only a brief moment, Hades felt a tug when her eyes met his, as if someone had plucked an invisible string connecting her heart to his. Zeus and Apollo lagged farther behind, but Artemis quickly followed her older brother.

"Who is she?" he asked quietly.

"Oh, that's Persephone, Lady Demeter's daughter," Artemis said. She added in a sarcastic tone, "She's Apollo's interest in these parts."

"Oh," Hades said softly. He hadn't even met Persephone and Apollo had already stolen her.

"Persephone's not interested in Apollo at all. I can introduce you, if you want," she added quickly. Persephone is exactly the right kind of girl for Hades, she thought happily. Heaven knows he had been lonely long enough.

"You could, huh?" Hades laughed.

"Of course," Artemis said gleefully at the thought. "She's also my best friend. That means that I have all kinds of useful information."

Hades cast a long look over his shoulder at Persephone and wondered how long one of Artemis' introductions would take to arrange. The string around his heart pulled painfully tight. It was strange, since he only learned of its existence a few moments before. Artemis giggled horribly at his side.

"What?" he asked nonchalantly.

"I've never seen you like this before," she tittered in reply. "You really like her, don't you?"

"That obvious?" Hades joked.

"Only a lot. So what are you waiting for?" she laughed. "Enlist my aid! I'm more than happy to help."

Hades was about to answer, but stopped once they caught sight of the Palace of Olympus, named for a nearby mountain. Apollo was too close and he certainly didn't want him overhearing this conversation. It would probably make Apollo more eager than ever and Hades didn't care for unnecessary arguments and head-butting. They dismounted and Hades gave his mare an affectionate pat on the head before the horses were led on to the stables.

"I hope dinner will be soon," Apollo roared cheerily at a servant. "I'm famished."

Hades sighed at the thought of having to spend another evening listening to Apollo harp about his conquests or his unsurpassable skills in whatever hobby he had recently acquired. Apollo felt the need to prove he was the best at everything and Hades was too kind and tired to call him out on it. Heaven knows no one else would.

Still, Persephone would be there and an evening spent with her could never be a waste. He had never believed in love at first sight until he clapped his eyes on her. It was unmistakable. Illogical maybe, but unmistakable nevertheless. He didn't know anything about his mystery girl. Not the first thing, yet he couldn't shake the strangest feeling that he knew her from somewhere. Hades smiled for the first time in a month, already forming his strategy. It was rather simple: Artemis would introduce them and he would find a way to show her that he was the only man who could ever make her happy.

He's already here, Persephone thought with a sigh. Now there would be no escaping Apollo. A few years ago, her mother had thought them too young, but that changed last summer. Now Demeter was constantly reminding her that Apollo was a king in his own right and someday he might rule his father's kingdom as well. There was no use in pointing out that his current title was more honorary than anything else. Well, maybe that was unfair. It had been honorary up until last year. Either way, it made no difference to her. Persephone didn't want a kingdom to rule. She headed towards the stables to visit Vanra, her horse. It had been too long since she had ridden him last and Vanra was prone to bad moods when she was away.

Persephone stroked the red stallion and clucked with disapproval at the knots the stable boy had left in his mane. Though in his defense, Vanra was skittish. He probably couldn't get close enough. Picking up a brush, Persephone attempted to put his mane to right. She glanced over to the other stalls and their occupants. The first was a dark brown one, Zeus' horse, she noted. Next to him was a golden horse she recognized as Apollo's and, beside it, was the white mare Artemis favored. Eagle Eye, Aurora, and Venatrix, or Trix as Artemis liked to call her. Persephone greeted them all as old friends. But an unfamiliar dark horse stood in the last stall. One of the stable boys entered and clumsily tried to brush her, but the mare neighed hysterically and backed away. The stable boy was new and clearly he still hadn't learned how to approach strange horses. Persephone dismissed him and took over herself. She quietly called out to the mare, who started to walk over slowly. Feeling more confident, Persephone entered the stall and stroked her. She seemed so lonely and out of place. Persephone knew the feeling.

Hades stalked in but nearly stopped when he saw Persephone leaning over his black mare Khadga. She looked so sweet, talking gently to Khadga and brushing her thick fur. This wasn't the time to be hesitant. Hades would enlist Artemis' aid at another point, but his introduction should be his own. It was better this way. He could make his own impression on her, before she heard anyone else's opinions. Persephone didn't seem to notice him as he walked into the stall, but she definitely noticed when his hand slid over hers. Persephone nearly jumped out of her skin. Seeing Hades standing there, she quickly moved behind Khadga.

"You shy like a frightened horse," Hades chuckled.

"I didn't know anyone was here," she stammered.

The sound of her voice was sweeter than he could have imagined. Moving closer, Hades lifted her chin so he could see her eyes. Black storm clouds. "Did you think I would hurt you?" he asked.

"Ye- I mean, no. I was just startled. I didn't know anyone was here," she repeated.

Who is this man? Persephone wondered. She thought she should be scared but- she wasn't. This was something else. Almost… exhilaration? Persephone wasn't sure. But he was touching her. Just a brush of the hand, no more than a handshake, his slight touch on her face, but somehow it felt intimate. Persephone never felt the urge to run more than in this moment and yet it was as if her feet had turned to lead.

"I wanted to make sure little Khadga was being properly taken care of. She's very nervous of strangers, though she seems to have taken a liking to you." So have I.

Persephone found herself staring at this strange man. She tried to feel angry, but couldn't. She tried to feel frightened but, apart from her initial startle, she couldn't. Oh gods, his eyes though! Persephone had never seen anyone with such green eyes. Hades smiled like he knew what she was thinking and Persephone looked away in embarrassment.

"I'm good with animals," she said simply. Is that the best you can think of? Persephone felt like slapping herself in the head. "I mean I really like animals," she added awkwardly. Oh yes, that was better. He smiled again. Stop doing that!

"And what about people?" he asked slyly.

Persephone felt the blood rush to her face. Oh, this wasn't good. Was running still an option? Her eyes darted behind the mysterious stranger. No, there was no clear path to the door. Then, as if divine intervention had come at last, Hermes burst into the stable and very nearly pranced over to Hades.

"Hades," he chirped excitedly, "the banquet will be starting in half an hour."

"Alright, tell Father I'll be up shortly."

"Persephone," the boy continued, "Apollo's looking for you."

The distressed look on Persephone's face did much to encourage Hades who, after tousling Hermes' mousy hair, turned to face her.

"My youngest brother of late," Hades said with a smile. "I wonder how he knew where to find me," he added thoughtfully.

"You're Hades," Persephone whispered.

"You sound surprised. Did you expect a wicked, maiden-devouring dragon?" he laughed, playfully plucking a stray leaf from her hair. Persephone shivered at his touch, which delighted him.

Persephone didn't know what she had expected, but it certainly hadn't been him. Hades looked nothing like Apollo. Not that he wasn't handsome, he was, but it was such a different kind of handsome. Apollo seemed to be chiseled from sunbeams and marble but Hades looked real. Like a man. His deep green eyes were nothing like Apollo's alluring blue, but Persephone had an odd feeling that his could be even more seductive. Hades was definitely not like she had heard.

"I have to go get ready," Persephone shouted quickly.

"That's alright," Hades said to himself as she left. "I'll see you at dinner."

Persephone stood in front of the mirror while her mother tried to braid her thick hair. She felt her hands instinctively slip into the pockets of her rose-colored dress, which were obscured by its many decorative folds. Her fingers skimmed the lining, just one last check that her charms were in place. Ever since she had been a little girl and had her first lessons with her mother, Persephone had developed the habit of pinning charms on the inside of her clothing. Today she wore jet, to ward off evil. She knew the reason behind that choice. In her right pocket, she wore pink tourmaline. Aphrodite once told her it could be used to attract love. It made her wonder why that stone, above all others, pulled her attention tonight.

"Stop squirming, Persephone," Demeter chided.

"I can't help it, Mother. I hate having my hair up."

"Fine, have it your way," Demeter said, dropping her hair.

"No, no, go ahead," Persephone sighed, knowing her mother would never be content otherwise.

Demeter smiled as she twisted her daughter's hair into a bun and began to frame it with several braids. "Apollo looked well today. Didn't he?" she casually noted, pulling a hair pin out of a drawer.

"I suppose so." Not that again. Persephone was so tired of hearing about Apollo and how wonderful he was. Sometimes she felt that she was the only person who could really see him.

"Have you talked with him yet?" Demeter wheedled.

"No, I haven't even talked with Artemis yet."

"Well why are you wasting such time? Do you want him to find another girl?"

That would be wonderful.

"And what took you so long to get back?" Demeter questioned.

"When I was in the stables, I met King Hades." The tug on her hair told Persephone that that was the wrong answer. "He wanted to talk for a few minutes. It seemed rude to refuse." Her heart thudded as she remembered the man with the mesmerizing eyes.

"Persephone, I'd hate to think that you would ruin your chances with Apollo for his nobody brother."

"Mother, he is a king you know."

"The king of what?" Demeter shouted. "Some frozen wasteland? That place is as cold as the very underworld we dread."

That you dread. "I seriously doubt it's a wasteland, Mother. I mean, they grow crops there and hunt," she added weakly.

"Hades is no one. He's invisible! And he has quite a bad temperament from what I've heard. Very glum and serious. He frightens me a little," Demeter added quietly.

"That's not at all like the man I talked to today. He couldn't seem to stop smiling." Again, Persephone immediately realized that that was the wrong thing to say. Demeter gave her a very cold look and then continued on as if she had said nothing.

"Apollo is a much better choice. He can give you what you've always wanted: security, a good position, money to grow old on."

That's what you want, thought Persephone. "But I don't like him, Mother."

Demeter stroked her daughter's newly braided hair. "Persephone, I know you still believe in those silly romantic stories your father told you, but this is real life. True love is a nice idea, but it doesn't guarantee you safety. I'd hate to see you withering away in that dark pit when you could be thriving here in the sunlight." Demeter sighed. "Speaking of sunlight, you really should get some. You look so pale."

Chapter Two

Unfriendly Competition

Apollo had Persephone backed into a corner and was stroking her arm. Persephone tried to inch away but there really wasn't any room to. Apollo leaned forward and started to lower his mouth towards hers.

"Why are you afraid?" he asked quietly. "I'm not going to hurt you. I only want to talk."

Somehow his words didn't inspire the same confidence that Hades' did. Persephone wouldn't trust him again. Not after that night…

"Won't you look at me, Persephone?" Apollo said, almost sadly she thought.

Just as he was about to kiss her, Hades walked into the room and cleared his throat loudly. "Dinner's ready," he said gruffly. Persephone looked very relieved and exited quickly, leaving them alone.

"Oh, she's a bit of a challenge, but she'll be worth it," he said, turning to Hades. "Demeter's promised her hand. I think she'll make an excellent wife," he chuckled.

There was something in his brother's behavior that seemed immediately disingenuous, but Hades couldn't decide what about. Apollo was all about secrets these days and he rarely confided in his older brother, or anyone for that matter. Still, Hades could tell that something was off. But rather than press for the truth, he simply said, "I didn't think you'd want to be tied down by one woman."

"Who says I'll be tied down? Father has several wives and mistresses."

Hades felt heat rising to his face though he tried his best to push it down. He didn't like hearing anyone talk about women that way, especially Persephone. He had only just met her, and perhaps it was irrational, but Hades felt a strong urge to protect her. The idea of this beautiful spirit being degraded to nothing more than another notch on Apollo's belt sickened him, but again he swallowed his words. Most of them anyway.

"That doesn't make it right. A man should only be with one woman." Hades knew many would disagree, but that was his ideal anyway. One of many things he preferred about the Winter Realm.

"I am; just one at a time. Usually."

"Somehow I don't think Persephone would be comforted by that."

Apollo's normally full lips were pulled into a tight line. Honestly, what business was it of Hades? He had been here for no more than a few hours and was already trying to correct his behavior. Who was Hades to preach to him about ethics and morality? He wasn't his father. "Fortunately, that's none of your business."

Hades emphatically disagreed with that statement, but chose not to answer back. What good would it do? Persephone returned to them in a few minutes.

"Aren't you coming?" she said.

Before Apollo had time to cross the room, Hades had already offered Persephone his arm. She took it quickly without glancing at Apollo. The couple entered the banquet hall with an unhappy Apollo trailing behind. Watching Hades touch her made his skin crawl. And then it struck him that Hades hadn't lectured him merely for his edification. He wanted Persephone. It was clear from the way he looked at her, the way he touched her arm just now. Persephone was supposed to be his girl. Apollo's head was spinning and he felt as if he would be sick right there in the hall. He wasn't used to having competition, especially not from his sullen older brother. What could Hades be thinking?

Apollo glanced down the hall, where Hades and Persephone were already heading. The banquet hall was set with several long oak tables, which were mostly full at this point. Artemis had saved them a couple of chairs and they sat down. Apollo noticed that Artemis hadn't saved him a seat. It figures, Apollo thought bitterly. Artemis always sided with Hades. But he would get Persephone with or without her help. How long could she resist him? Certainly Hades couldn't achieve in a few weeks what he had been trying to for years, not with the history they shared. He had to believe that. He had to.

"Artemis!" Persephone shouted as she embraced her friend. "It's so good to see you again."

"It's good to see you too."

"How have you been?"

"Bored," she said, blowing back a wisp of stray hair. "The hunting in Spring was horrible. All the men in our party were so inexperienced that they scared off most of the better game. Nobles," she sighed. "And you have no idea how bored I've been with only my brothers as company."

"Oh, I know how bored you've been. You forget that nothing ever happens here."

"At least you've had Daphne to keep you company. I've been stuck with boys this whole time," Artemis said with disdain.

Persephone shook her head. "Daphne's been gone since April. Her mother said she needed some time away from court and her father wanted to attend to some matters on their estate." Persephone saw Apollo over Artemis' shoulder and shuddered. Artemis noticed and looked behind her.

"Has he been bothering you again?" Artemis sighed. "I'll tell him to leave you alone."

"No, don't worry about it. I know how to deal with Apollo," Persephone said passively.

Hades expected all eyes to be on Persephone, but they weren't. Obviously the other men in the room must be blind, he thought, or they would all be vying for her attention. But no one seemed to notice her at all. No one looked at her, or talked to her. No one else tried to catch her eye. It was strange seeing her like this, in her more formal pink dress, with her hair so tightly bound up. It was like caging a wild animal, whose beauty languished in captivity. Hades preferred the untamed girl who rolled in meadows. Persephone kept her eyes lowered and only spoke with Artemis, who was desperately trying to get her involved in a conversation with Hades.

"So, have you met Hades before, Persephone?"

"Umm… not before this afternoon."

This was not the response Artemis had expected. She was expecting something along the lines of "Why, no, I haven't". Now she knew that her brother was keeping something from her. Artemis found herself wondering when they had met and what their conversation had been about. Persephone was being unusually difficult to read and Artemis couldn't decide what she thought about Hades.

Hades and Artemis had started piling the food on their plates. There was a spread of freshly sacrificed lamb (the two of them had arrived too late to see the ceremonies), bread still hot from the embers, goat cheeses, and an array of fruit. Hades munched on a piece of lamb, while stealing the occasional not-so-discrete sideways glance at Persephone. Artemis stuffed a piece of cheese into her mouth and chewed it contentedly, but was concerned for Persephone, who wasn't eating very much at all.

"You okay, Persephone? You usually eat more. Here," she said, shoving the dish of pomegranate seeds towards her. "At least eat some of these."

"Not really hungry." Persephone looked down distastefully at her plate.

The food was good, but she felt too many eyes on her. Demeter was giving her the death glare, presumably for her close proximity to Hades. Zeus kept giving strange looks in their general direction. And Apollo never took his eyes off of her. Hades was staring at her too, but Persephone decided she really didn't mind that.

"Are you really turning down your favorite food?"

Persephone finally humored Artemis and took a few. Partway through dinner, Zeus called Artemis over to ask her something. Persephone sat there with Hades, feeling very awkward.

"How long have you known Artemis?" Hades asked.

"About three years," Persephone said and quickly went back to eating, or poking at her food at any rate.

"I hear she spends most of her summers here."

"Yes, she enjoys the hunting."

"So, are you always so serious, or have you just saved it for me?"

Persephone suddenly flicked her eyes up and locked contact with his. Hades felt dizzy and he knew it had nothing to do with the wine. They sat there for a few moments just looking at each other. Hades was amazed when Persephone laughed. Hades grinned. That smile lit up his face more than any sunshine could.

"I was hoping I could get a smile out of you."

Persephone found it hard not to smile at him, especially when his smile was so genuinely warm. She liked him. She liked him a lot. He actually listened to her and wanted to talk about things that she liked, not things that fed his ego. Hades was nothing like any other man she had ever met.

Hades was thrilled at how Persephone had suddenly warmed to him. They sat there, turned towards each other, talking about the banquet and the guests. Mostly they made fun of everyone there. The Olympians were such a gaudy and artificial lot that it was easy. One would make a comment and the other would laugh Hades even felt secure enough to touch her arm.

"Do you have a young man?" he asked. Hades knew from Artemis that she didn't, but he couldn't help probing a little. "You don't seem to care much for men."

"Well, I've always thought men were a lot like peacocks. Sure, they look nice, but then they open their mouths."

Hades laughed heartily. Not only was she beautiful, but she was also witty and fun. Hades knew that he had made the right choice. He would never meet anyone like Persephone again and he was not about to let her get away. Hades tried to muster all the charm he possessed to impress her. Hades continued the conversation, leaning his arm over the edge of her chair. Persephone looked pleasantly nervous and gave another one of her uncommon smiles.

Artemis could see that she had made the right call by backing off for a little while. She believed Persephone wouldn't talk to Hades as long as she was there, and Artemis had been right. It was adorable the way he was flirting with her. Maybe Persephone hadn't noticed, but she was probably the only one. Most people looked mildly shocked, but Apollo and Demeter looked livid. Now that they were talking, Artemis figured it was okay for her to come back. Artemis joined their conversation and the rest of the dinner seemed to pass quickly, a little too quickly for Hades' taste. He wanted to talk longer. He thought of asking Artemis to delay her, but Demeter quickly pulled Persephone aside. Persephone bid Artemis goodnight and cast one last look over her shoulder at Hades. Hades lost sight of Persephone in the crowd.

"Artemis, I need your help."

"About time you asked." She gave him a little smile. It was so cute.

"I need to see her again." He ran his fingers frantically through his dark, unruly hair. "I need to talk to her again. Can you find out what she's doing tomorrow?"

"She's spending tomorrow with me. We're going for a long walk through the forest."

"I could just happen to be in the forest at the same time," Hades said hopefully. "And then-"

"Maybe I could get lost so you can go on with your master plan?" interjected Artemis. "I'm way ahead of you, brother dear."

Apollo wasted no time in chasing down Demeter after supper. He would give her an option: control her daughter or he would have to handle the situation. And he could guarantee that she wouldn't like that. But perhaps more disturbing than Demeter's failed attempts to reign in Persephone were Hades' attempts to gain her affection, something Apollo had ever failed at accomplishing. Well, regaining at any rate, he thought with a sigh.

The worst part was that Hades seemed to be succeeding, though what Persephone saw in him, he couldn't understand. The man was old enough to be her father, though a very young father at that, and his kingdom was hardly desirable. But fortunately Hades had no power here. As long as he was in the Summer Kingdom, Zeus was in command.

"Demeter," he shouted. "We need to talk."

"I know she was supposed to sit with you, but Artemis convinced her to change seats," she explained.

"I thought you said this was a done deal, that you had persuaded your daughter to marry me." His eyes glimmered. "You said there would be no complications."

"I'm sorry, Apollo, but Persephone has a mind of her own. I can hardly make it up for her."

"You're her mother! Isn't she supposed to listen to you?!" But Apollo could see that Demeter was getting angry, so he quickly adjusted his approach. "I apologize for losing my temper, Demeter, but I am very worried about Persephone. You know I want to help her, but the only way I could promise her protection is if she marries me. That's the only way she'll be safe from Zeus." He paused. "And from Hades."

"Hades? What would Hades want with her?"

"Think about it, Demeter. Think of what he stands to gain. Why else would he be interested in a girl with no fortune, no court experience, and no obvious connections?"

Demeter face grew pale. "Do you really think he knows?"

"I believe he does and I believe he will do anything to trap her into marrying him." Apollo could see the wheels turning in her brain. He could see his plan was working.

"I'll talk to her immediately," Demeter said as she scampered away.

The priestess is far too easy to manipulate, he mused. But her daughter… Apollo worried that Persephone would prove to be much wilier. He knew better than anyone that Demeter's little princess wasn't as naïve as she seemed. ************************************************************************

Demeter slammed the door behind her. "Persephone, what do you think you're doing?"

"I'm getting dressed for bed. What does it look like I'm doing?"

"I'm getting very tired of that attitude, Persephone. You know I'm talking about Hades. Why weren't you sitting with Apollo?"

"I was sitting with Artemis and Hades just happened to be there. You're reading too much into things. All Hades sees me as is his little sister's friend." Even as she said these words, Persephone felt disappointed against her will.

"I'm sure. I saw the way he was looking at you and it wasn't very brotherly."

"Mother-"

"Don't make excuses. You're a very sweet, but very ignorant girl and I don't want to see someone like that take advantage of you. Once you're acquainted with the ways of the world, you'll understand and you'll thank me."

Once Demeter left, Persephone brushed her hair and climbed into bed, thinking more and more that maybe she didn't want to know the ways of the world. At least, not her mother's world.

Persephone rushed to pull her old green dress over her head. She was supposed to leave with Artemis in thirty minutes and was nowhere near ready. She hated being late. It always made her feel so nervous, but that was probably because Demeter hated being late. Persephone shrugged off the feeling. It wouldn't matter to Artemis. Artemis wouldn't be angry if she were a few minutes late. She would just roll her eyes and say Persephone was poky as usual. Persephone rushed out her bedroom door and nearly collided with her mother.

"Persephone! Watch where you're going!"

"I'm sorry, Mother. It's just that I'm so late." Demeter seemed to ignore her.

"Breakfast started thirty minutes ago. I had hoped you would dine with Apollo since he didn't get the chance to see you last night." Demeter ran her eyes over Persephone. "And you're not wearing that dress in public, are you?"

Persephone ignored that comment about her dress; she was used to it. "I was on my way to see Artemis, so I can't come with you. It would be rude to cancel on such short notice, wouldn't it?"

"I suppose it would, but tonight you need to talk to him."

"Ummm hmm." Not a chance.

Persephone made it out to the front hall where Artemis was waiting for her. "Sorry I'm late. My mother wanted to talk for a few minutes and-"

"Say no more. I understand."

Artemis was wearing a light blue tunic over buff breeches. It was more of a Winter fashion, from what little Persephone could gather, and more of a men's fashion at that. But Artemis always did like to make a splash. With a small knife contained in her brown leather belt and her favorite hunting boots, Artemis looked ready for the chase rather than a jaunt through the woods.

Persephone grumbled under her breath.

"What is it, Persephone?"

"It's still so hot!"

"Oh, you cold-natured people! You sound just like my brother Hades! One would think you were from the Winter Realm. Say, why don't you just move there? You'd probably be happier," Artemis hinted terribly.

Persephone responded only by a faint grumbling sound. She was about to snap back a smart reply when she heard someone chuckling behind her. Hades had just walked into the hall and sat down in the chair beside her.

"Hello and welcome to the outcast end of the table!" yelled Artemis.

"More like social lepers," chirped Persephone. "It could infect you to be near us."

"I'll risk it," he said. "Besides, the two of you are so much more fun."

"You're late," she said bemusedly.

He just grinned at her. "From the fuss I just heard outside, I'd say you were too."

"I just didn't realize anyone else had the audacity to show up thirty minutes late for Zeus' very important welcome home breakfast," she observed sarcastically.

"Well," he said, leaning closer, "I've been known to be quite audacious on more than one occasion."

"And does this behavior often get you into trouble?" she jested.

"Yes, but I find that the result is often worth the trouble," he said slyly.

"Hey, you two, don't you think we should see what's left to eat?"

Persephone had all but forgotten that that had been the aim of coming to breakfast. "Yes, that's probably a good idea."

"I'll go find some sausage," offered Artemis.

"Then I'll steal some pomegranate juice," said Persephone, who rose from her chair. At that moment, Hades also got up and placed his hand on the small of her back, asking what she would like him to do. Of the million confusing things racing through her mind, Persephone was only sure of one thing. None of them had to do with food.
************************************************************************

After breakfast, Persephone and Artemis ran off to the woods, being careful to 'not hear' Demeter calling out to them. The last thing Artemis wanted was Demeter trying to talk Persephone out of liking Hades. Now that they were alone, Artemis would assess the situation and see exactly where they were. She knew that Persephone liked Hades a lot, but still didn't know how much work she needed to do. And it didn't help that she was even quieter than usual.

"Persephone, I can't help but notice that you seem really distracted. Do you have something on your mind?" Like my brother.

"Nope, nothing on my mind. Just thinking."

"And clearly not making sense." She didn't respond so Artemis persisted, "So is anything new with you since I've been gone? Any new boy?"

"Why do people keep asking me that?" Persephone muttered.

"Well?" Artemis laughed.

"You know I don't like the men here. They're all so rude and conceited. Or they don't notice me at all," she added.

"Well, what you need is a man who isn't from here then. I think I can picture your type: tall, dark, handsome, maybe a little moody like you."

"Very subtle, Artemis," Persephone laughed, smacking her friend's arm.

"Didn't realize I was trying to be. So what's the problem?"

"I don't know," she muttered. "I like him, but I guess I don't really trust myself anymore."

"Anymore? Sounds like there's a story here."

It was a story Artemis already knew most of. Persephone would like to leave it at that. "It was a long time ago," was all she said.

Artemis stared at her long and hard while Persephone cringed. "You might as well tell me because I'm just going to keep pestering you until you do."

"Your brother," she started to mumble.

"You mean Apollo? I always thought you just woke up and realized what everyone else already knew. My unfortunate twin is a man-whore. Did he do something? I mean, more than just being a pain in the neck," Artemis asked protectively.

"He kissed me a while back. It's not really important," she added quickly.

"He kissed you? It is important. Details!"

"It was almost three years ago when we were all in the hedge maze at your party. Remember when we got separated?"

"Of course," Artemis answered darkly. It was hers and Apollo's sixteenth birthday and she remembered it as if it were yesterday. No matter how she tried to forget.

"Well, what I never told you was that Apollo found me. That was when he kissed me," Persephone explained awkwardly.

"Not enough detail. Keep talking," Artemis commanded.

Persephone sighed and carefully thought how to edit her story. "As soon as he kissed me, it felt wrong. I told him that I didn't feel that way about him and that it wouldn't happen again. We were friends when we were children, but we aren't anything now. I've tried to avoid him ever since."

"But Apollo doesn't exactly like to listen, does he?"

"There you have it," Persephone agreed cheerily, so grateful that her friend had stopped interrogating her.

"You know Hades isn't like Apollo. You can trust him."

"I don't know."

"Hey, he's my brother! And I'm a good judge of character. Usually." Artemis stared off into the distance. Persephone put her hand on her arm.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Now that really was a long time ago," Artemis snapped. "I'm over it, Persephone."

Sure, you are.

The two companions walked out to the forest where they caught up with each other, talking all afternoon. Artemis told Persephone about all the exciting things that had happened over the summer. Persephone was interested to hear Artemis' stories, but was glad that she had no excitement like that. Summers always seemed tedious enough, but thankfully it was September. Autumn was coming in a few weeks and the year was coming to a close.

"You look very happy," Artemis observed. "What is it?" Artemis was hoping it was Hades that her friend was thinking about.

"Oh, no particular reason. I just love fall." Persephone gazed up at the leaf-covered sky with a dreamy sort of look.

"Yes, like I said. Why are you so happy?"

"Can't I be happy just because? Harvest is coming in. Soon we'll have pumpkins and apples. The leaves are turning gold, and red, and orange. The air smells rich like wood and spices. The sky is turning silver and gray and the world is winding down for the year."

Persephone spun around, as if to demonstrate her point. Artemis was amused by her friend's theatrics, but not as amused as she was by the adorable look on her brother's face when he saw her. Persephone caught sight of Hades and stopped in mid-swirl. She felt so embarrassed that she could hardly breathe. He had seen her. Hades had seen her twirling around like an idiot. She wanted to die.

But Hades just smiled and pretended he hadn't seen. "Hello, sister. I didn't expect to find you here. And Persephone. It's so good to see you again."

"Do you want to walk with us?" asked Artemis, who hoped everything didn't look too staged.

"If you don't mind. I was getting a little lonely."

That much is true, he thought. During the past few years he had been very lonely, even with Artemis to keep him company. She would visit for a few months and then he would be alone again. The three walked along, talking about various matters of no importance. Artemis was having a hard time keeping the conversation going. Hades was not contributing much because he was too busy staring at Persephone and Persephone, who usually never shut up, had clammed up completely because a person was there.

Artemis yawned loudly. "You okay?" asked Persephone.

"Just tired," she said. "Actually, I think I'll walk back to the palace."

"Alright," said Persephone.

"Oh, you don't have to come back just yet! After all, I'd feel bad making you come back early and I wouldn't want to leave Hades all by himself."

Persephone was about to say that Hades would be just fine by himself, but she couldn't very well say that while he was standing right there. Artemis walked back with a smile on her face and left Persephone and Hades standing there in awkward silence.

"So… do you go for walks often?" asked Hades.

"Yes, but usually by myself."

"You don't seem much for company."

"No."

"Not even Apollo?"

"No, why do you ask?"

"I just want to know whether I have much competition."

"And what would you be competing for?" Persephone asked coyly. She couldn't believe she was actually flirting with him again, but she had heard herself clearly. So had Hades.

"Your affection," he answered without any residual bashfulness.

"That doesn't seem very worthwhile," she commented.

"Do you think so little of yourself?" Hades gently stroked her arm that was just within reach of his. She jumped back and slid forward on the mud she encountered. Hades caught Persephone's arm and steadied her. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"Yes, it's just a little slippery there." She could feel her heart hammering away in her chest. "Maybe we should go back now. It must be close to sunset."

Hades looked up at the sky in disappointment. "Not for another hour."

"Well, we don't want to be late for dinner. Besides, it wouldn't be good to be caught out here after dark."

Hades walked back with Persephone with great reluctance. It was difficult to find her alone and he was running out of chances. Persephone quickly said good-bye to him when they entered the palace and she retreated to the safety of her room. Hades watched from a distance and was startled by his father's approach.

"Hello, Father. I didn't expect to see you until dinner."

"I was looking for Apollo. He's been trying to find Persephone all day and I was going to tell him that she is back."

"Why should it matter to Apollo?" Hades asked impatiently. "She doesn't care for him at all. He should just leave her alone."

"Leave her to you, you mean? Hades, I've been thinking a great deal about your situation. With all the political turmoil in the Winter Realm, I really think you shouldn't remain with us for very long."

"Leave so soon? I was going to stay until spring."

"I think tomorrow morning would be an excellent time to leave. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I think I understand you perfectly," Hades said through gritted teeth.

Persephone wandered around her room humming to herself. She wasn't sure why- but yes, she was. It was Hades and the things he had been saying and those looks he had been giving her. It was how he made her feel. Right now she felt like she was floating on a cloud and she never wanted to come back down. Persephone decided that tonight at dinner she would go out of her way to talk to Hades. She had never encouraged Apollo, she had never wanted to, but she had every intention of encouraging Hades.

Chapter Three

The Obvious Choice

Persephone forced herself to talk with Hades all through dinner. Hades was smiling and laughing with her. He felt happier than he had in years and younger too. Persephone sat there admiring how handsome he was. She loved how his eyes glittered when he looked at her. When he looked at her like that, she felt like the rest of the world didn't matter. It couldn't. Not next to him. Occasionally, Artemis would make a comment or two, but for the most part, she just let them talk.

Before dinner, Hades told Artemis about his conversation with their father. It was so unfair that they should be separated so soon and Hades worried that her attachment to him wasn't deep enough to withstand the pressures of Demeter and Apollo. To make it worse, it now seemed that Zeus was also set against the match. Artemis felt powerless to do anything. All she could do was comfort, but it never felt like enough.

Hades looked wistfully at Persephone. "I wish I could see more of you before I leave."

"Why can't you see me tomorrow?" she asked hopefully.

"Unfortunately, I'm leaving tomorrow."

"So soon?" Persephone felt her heart drop. "How long will you be gone?" She didn't care if she sounded too hopeful anymore.

"I won't be back until next spring."

Dinner was miserable after that. Hades would leave and she would be alone with Apollo. And when Hades came back she might be married. Married to another man. Why did that sound like hell? Why couldn't they just run away? But no, that was illogical. Wasn't it? Persephone tried to shrug away these thoughts and feelings that felt foreign to her. She was logical. She was sensible. Logical and sensible people didn't run off with men they barely knew. Yet somehow the man with the emerald eyes made her want to forget everything she'd been taught. If Hades had beckoned her, Persephone would have leapt off a cliff, certain she could fly. That overwhelming feeling of certainty was at once as crippling as it was powerful.

After the dinner was over, the three rose from the table and started to say their goodnights to each other. Just as Hades and Persephone got up, one particularly drunk guest bumped into Hades, catapulting him straight into Persephone. They stood there, stunned, for what seemed like the longest time, just staring into each other's eyes.

"You know, no matter how long you stare at each other your faces won't change. So either kiss or back away."

Hades wanted to kiss her so badly, but he knew that it was too soon for that. Persephone turned three shades of red and laughed nervously. Leave it to Artemis, she thought. Artemis can always be counted on for much needed sarcasm.

After the group had parted ways, Hades stayed behind for a few moments in hopes of catching Persephone alone. Turning a corner, Hades could hear Demeter scolding Persephone for her behavior. She flicked back a braid of wheat-colored hair and glared with her too-blue eyes. Hades had never met Persephone's father, but he thought that she must favor him. In personality too; Demeter was a raving harpy. She disapproved of Hades. Apparently to her, one king wasn't as good as another.

He wanted to tell himself that things would work out. Persephone's grief-stricken face brought him back to reality. He had to leave tomorrow and Apollo would be staying for several months. Hades might be honorable, but he certainly didn't trust Apollo with Persephone. Hades wanted to court her properly but there wasn't time. He would just have to resort to more direct methods.

Persephone tossed and turned for hours, but sleep refused to come. Hades was leaving. It seemed so strange that someone she had only known for two days had come to mean so much to her. He made her feel like a princess in one of the faerie stories her father used to tell her. The only problem was that she wasn't a princess and her life was nothing like those old stories. And people just didn't fall in love at first sight. At least, people other than Persephone didn't.

It didn't seem like much use just laying there feeling miserable, so Persephone took the only escape she had: the library. She would pick up a book and suddenly be somewhere far away where no one had ever heard of Apollo. Persephone put on her slippers and opened her door slowly, careful to not make a sound. The last thing she needed was for her mother to catch her sneaking out of her room in the middle of the night.

She crept down the hallway and tried to silently open the library door, but winced when it gave a hideous creak instead. Persephone had only just walked into the room when she noticed a candle glowing at the other end of library. And the hand that was holding the candle belonged to none other than Hades. The sound that issued from Persephone could only be described as somewhere between a scream of indignation and the 'eek' sound you make when you see a spider. This was only shortly followed by the thought 'he has such nice hands,' and then she cringed at the idea. Persephone turned to leave. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe he hadn't heard her.

"Don't leave on my account," Hades said.

"I wasn't," Persephone snapped as she closed the door. "I was just getting my book." Persephone snatched the first book that she saw and held it up only to realize it was titled 'The Art of Horticulture'. Oh, great. It's a stupid gardening book! But Persephone knew that it was too late to pick another book. If she did, Hades would know what she had done and still worse, he would know how devastated she was. That was something Persephone was determined to never reveal.

She sat down with her book, staring down at it, pretending to read while all she could really think about was the man sitting next to her. She flipped through, mindlessly, for what seemed like hours, trying her best to ignore how Hades kept his eyes on her and rarely his book. She was uncomfortably aware of the fact that she was sitting alone with a man in a library in the middle of the night. And it didn't help that she was wearing nothing but a gauzy nightgown. Did the man always have to have her at a disadvantage?

"Haven't you mastered the intricacies of oat farming by now?" he asked warmly.

Oh, damn! I haven't been turning the pages! "Well, it's a very precise system," she said miserably, getting up from her chair. "And what do you care anyway? You won't be here!" Persephone didn't know why she said that. It wasn't like her at all to put herself out there, to open herself up to injury. But here she was standing in the middle of a library, in her nightgown, in the middle of the night, screaming at a man whom she quite possibly loved. How on earth did this happen?

And why did the woman have to be so damned difficult? Wasn't this hard enough for him? It was hardly his choice to leave! "Well maybe you'd rather hear about it from my brother! He's an expert at sowing oats. I'm sure he'd explain it to you!" Oh, excellent move. Instead of staying calm, you had to answer back like an angry child!

"And what about you? I'm sure you have your pick of pastures!"

"I could if I wanted. But I don't," he said firmly.

Persephone sighed, the conversation taking its emotional toll on her. "So what are you waiting for?"

"The right pasture," Hades said calmly. "Persephone, I know that your mother wants you to marry Apollo."

"Everyone knows that."

"I'm leaving this morning and I want you to come with me. I want you to marry me." Hades felt like all the air had been sucked out of his chest. His heart was in paralysis until he heard her answer.

"So that's it then," she choked out. "This is the choice you give me. I agree to marry you right this minute or you leave and I have to marry Apollo while you're gone."

Hades swore he could see little explosions going off behind her eyes. Somehow, somewhere, this had gone horribly wrong. "You don't have to give me an answer right away," he offered.

"Don't I?" she fumed. "I'm starting to think you aren't any different from the others."

Hades took a step forward. "Persephone, don't say that."

"Why not?" she said quietly, her limbs starting to shake.

Somehow Hades' hand found her chin, which he tilted upwards, forcing her to look at him. "You aren't really angry with me."

"Yes, I am," she whispered, his face only inches from hers.

"No. You aren't."

Persephone felt a brief rush of panic as Hades kissed her, entrapping her in his arms. She realized that he was right. Everything about him felt right. Her arms had been raised in exasperation when he had pulled her in. Now her palms were pressed flat against Hades' chest and she could feel every muscle contraction, every breath, every beat of his heart. It was beating as hard and fast as hers. His lips were warm against hers and as their breath mingled, she could taste the salt from his skin as well as something else that she couldn't quite place, but it was wonderful nonetheless. It was so much to take in, the smell of him, the feel of him. Almost too much. Persephone stood for a moment, almost paralyzed. And then she simply let go. Whereas before Hades had kissed Persephone, now she was kissing him. His lips, at first gentle, now turned rough and then gentle again as if he were holding himself back. So this is what it feels like, she thought incredulously. Persephone kissed him and then everything felt new and beautiful, like nothing could possibly go wrong.

But behind her closed eyes she could see a halo of burnt orange light that brought her out of her trance. The sun had just come up and her mother would be at her room any moment to wake her. And she would find her missing. Persephone bolted out of the library and down the hall before Hades ever had the chance to respond.

Persephone's brain was racing along with her heart. As surprised and temporarily angered as Persephone had been by Hades haphazard proposal, she knew that she would accept. This was what she wanted, wasn't it? She wanted him. But whatever her decision was, Persephone knew that she needed to get to her room before her mother did. If Demeter discovered where she had been all night, there would be no chance of slipping away with Hades. And then she felt a feeling like no other. She would lose him.

Her slippers skidded on the slick marble floor as she turned the last corner. Demeter wasn't there yet. She was safe. Persephone catapulted herself into her room and dressed with a frenzied giddiness she had never known before. She jerked a navy dress over her head and ran a brush quickly through her raven locks, still tangled from their brief encounter. She still hadn't quite decided when she would marry Hades (it was a matter of when now) but one way or another she was leaving with him and Artemis. Persephone intended to play it cool at breakfast and then disappear into their entourage. By the time anyone noticed she was gone, it would already be too late. The thought excited her. She never did anything this spontaneous, or really spontaneous at all. It did cross Persephone's mind that she hadn't packed, but there just wasn't time. Artemis would take care of her. Artemis will be thrilled, she giggled to herself. Before she walked out the door, Persephone took a moment to pin two amulets into her pockets: one jet, her old standby, and the other, sapphire.

When Persephone reached the dining hall, everyone was already filing in. Good, she thought. I'm not late and no one will know the difference. She was just looking for Artemis when someone grabbed her arm. Persephone turned around only to see that it was her mother and she didn't look very happy.

"Where were you?" she shouted. "I went to your room and you weren't there!" Persephone felt her eyes seek out Hades in the crowd. Where was he? But as soon as she found him, Demeter turned to see what her daughter was staring at. "You!" she screamed. "She was with you, wasn't she?"

"Mother, it isn't like that at all," Persephone pleaded. "I couldn't sleep so I went to the library and I ran into Hades. That's all!" That wasn't all, but her mother didn't need to know the rest.

"Well I would hope that's all! If you did anything to jeopardize your marriage to Apollo-"

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mother! And I'm not marrying Apollo!" she added before running off to her fields.

Hades wanted to go after her, but there was no way to do so without being seen. The last thing he wanted to do was to cause her more trouble. Hades knew that he should feel encouraged that Persephone had openly refused to marry Apollo. But at the same time he knew that her refusals would do no good. His brother wouldn't take no for an answer. Hades had never hated anyone before. Not like he hated his brother right now. Apollo would ruin Persephone's life. She would be miserable forever and there was only one thing he could do to stop it.

"Hades, a word please," Zeus said angrily. "I don't know what happened between you and the girl, but your indiscretion has upset my entire household. I think it would be best for you to leave now."

"I'm glad you're coming with me," Hades said to Artemis. "It will be nice to have some company."

"But not the company you'd like."

"Why would you say that?"

"I'm not blind, Hades. I know how you feel about Persephone. I'm just sorry things didn't go better for you."

"Demeter didn't let it go any better," he growled. "And neither did my father."

"This is wrong!" Artemis shouted. "Why should anyone be able to 'give' a woman to a man she doesn't love? Persephone should be with you. You love her."

"She doesn't love me," said Hades, who was starting to doubt himself. She had run from him. The kiss they shared- Hades had never felt more alive, never wanted anyone so much. He had hoped she felt the same, but the expression on her face had been one of fear, not desire.

"She doesn't love Apollo. Give her time, Hades. I feel that you two were meant to be together. Give her time, and she'll see that too."

Hades gripped his reins tightly and turned sharply to the left. He ground his teeth, but with resolve, he charged to the edge of the forest. Artemis called for their men to stop and looked on, not knowing the impact of her words.

"Where are you going?" she shouted after him.

"I'm going to pick a flower."

Hades plunged through the trees into the light he despised. When he finally caught sight of Persephone, he slowed down for fear of startling her. At first she didn't seem to notice, but suddenly, she looked up. Before Persephone had the chance to say or do anything, Hades had grabbed her and pulled her onto Khadga. She started to scream but Hades had already raised a soaked handkerchief to her face. Persephone coughed a little and then her breathing slowed as she fell asleep.

Hades hoisted her into a more comfortable position. With one hand on the reins, he raised the other to press Persephone against his chest. He could feel her heart beating. She was so warm. Looking down at her, Hades said softly, "I'm sorry, my dear. Gods above, I hope you forgive me."

Hades caught up to the others quickly and winced at the gasps of shock when they saw Persephone. But he knew that his men were loyal. They would never say a word, never betray him. Hades hoped he would never give them reason to. He ordered them on and waited for the onslaught that was about to come from Artemis.

"Hades, what have you done?! Is she all right? What did you do to her?"

"Calm down, Artemis," Hades said gravely. "She'll be fine. It's a plant compound they use in Winter when they mend wounds. I always keep some on hand." Especially when he planned on knocking someone out. Hades winced at the thought.

"How long will she be unconscious?" Artemis asked nervously.

"She'll wake up tonight, when we're a safe distance from here."

"She is not going to be happy."

"I know," he sighed.

Chapter Four

Unexpected

Persephone felt a strange swaying motion. Everything was spinning along with her head. She started to open her eyes, but when she did, she remembered what had happened. Giving a startled cry, she struggled but Hades held her still.

"Don't make this more difficult, my love," he whispered.

"Don't call me love! I'm not your anything!"

"Persephone, this isn't doing you any good. Just calm down."

"How can I calm down? You've kidnapped me!"

But Persephone stopped struggling when she saw the look on his face. A shadow seemed to pass over him. It was unlike anything Persephone had ever seen. He didn't seem angry, but there was a deep current of 'don't play games with me' in his demeanor. And behind it was something else. Worry? If it was, Persephone decided, it wasn't for himself. He was right about one thing though; struggling wouldn't do her any good. He wasn't going to take her back. When they finally stopped to make camp, she grudgingly allowed him to help her down. Then Persephone felt a nudging at her side. She turned around and saw Vanra standing there looking very sheepish, as possible as it is for a horse to look sheepish anyway.

"Oh, Vanra, how did you get here? How did that oafish brute trick you?"

"I didn't have to trick him. He followed when he saw Khadga leaving," Hades laughed. Why laugh? Hades had to wonder. It was almost as if he wanted to make her angry. "After that, it didn't take much convincing. And if you're thinking of running off, I doubt Vanra will agree."

"You traitor," she said, though she wasn't quite sure whom she meant.

She had trusted Hades. She had even believed that she was in love with him. And Persephone couldn't stop screaming at herself for actually wanting to go with him! What had she been thinking? After all that nonsense he told her about how he cared for her, Hades was no different from his brother. Neither of them intended to give her a choice.

That night, they stopped just short of Cian's Pass, the only entrance to the Winter Realm by land. The pass cut through a mountain range that surrounded the southern and western borders of Winter. One did not take crossing Cian's Pass lightly, nor should they. It was only accessible during the spring and summer months and even then it could be treacherous. It was certainly not a journey to be undertaken in the dark. There were many pitfalls, deep, hidden waters to fall into. And the snow leopards, she though with a shudder. Persephone had heard stories that it was haunted by spirits who tried to prevent unwanted travelers from crossing. But she wasn't sure that she believed that. After all, Zeus had crossed with an army and who could have been more unwanted? Still she looked up at the peaks (black from shadows or naturally, she couldn't tell) and they resembled daggers scraping against the sky. Why would anyone cross the Pass unbidden? After camp was set up, Hades led her to his tent where Artemis was waiting. Seeing the tent, Persephone became exceedingly nervous and inched away from him.

"Don't worry, I only meant for us to eat," Hades reassured her. "Besides, we have company."

"Hello, Persephone," said Artemis in a very cheerful voice.

Persephone was relieved to see Artemis was there. At least she had one ally. "Artemis, you have to tell him this is madness! He has to take me back!"

Artemis didn't rush to her aid as she had expected. Instead, she bit her lip nervously and took a few moments before speaking. "Persephone," she began, "I don't think any amount of persuasion will work on him right now."

Disappointment could not even begin to describe what Persephone was feeling. Persephone scowled through the rest of the meal. If she was going to be miserable, they should be too. Maybe if she was nasty enough, Hades would let her go. He certainly seemed to be in a very bad mood, she noted. Though maybe that had something to do with the fact that she nearly bit his head off when he asked her to eat.

"Are you trying to starve yourself?" he growled.

"Persephone," said Artemis, who gave a look of warning to Hades, "you really should eat."

She ate, stubbornly, barely looking at either of them. What was wrong with them? Hades kidnaps her and expects her to be nice to him? And Artemis was supposed to be her friend. I guess brothers are just more important.

After they had finished eating, Artemis carefully brought up the subject of sleeping arrangements. "Well," she said. "We should all be getting some sleep. You know, long day ahead of us," she laughed nervously, not knowing who she was more afraid of offending. They both looked pretty angry. "Persephone, why don't you sleep in my tent," she suggested.

"No," Hades said. "Persephone will be staying with me."

Her anger should have been what first occurred to Persephone, but instead she found her thoughts wandering to the kiss they had shared in the library. The memory only made it more difficult. "That's definitely not happening!" Persephone shouted. "I'd much rather stay with Artemis!"

"Excuse me, my dear," he said to Persephone. "I need to speak with my sister."

Oh great, thought Artemis. One of them is bound to kill me. Hades led her over to one side.

"She needs to stay with me," he insisted. He needed her there, still afraid that if he lost sight of her, she would disappear like a daydream and be gone forever.

"Persephone's my friend and I have to think about her honor."

"I want a wife, not a whore!" he snapped. "Oh honestly, Artemis, you know me better. I'm not going to do anything to hurt her honor," Hades said in exasperation. Then he thought about the previous night. How easily it could have gotten out of hand.

Artemis studied her brother carefully. She told Persephone to trust him, that he was different. And she still believed that wholeheartedly. "I know you wouldn't, but people talk, Hades. If you really want to marry her-"

"You know I do," he interrupted.

"Then you should give more thought to her reputation," Artemis cautioned. "And you're in deep enough. Heaven forbid if this got back to Demeter."

Hades sighed in agreement, but would not relent. "I can't let her stay with you. It isn't safe."

"What? Are there vipers in my tent?" Artemis questioned sarcastically.

"I can make sure she doesn't run off. And I don't trust you. You're too likely to go soft on me." And any excuse-

"That's ridiculous! Do you really think I'd just let her-"

"And if she wanders off and gets eaten by a lion, it will be your fault." –is better than none.

"Ugh! Fine, Persephone stays with you. Just promise you won't-"

"I thought I made it clear that those weren't my intentions," Hades said through gritted teeth.

Artemis knew she had lost. "Well," she said after a pause. "You'd better make sure all the watches are in order."

Taking her suggestion, Hades stalked out of the room, tossing a sideways glance over his shoulder at Persephone. Persephone collapsed onto a nearby pillow and started to cry, more out of frustration than fear or sadness. Artemis wrapped an arm around her.

"Come on girl, don't cry. I know he comes across a little… rough, but really, he's a good man. Just give him a chance."

"I don't want to give him a chance," she sniffled.

"But he loves you…"

"I don't want him to love me!"

"Will you let me finish?" Artemis snapped. "You really don't know what's good for you, do you?" Artemis couldn't believe she was actually saying this, she, the women's rights advocate. But this girl seriously needed to have some sense slapped into her! "You can't recognize a good thing when you see it. Give him a chance."

When Hades came back, Persephone was feeling hopeless. No one would help her. She said good night to Artemis, reluctantly, and moved toward the bed. Actually, it was more like several furs and blankets piled on top of each other with a few pillows at the top of the heap. She straightened it out and moved a few blankets and pillows to one side. She may be in the same tent, but she was not sleeping near him.

Hades moved her pillows and blankets back, saying, "It's too cold for you to be sleeping so far off. We wouldn't want you to get sick, would we?"

She wanted to hit him. She really, really wanted to hit him. Whatever passion she had felt yesterday had turned to rage. He took off his boots and his belt and- good god! Was he actually going to undress in front of her?! Thankfully though, he only removed his tunic and kept his pants on. That was some comfort to her. Persephone ensconced herself in the blankets. Despite her nightmarish day, Persephone gave a quiet sigh of contentment. It was like sinking into a big fluffy nest.

Then Hades lay down beside her. He tried to put his arm around her, but she shrugged it off. Although he was very hurt, Hades gave up his efforts and rolled over. It wasn't right to expect more affection from her and he knew it. What must she think of him? He wanted her to know so badly that he loved her, that his intentions were pure. That he wouldn't take advantage of her. Despite what havoc was wreaked on his senses just by having her so close. That kiss. He couldn't stop thinking about the feel of her body pressed against his and wondered how long she might stay angry with him.

Despite her active mind, Persephone finally fell asleep and pretty soon she had one arm thrown across Hades' chest while her head snuggled against his shoulder. Her hair smelled good, like honey. What had first felt like torture was now sublime. For a moment he could pretend that she returned his love, that she actually wanted him by her side. This is nice, Hades thought. Though, if she wakes up, she might stab me through the heart. That's ridiculous! She doesn't have a knife; I made sure of that. Maybe she'd rip his heart out with her claws, or maybe… Hades mused as he drifted off.

She felt so warm… and comfortable. But her blankets seemed a little too firm and… she nearly screamed in frustration when she realized she had been cuddling with Hades. And it felt good. She pushed that thought away as quickly as it had appeared. This was her chance to leave and, seizing the opportunity, Persephone carefully removed herself from Hades and walked quietly towards the tent flap. She would find Vanra and then… suddenly, she felt a pull on her ankle. On the bed, she saw Hades holding a length of rope. One end was tied to his ankle, the other, to hers. Insufferable man!

"Trying to run away?" he said in a voice that really annoyed Persephone. "That's not a very good idea. There are wild animals, and snakes, and ravines for you to fall into. It's much safer here with me."

"Safe! I'm safe with you? You kidnapped me!" Hades actually looked hurt. It caught Persephone by surprise that it made her feel almost… guilty.

"For your own good. Someday, you'll understand that."

"You horrible, insufferable lout!" she spat at him.

"Oh, enough for one night!" he shouted as he tugged at the rope. Persephone tumbled onto the bed. "We'll continue this discussion in the morning," he yawned. "Maybe then you'll be in a better mood."

She doubted it.

Hades was very disappointed when he woke up and found Persephone missing from his bed. He liked it when she slept. She was much more civil. And affectionate, Hades thought, as he remembered how she kept nuzzling him throughout the night. Right now, he saw that she was sitting on the opposite side of the tent, as far as the rope would allow, with her knees pulled tight against her chest. He had hoped she would be happier in the morning. It would appear not.

"It's about time you were awake. I thought you were going to sleep all morning," she hissed at him. Indeed, she seemed to be much crankier. And nothing he was about to do would help that.

Hades walked towards Persephone and knelt next to her. He pulled up the hem of her blue dress a few inches to give himself access to her ankle. Hades untied the rope and grumbled an apology at any discomfort he had caused. Persephone didn't hear it. She was too distracted by the lingering touch of his hand on her ankle and the electricity it seemed to send through her body. Persephone shied away from that feeling. It was too complicated and troublesome. Seeing that she was free, Persephone stood as far away from Hades as possible.

"It's about time we move on," he said a little too loudly. "Don't want to waste the day, do we, my dear?"

"Don't call me that," she said with venom.

"If you promise to behave, I'll let you ride Vanra," Hades said, ignoring her last remark. He looked her in the eye. "Can you do that for me?"

She wanted to say no. She wanted to say a lot of things, but his eyes silenced her. They always did. "Yes," Persephone said willfully.

"Because if not," Hades warned, "You'll ride with me the rest of the way."

Seeing that she made no further protest, Hades took her out of the tent where they met with Artemis. Artemis eyed them nervously, almost as if she expected one of them to explode. Once everything was ready, they left promptly and continued on peacefully for several miles.

Suddenly, Hades saw Persephone darting through the trees, though Vanra was not very compliant. Hades called to him and he stopped. Damn it, she thought. Why does he have to be so good with animals? She tried to urge Vanra on, but he wouldn't budge. Hades yanked her off the horse by her waist and she landed on his saddle with a thud.

"Let's not try that again," he whispered into her ear. "You might get hurt."

"Oh, you're so considerate," she snapped.

Vanra rejoined Khadga in a lively pace towards Cian's Pass. Persephone scowled and Hades' men towards the front swiftly avoided her black gaze.

Persephone had been kept awake by the unfamiliar pressure of his chest against her back, but whatever drug Hades had used still seemed to linger in her system. When she finally succumbed to sleep, it was sheer dreamless exhaustion. Hades was gentle in his handling of Khadga, careful to avoid any disturbance to Persephone's sleep. But Hades was also getting tired and it was near nightfall. Announcing that they would make camp, Hades pulled on the reins and Khadga stopped so abruptly that he had to wrap an arm around Persephone's waist to keep her from falling forward. She landed against him with such strength that all the air was forced from her lungs. She let out an outraged gasp.

"Sorry about that," Hades said almost cheerfully as he helped her down from the horse. Not that she needed it, but it was a nice gesture. And right now he really needed to show a nice gesture.

When they settled in his tent, Hades immediately started to get ready for bed. Persephone tried not to watch him take off his shirt and tried to ignore him as he crawled into bed with her. Hades wouldn't allow her to ignore him. His hand slid over her hip, but she only moved away from him.

"I would rather you not do that," she snarled.

"Well, I suppose I don't need to. As soon as you fall asleep you'll be much more affectionate to me."

There was a kind of fear Persephone felt whenever he touched her. She wasn't afraid of Hades, she knew he would never hurt her hurt, but there was a lingering fear nonetheless. When Hades touched her, she didn't want him to stop. She wanted to forget everything that had happened, everything he had done. Persephone tried to stay awake, but she soon slept and snuggled against him, just as Hades had predicted. Persephone would have liked to blame Hades, but the truth was it was her own fault. She liked being close to him. She even wanted it. But she didn't want to want it.

When Hades awoke, Persephone still had her arms around him. He lay there, completely still, savoring every minute of it. Soon she would wake up and this moment would be over. Hades knew that deep down Persephone had feelings for him. Their encounter in the library was proof enough of that. They had been so close. Hades found himself wondering what might have happened if Demeter hadn't made such a scene. He would have had time to talk with her, try to reason. Would she have said yes? Hades believed she would have and it caused him great pain. This was going to take much longer than he had planned.

Persephone woke up and was surprised to find that Hades was nowhere to be seen. Hades had decided to save his ego from the gasp of revulsion Persephone always gave when she woke up and saw him next to her. Persephone felt a bit of panic as her eyes darted around the tent. Artemis hadn't arrived to eat breakfast with them yet and Persephone saw that Hades was cooking some sort of mushroom stew in the corner. His cooking was actually pretty good, though she tried not to enjoy it too much.

"Good morning, my dear," he said cheerfully. "Did you sleep well?"

"As if you don't know."

"What is that supposed to mean?" he asked in obvious confusion.

"You know what it means," she snapped.

Well if he did, that made one of them. Persephone had no clue what she was talking about. She just wanted something nasty to say to him. Hades didn't seem fazed by it though. He had pretty much gotten used to her crankiness, which was more than prominent in the morning.

Artemis lifted the tent flap and entered with a sort of nervous "good morning". Persephone had forgiven her by this point and greeted her with an enormous hug. They ate their breakfast quietly and Artemis complimented Hades on his cooking. Even Persephone had to admit, though not out loud, that it was very rare to find a man with such good culinary skills.

"So," Artemis asked, "When will we arrive at your castle, Hades?"

"We should get there sometime within a couple of hours if there are no further delays."

"Well if you hadn't kidnapped me there wouldn't be any delays!" Persephone screamed defensively.

"Was I accusing you?" he asked with mock surprise. He was baiting her. He realized that, but her anger was easier to deal with than her sadness. Hades didn't want to feel responsible for that.

They arrived at the castle in the early afternoon, just as Hades predicted. Persephone was stunned by it. It was strangely beautiful with its towering spikes of black marble reaching upwards and enormous ebony doors inlaid with mother of pearl. It shouldn't have been beautiful. It wasn't supposed to be. But it was and Persephone couldn't help feeling admiration for it. This was not what she had expected.

Everything was different here. The clothes, the people, even the weapons seemed different. Hanging above the hall was a great white banner with a red stylized rose. Normally Zeus' children were required to fly his banner as well, but Persephone noted that his golden eagle was missing. Persephone looked at the rose banner and decided she preferred it to Zeus' giant winged carnivore.

"A rose?" Persephone asked Artemis, who was standing nearby. It was Hades who answered.

"The red rose is considered a symbol of loyalty here," Hades explained.

"Of course it is," Persephone mumbled. Did he always have to be so sympathetic?

At first Demeter didn't notice anything wrong. Persephone was a strange sort of girl and it wasn't unusual for her to wander off. Once when Persephone was twelve, she had disappeared for a full twenty-four hours. Demeter never had figured out where she had gotten off to. So the first day Persephone was missing, Demeter didn't worry. But after two days Demeter was frantic, searching everywhere she might be. Persephone wasn't in the fields or by her father's grave and Vanra was conspicuously missing from the stables.

It didn't take long before Demeter realized that her initial disappearance coincided with Hades' departure. Furious, she found Hermes and dragged him by his hair into Zeus' throne room. The doors slammed behind Demeter and Zeus and Apollo both raised their heads when Hermes shrieked. They were so surprised that they said nothing.

"Tell them!" she wailed. "Tell them what that man did!"

"What man?" he stammered. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Hades. I know that you notice everything that goes on around here!"

Hermes considered his options carefully. He liked Hades a lot and Persephone had always been friendly with him. Hermes didn't want to cause them any trouble, but he also knew that he couldn't pretend to be ignorant. Then everyone would know he was lying.

"Hades took Persephone," he whispered, immediately regretting his choice of words.

"See! See!" she screamed, as if this proved everything. "He's kidnapped my daughter!"

"Well," Apollo said, "I must say I'm surprised. Didn't think he had it in him." Apollo put on a calm exterior, but on the inside he was full of rage and worry. And sadness. Had all of his plans and dreams gone to waste? He hated to think so.

"If he does –anything- to my daughter," Demeter stuttered.

"You, calm down!" Zeus shouted to Demeter. "And you, stop encouraging her. Hades may be unsociable and insubordinate, but he would not rape anyone. She's perfectly safe with Hades."

"I want that man hung!" Demeter screamed.

"Why don't we discuss this rationally before calling the executioner," Athena suggested with a slightly upturned mouth.

Until that moment, Demeter hadn't even realized there were other people in the room. Now she could see that they were not alone; Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite had all been dining with Zeus and Apollo.

"With all due respect, Lady Athena, the man has abducted my child! What is there to discuss?"

"For one thing," Athena spoke quickly, "how can we be sure that your daughter was abducted. I seem to recall Persephone spending a lot of time with Hades this past week. She may have gone with Hades willingly. If that is the case, it hardly seems our right to interfere." Athena's swift gray eyes darted across the room, as if challenging someone to contradict her.

"She did not go with him willingly!" Demeter insisted.

"Oh, I quite agree with you, Athena," chimed in Aphrodite. "What could be more attractive to a young, fatherless girl than a handsome, mysterious older man?"

"That's quite disgusting," Demeter muttered.

"I think what Athena meant, Aphrodite, is that we can't be certain what really happened," Hera explained gently. Apollo snickered mercilessly behind her back. And everyone thought he was just a pretty face.

"Hermes, my boy, what exactly did you see?" Zeus questioned.

Hermes looked from Demeter to Apollo to Zeus, then back to Demeter. Zeus never quite knew what was going on in Hermes' head, but it was especially frustrating now. Hermes just stared at him in silence, like he was contemplating what story he would tell.

"Well? Speak up, boy!"

"Well," he mused, "she was sitting in the flowers. I think she was crying." Demeter stiffened, remembering her scolding. Hermes inwardly smiled at her discomfort. "And then Hades rode by and pulled her onto his horse. He held her up against his chest and she sort of went limp like she fainted." There it was, vague but accurate. He hoped it would put enough doubt in their minds.

"Ah, young love!" exclaimed Aphrodite. "There you have it! She simply swooned at the faint touch of her lover's fond caress as they stole away."

"Swooned," Demeter scoffed. "My daughter has never fainted, much less swooned, in her entire life. She doesn't cry either, for that matter," Demeter added. Surely this showed how mistaken Hermes was. "That man must have drugged her! She is his prisoner now or she would have come home! I will have her back!" she challenged Zeus.

"If there has been any wrongdoing," cautioned Athena. "As far as we know, Persephone and Hades could have eloped."

"Eloped?" Apollo grumbled irritably. It was hard to appear calm when he had so much riding on this match. "No, she would never do that. I think everyone here knows that we had an understanding."

Demeter began to feel uncomfortable. Persephone needed more time, gentler persuasion. She had pushed her daughter too far and this is what happened. Athena's gray eyes pierced through Demeter. She knew. She had to.

"I was unaware of this understanding," Athena sneered.

"Despite what you may believe, Lady Athena, you are unaware of a great many things. Especially when they don't concern your favorite older brother," Apollo snapped.

"I am not taking sides," Athena affirmed. "I only want to be sure that Persephone's wishes are respected."

"So you would have her stay with that man? I won't stand for this," Demeter fumed. "If I don't get her back I'll- I'll withhold the harvest! There won't be any festivals, no prayers, nothing until she is returned to me."

"You would starve the entire country to get your own way, regardless of what you daughter wants?" questioned Athena.

Demeter ignored her entirely and continued with her tirade. "We have to get her back! We have to get her back right now!"

"Unfortunately, that's impossible," Zeus interjected.

"What! You're just going to let him have her?"

"Autumn has arrived quickly this year and soon the entire northern passage will be covered with ice and snow. The Pass is far too dangerous in the winter and there is no way we would reach her before the freeze. I'm afraid nothing can be done until spring."

Chapter Five

In Your Dreams

Hades took Persephone by the arm and led her into the great hall of his castle. Persephone looked around apprehensively at all the faces that were staring at her, completely transfixed. There were murmurs and mutters echoing from floor to rafters. Who was she? What was she doing here? Had Hades finally chosen a wife? That seemed unlikely though. No one could remember ever seeing Hades with a woman other than Artemis or one of his other sisters. Some people didn't think he was really attracted to women at all. When they saw the way he was looking at Persephone, they changed their minds. It was obvious to anyone that he adored her.

The head guard Chrys pushed through the gawking crowd. He saw what was causing the commotion soon enough . In the center of the hall stood their returned king, the man Chrys had come to view as a father figure and best friend, and all eyes were drawn to the girl next to him. Hades looked ridiculously besotted in Chrys' opinion, especially over a girl he couldn't have known for more than a week. The girl was pretty enough, but she looked rather miserable at the moment. Chrys wondered what exactly his friend had gotten himself into.

Hades ignored the strange looks and buzzing of the hall, looking instead at Persephone in an attempt to gage her response. She seemed a little overwhelmed, so he decided to take her to her room. He had just spoken with the head of housekeeping, but he hoped that something might be ready. Hades led Persephone down several large hallways and even more small corridors. Finally, Hades stopped in front of a set of doors and pushed them open. In the room there was a beautiful nightstand and washbasin, as well as an ornately carved mahogany bed.

"Well," he said. "This is your room. Do you like it?" he said with genuine concern.

"You mean I'm not sleeping with you?" Persephone asked, puzzled.

He leaned forward a little. "Not unless you want to."

She slammed the door in his face.

"Well, that was awkward," the girl giggled.

Persephone hadn't even noticed that there was someone else in the room until she heard this and turned around. She was in the process of putting sheets on the bed and her cheeks looked slightly red from overhearing their conversation. Although she was tall, the girl appeared to be a little younger than herself, perhaps seventeen, and she seemed to glow from the inside out. Her skin was golden and her hair and eyes were both dark brown. When she smiled, she lit up the room.

"I'm Laetitia," she said happily. "Hades thought you'd like a younger lady in waiting better. You know, someone to keep you and Artemis company."

"How thoughtful of him," Persephone commented, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "I suppose he just didn't want me to run away."

"Why would you want to run away, Persephone? Hades is such a sweet man and he told me he wants to marry you."

Gods, was there anyone he hadn't told? Persephone tried to be annoyed, but Laetitia made it impossible. She was so nice it seemed infectious and when she smiled, you had no choice but to smile back. Persephone ignored the comment about Hades and let Laetitia continue to babble an orientation.

"Hades picked the best room for you too. He made sure everything was perfect. I've never seen him so happy," she chortled.

"Hades doesn't have you use his title?" Persephone asked out of curiosity.

"No, he says it reminds him of Zeus." Laetitia furrowed her brows. "I don't think he actually likes his father very much."

"At least he shows some taste," Persephone grumbled. She immediately felt guilty for being so harsh. Zeus had always been kind to her. If it weren't for Apollo…

"Of course he does! He chose you," Laetitia said brightly.

"That's not the best example," Persephone laughed.

The rest of the day was wonderful. Hades was concerned about Persephone's clothes. She obviously hadn't had time to pack and had been wearing some of Artemis' clothes. To say they weren't a good fit would have been a gross understatement. Persephone had much larger hips than her friend and whereas the tunics fit Artemis perfectly, Persephone liked to breathe. Hades sent a seamstress to Persephone's rooms and take measurements while Laetitia and Artemis talked with her. Persephone hated to admit it, but she was having the time of her life.

So Persephone wasn't exactly pleased with him. Alright, she was furious. But it wasn't as if he could have just left her in the Summer Kingdom. Hades knew Apollo too well to think that he would ever leave Persephone alone. For years Hades had hoped it was just youthful indiscretion on Apollo's part, but it had become clear that his behavior was more than a phase. Apollo would have done anything to have Persephone and Hades loved her too much to ever let that happen.

But Persephone wouldn't see it that way. At least not now. So Hades sat alone in his room, looking over the correspondence that had been piling up in his absence. He looked up when someone slammed his bedroom door.

"Have you gone completely insane?!" the young man shouted.

Hades just smiled. "I missed you too, Chrys."

Chrys' sapphire eyes blazed at him. "Don't dodge my questions. What on earth were you thinking bringing that girl here?"

"She has a name, Chrys," Hades replied impatiently. "Her name is Persephone."

"Yes and apparently she's involved with Apollo. And you brought her here. And she doesn't look very happy about it."

"Do you have a point?" Hades asked, sounding a bit bored.

"My point is that there are plenty of women here to choose from, plenty of women who won't get you killed. You are risking too much for a simple dalliance with some-"

"This isn't a 'dalliance' and there is nothing simple about it," Hades thundered. "I'm in love with Persephone. I'm going to marry her."

"And it will kill you! It's my job to keep you alive."

"Chrys, I couldn't ask for a better head of security, but this has nothing to do with your job," Hades said calmly. "Now, I thought we were friends. Can't you just be happy for me?"

Chrys turned towards the door. "We are friends. And you want me to watch you commit suicide." Hades couldn't even respond before Chrys slammed the door again.

"Well, that could have gone better," he muttered.

Somehow Hades was in Persephone's room. She didn't understand how though since she remembered locking the door. He was standing there in the doorway. His tunic and boots were off and his chest reflected the moonbeams like white marble. Persephone's breath caught in her throat. He was so beautiful.

Persephone wasn't sure how it happened exactly, everything was in a kind of fog, but somehow Hades had moved all the way across the room and was holding her. This isn't real, this isn't real, she kept thinking. It certainly felt real though. His beard tickled her face as his lips brushed against hers, but Persephone didn't care. He was kissing her and it was impossibly wonderful.

Persephone's heart was beating out of her chest as his hand caressed her back, pressing her closer to him. Hades brushed back a black wave of hair and then he kissed her again. And his lips trailed down the side of her face to her neck and then…

Persephone woke up in a bed of tangled sheets and cold sweat. Artemis and Laetitia were both knocking on the door, so Persephone composed herself and went to let them in.

"So," Laetitia asked, "Did you sleep well?"

"Uh," stuttered Persephone.

"You look a little outa sorts," said Artemis. "What's wrong, Persephone?"

Persephone didn't respond, knowing that her answer would make Artemis way too happy. And there was no sense getting her excited over nothing.

"Come on," she wheedled, "you can tell us."

Laetitia unwittingly saved Persephone from Artemis' line of questioning. "Ooo, ooo, your dresses are ready, Persephone!"

"Really? That was fast," Persephone commented.

"Hades had them working all night," Artemis explained.

"Yeah, and they're really pretty too!"

"Oh, joy!" Persephone said. "Let's go get dressed!"

"Are you sure there's nothing you'd like to tell us?"

"No, Artemis. Besides, we'd better not keep that brother of yours waiting."

"You'd care about keeping Hades waiting?" Laetitia also looked puzzled, in a cheerful way.

"Sure, why not?" Persephone said passively.

"Of course, naturally," said Artemis with mounting suspicion. Either her friend was actually trying to be nice, or she was up to something. Yes, Artemis thought, she's definitely up to something.

When the trio finally got around to breakfast, Persephone greeted Hades quietly and tried to avoid him as quickly as possible. Hades would have none of that. He grasped her hand in greeting and held it for a minute that didn't seem to stop. Persephone was having minor heart palpitations.

"You look lovely this morning," he said, taking note of her new dress. "I really do love you in green."

"Um, thank you?" Persephone said. She blushed profusely while Artemis and Laetitia snickered behind her.

"Red is a good color for you too," Hades smiled.

Finally, Hades let Persephone retreat to the other side of the table and he watched her eat. She steadily avoided eye contact and joined in nervous conversation with Laetitia and Artemis. Persephone eyed the food with a certain amount of skepticism. She had never seen many of the items before.

"Artemis, what is this strange pasty thing?" she asked, poking at a lumpy light brown substance.

"It's called oatmeal," Artemis laughed. "It tastes a lot better than it looks."

"It wouldn't take much," Persephone noted.

"Here," Laetitia said, pushing a pitcher of milk at her. "It's good with milk. Oh and here's some honey."

"Honey. At least there's something I recognize," Persephone laughed.

"Put some raisins in it too," Laetitia suggested happily. "Oatmeal tastes great with raisins."

"Um, what's a raisin?" Persephone asked.

"A raisin, it's a dried grape," Laetitia explained.

"Oh, okay. They dry grapes here?" she asked, turning to Artemis.

"Try one," she laughed. "They're good. Oh and you use this thing called a spoon," Artemis said, lifting up the item in question.

Persephone picked hers up and turned it over in her hand. It was like a small concave disc attached to a long stem. It looked a bit like what they used back home to remove earwax. The thought made Persephone laugh.

"You guys don't have spoons in the south?" Laetitia asked incredulously.

"No, the idea of shoveling food in your mouth would be considered barbaric."

"The idea of not doing it here would be considered barbaric," Laetitia laughed in response.

Persephone lifted the 'spoon' and experimentally dipped it into her 'oatmeal'. She looked at her friends in disbelief as she put it into her mouth. Part of her still expected the 'spoon' to be a practical joke, although everyone else in the room seemed to be using theirs. She chewed slowly, taking in the new flavor. 'Oatmeal' definitely wasn't her favorite thing in the world but Persephone decided that 'raisins' were pretty tasty, despite their wrinkled appearance.

Hades enjoyed watching Persephone learn to use a spoon, including a few of her mishaps. She lost at least a couple of globs to the table before she got the hang of it. At least Persephone didn't look miserable though. That made him happy. She was even fairly civil to him this morning and Hades couldn't help but think back to how she blushed at his slightest compliment. Or how she tried very hard not to look at him during their meal, with limited success. Every time Hades caught her staring, Persephone graced him with a new blush. Humph, Hades thought. The way she's acting, you'd think she was the one dreaming about passionate kisses.

Persephone was lounging on her bed with Artemis and Laetitia, who were completely immersed in their conversation about some book. Persephone had no idea what they were saying. Her mind was on another subject completely. The dream had seemed so real in its every detail that Persephone didn't know what to think. Had that really come out of her mind? No, she thought, stubbornly. No, because I would never have kissed him. Again. It was just a stupid dream! But she kept remembering Hades and how he looked, the way he moved. She even remembered how he smelled of patchouli. No, she didn't like him! But she thought of his strong body, how muscular it was and how it felt to be pressed against him…

"Persephone!" Artemis said.

"Whaaat," Persephone replied. "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I wasn't listening."

"Hmmm," said Artemis. "And what planet were we on?"

"Yeah," Laetitia piped in. "You're missing out on our debate on whether this main character is a hero or a villain."

"Oh, sorry I missed that. I guess I was just kinda thinking about some things that have been on my mind."

"It's kinda hard to think about things that aren't on your mind, you know," said Artemis. There was silence and then Persephone swatted Artemis' arm. Laetitia started giggling violently until she curled up into a ball on the bed.

"Have you ever dreamed about something strange?" asked Persephone.

"Strange like what?" both girls responded in unison.

"I don't know, like kissing or something."

"Nope," Artemis said. "Even in my dreams I'm too cynical for that." Artemis' eyes lit up suddenly. "Wait a minute, you dreamed about kissing someone!"

"Who was it?" Laetitia coaxed, knowing full well who it was.

"Nobody, it was just an example of something strange. You know, something completely uncharacteristic that you would never really do." Artemis wasn't buying it. "Like say you dream about killing your best friend. It doesn't mean you actually want to kill her," Persephone said, glaring at said best friend.

"Uh huh," said Artemis. "I've always found that dreams are a pretty good indicator of how a person really feels."

"Me too."

"Oh well," Persephone fumed. "It's really not that important anyway."

Laetitia saw that they needed a change in topic. She managed to pick the worst one possible. "So, have you seen Hades around lately? I haven't seen him since breakfast."

"How should I know? I'm not his keeper."

"Don't deny that you're attracted to him, Persephone. Why don't you stop being so obstinate and marry the poor man," Artemis quipped. Laetitia moved quickly to avoid the daggers shooting out of Persephone's eyes.

"You are completely adamant on not getting married, so why are you so insistent on me marrying your brother?!"

"I guess I just want two people I love to be happy."

"You just have to be difficult, don't you?" Persephone pouted.

A few days later, everyone in the kingdom was rushing in preparation for the Autumn Equinox. This was one of the largest festivals of the year. They thanked the gods and goddesses for a bountiful harvest, asked their blessing for the cold months ahead, and had a major festival were most of them would probably become falling down drunk. In every corner of the castle, people were busy with work for the festival and banquet. Hades invited everyone from the surrounding areas, as usual, but this time there would be a beautiful woman on his arm.

The weather had already snapped cold and a hunting party was sent to get plenty of meat for the banquet table. Artemis was to lead them, while Hades had to stay behind to organize the event. So many people were busy at the castle, though, that Artemis didn't have enough servants to assist her party. Persephone and Laetitia immediately offered for Laetitia to go with Artemis and be her assistant. After all, Persephone reasoned, she could live without her for a few days. She had never had a servant at home.

But Persephone had had no idea how boring it was going to be. She had absolutely no one to talk to. Laetitia and Artemis were gone and Vanra seemed more interested in flirting with Khadga than talking to Persephone. Well, technically I would have talked and he would have listened, but still, Persephone thought. There were no books in her room, but there had to be a library somewhere. Persephone left her room, which she had only left before for meals, and wandered around trying to find a library. Instead, she found something very unexpected, though not entirely unwanted.

"Oh, Persephone," Hades said startled. "Are you lost?"

"Uh, kind of. I was looking for the library. You do have one, right?"

"Of course," he said. "You know, I was just thinking about going there myself. I'll take you with me."

When they got to the library, Hades pushed open two heavy doors. Persephone's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when she saw it. This library was more magnificent than she could have ever imagined. Even the ones in her dreams dimmed in comparison to this. There were four stories and so many shelves that her head spun. The ceiling was domed and golden. There were statues as well, decorating the niches, and the room was covered in deep crimson carpets. Most of the higher shelves would require the use of a ladder though. Just looking at them made Persephone's hands sweat and her stomach flutter.

"So," she said, breaking the silence, "any suggestions? I don't even know where to begin."

"I have some books I think you'll enjoy." He went to a shelf and picked up one fairly thin leather-bound book. "It's a little short, you'll probably finish it in a few hours, but it's a good read. I'll pull some others for you later too."

Hades picked out a random book for himself, though he didn't actually intend on reading it. He situated himself in a large leather armchair across from where Persephone was sitting. He watched her, but she didn't notice; she was so transfixed with the book that he might has well have been in another country. Hades enjoyed watching Persephone read. He could tell which part of the story she had gotten to, based on her subtle reactions. It was like a study really, learning all of her expressions.

After several hours, Persephone had finished the book and Hades offered to escort her to dinner. Both had missed lunch because Persephone was reading and Hades was watching her so intently that no one noted the time. Persephone was shaking so badly that she stumbled, but Hades caught her before she fell. He hoisted her up and his hands gripped her upper arms. She raised her head and suddenly realized how close they were. Their faces were barely five inches away from each other, since Hades was stooping to pick her up. Persephone felt absorbed by his green eyes, which seemed to twinkle a message to her. She felt like she was dissolving. All she could see was a pair of emerald eyes. All she felt was his steadying grip on her arms. His face was moving closer to hers and she could feel his warm breath.

Just then, Persephone hurriedly regained her balance and they went to dinner without saying a word. She had pulled away, but she wanted to kiss him. Hades was sure of it. He would just have to keep trying.