One thing not many know about him is that he’s very—
“What is the meaning of this?”
“They’re lovebirds; delightful, aren’t they?”
“I know what they are. I was asking what they’re doing here. Abhorrent creatures.”
“Oh, please,” Persephone scoffs. “They’re lovely. Just listen to them sing.”
“They smell vile.”
“Hades, there are decomposing bodies on our porch,” she says, taking none of it. “Besides, I thought you’d empathize; they’d die without each other. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the someone who’s been whining for ten minutes?”
Her birds continue singing, their voices too high for his presence. She smiles as she watches them flutter about their cage and approach her finger when she offers to stroke them; they really are brilliant little things— one of them cream colored, like the first shafts of sunlight, and the other is green, the color of royal drapery and tropical leaves. They break the stifling air and fill the chambers with defiant cheer, with life; but they’re trapped behind the white wires of their cage, and she longs for the burst of their color to taint the weary mist of the Underworld.
“I’ve not whined,” he says, punctuating the final syllable with bitter emphasis, and drawing her back to how bleak the air is. “I want them out by the time I am back,” Hades continues as he prepares to leave.
“Isn’t it unfair that you get to keep a companion and I don’t?” She asks, spontaneously pulling the tiny white gate open to let the birds out.
“My companion whose affection for you removes me from my own bed every night?”
Persephone notices how he slightly winces at the ruffle of the birds outside their cage. She sees it in his back when he stops to listen to what she has to say, a still, calm halt. “You’ve finally admitted that Cerberus likes me more,” she retorts in triumphant calm. “Besides, you remove your own self from the bed because it’s too hot.”
Before he gets a chance to complain that it’s Cerberus’s presence that makes the bed too hot, the yellow bird lands on his head, and for a moment they both freeze in place, the situation’s absurdity evoking surprise and something like dread, then a fluttering chuckle out of her. “Now,” she tells him, calmly, but the bird takes a few steps and gets itself entangled in his hair. “Thats the girl,” she informs, “I think she took a liking to you. Congratulations.”
Watching his hands curl into a restrained fist, she wills herself to settle again. He’s never been a cruel thing, and she doesn’t fear for the bird because for as long he’s been hers, he’s never doomed anything that didn’t deserve it, his vengeance always coming from a place of justice; and though what her heart holds is nothing she really cares to explain, she knows that before all her greed and her love, it is the belief that binds her to Hades. “I’ll take it off you; nothing to be afraid of.”
He turns and slowly, almost mechanically, walks towards the daybed. “I am not afraid,” he tells her, (he worries that it’ll defecate on his head, he says, and when she tells him that he can just say ‘poop,’ instead, his gaze finds the ceiling and he just sighs). With exasperation, he descends to his seat, and she detangles his hair from the tiny talons, wearing a smile that she knows he’d feel burning on his back. When she frees them, “Here!” she chimes, and places the bird on her own hair— then wraps her arms around his shoulders, then yields her weight onto them.
“I know that it’s not my birds that got you this agitated,” Persephone murmurs in a tone still as light, melodic.
He rises from his seat and she’s met again with the sight of his back, and despite his anger she still smiles. When it comes down to it, he’s a simple creature, quick to anger when things don’t go exactly as they should, and ironically, when peace is disturbed in his kingdom. Must be a mortal trying to escape, she decides, and her “l’ll see you in a bit,” is met with the wave of his hand as he leaves.
She spends time with the ugly little things, feeding them the seeds cupped in her palm and marveling at how cuddly they are when they hide in the crook of her elbow. But before too long her duties nag from beyond the chamber doors, and she scoffs, slightly annoyed at how his habits have been rubbing off on her. So she returns them to their cage and, “Don’t nag him if he returns before me, okay?” Persephone tells her birds, then slips into her black silks and leaves behind whatever signs of her old life she keeps in the Underworld.
The dissolving wails of the dead swirl around her ankles as she walks to the throne room— her steps the only sharp sounds in that lurid death, and her humming the only life in it.
Souls that still maintain their body try to clutch whatever they can of her, bony hands dissolving as they grab her wrists and her robes and her ankles, but they break and fade away at the touch. “Sorry,” she tells them. “I’d prefer to keep the hand if I were you. There’s no use in holding on to me.”
She sounds ruthless because she is, there’s nothing more to give the dead. But she isn’t evil, and like him, finds no pleasure in torture if it wasn’t earned.
The sounds of torment reach her ears soon, macabre and ragged and undeniably living. Her interest is piqued because he must be administering whatever that poor mortal is going through— well, whatever that mortal brought on himself; she could tell by the shrill rise in the victim’s voice and the way it whimpers down to silence, and how he doesn’t dare ask him to stop, that it is Hades torturing this afternoon.
Persephone follows the voice down the endless black foyers, and thinks that it might actually be a wonderful day— the smell of rot and death aside, and she is in a bright mood until she finds the warden guarding the tortured voice, and he doesn’t move out of her way.
She raises an eyebrow? then blinks a time or two. “Well?” Persephone asks him. “Are you not going to make way?”
“Um,” the specter starts. He’s green and purple in the face, and one of his eyeballs is dangling out of its socket. “My Queen, you can’t— I mean, My Lord asked me not to let you in.” Again from beyond the doors: screams, desperate and unnatural; and the warden giggles awkwardly.
“Did he, now?” She asks him, bemused. In her palm she gently cups his eyeball and shoves it back into its place, then, patting the rusty helmet on his head, “You’re a good kid. I’ll see to it that you get a raise. Now get out of my way, please.”
He screws shut his newly placed eye, and, noticing how he’s definitely trapped between a rogue and death itself, “yes ma’am,” he whispers and shuffles away from the door.
“That’s my boy,” she tells him as she winks, and she’s sure that she finds a little blush behind the scaly skin of his face. He stutters a warning, that his lord is indignant and that he’d surely need her protection now that he’s gone against Hades’s word. “He’ll be in better humor when he comes out,” she assures, then the gates open and a gust of bright green air blasts through her.
It smells of burnt flesh and innards and sin, but Hades is unbothered by it, eating his meal with Cerberus by his side. He’s inflicting torture without so much as a wince, casting his spells from a few feet away so as to not stain his robes. Before anything, “You’re eating,” she says, emphasizing his crime, “without me?”
“I remember telling them not to let you in.”
“Well, the kid outside listened to me, not you,” she says, and as the chair’s pulled out for her by an unseen force, and her meal is served by waiting hands, “which is the wiser decision, and a very brave one, might I add. I think he deserves a raise.”
“He does not.”
“He does, because he’s cute.”
“Stop offering raises to guards of hell because they’re cute.”
Across their dining table sits a guest, bound to his chair by snakes coiling around his legs. He screams and crushes his face onto the table, trying to die or lose consciousness at least, but Hades wouldn’t let him. His skin sears beneath him onto the chair, and he melts, skin and muscle and flesh, and she hears the squelch of his parts tumbling to the floors, then the splatter.
“Oh my,” she says, shoving her bite to the side to talk (Hades has always been too meticulous with his table manners, but in her kingdom she couldn’t really care much about that, not now when she’s in a particularly bright mood). Pointing her fork at the other end of the table, “What’s he done?”
Hades calmly tells her, “Why don’t you ask him?”
She calls between his screams, occasionally interrupted by them. “What is it that got you into this mess?”
He lifts his head from where he’s crushed it on the edge of the table, and when he sees her with the single eye he has left he spirals into another fit, like it’s his doom he sees, like she brought it on his head.
“Tell her,” Hades commands coldly, flicking his wrist from afar to put the man’s tongue back into his mouth after he bit it off in his pain. But he doesn’t say a coherent thing, still whimpering as he squirms in his seat, and when he lifts his face to see her his horror is renewed, and again his cries burst into the air and quiver down to the floor.
In a tone she isn’t expecting, Hades speaks again, “Tell her,” he demands, and it’s so sharp Persephone herself is startled, and so loud she’s heard nothing like it before.
She wonders what’s holding him back when his tongue’s been stitched back— then she notices the seat he’s attached to and, “Is that the chair of forgetfulness?” she asks, unsettled, and when Hades nods, she finally feels something in her jolt into place.
The mortal entered Hades for her, and Hades wanted for him the horror of realizing his fault, over and over again.
“What do you think of it?” Hades asks as he rises from his seat. His calm steps are hushed agains the floor when he walks to the victim, personally this time, and spreads his palm on the wrecked face. “I think I’ve spared him quite a lot.” She sees his fingers dig deeper into the mess, and then he lifts him up so that his skin tears and remains on the chair while the rest of him is in Hades’ hand. Now, he remembers.
It’s so fascinating, so mortal, she thinks, that foolishness, that man now trampled in her consort’s hand, his brains crushed out of him because he’s never used them by the looks of it. But now they’re trying to retain the memories of how mad he was to barge into the Underworld to steal its Queen, how brave, how that arrogance will trap him here forever.
She asks Hades to stop, and he scoffs a knowing sound before dropping what’s left of the man to the floor. As Hades returns to his seat, she walks to the mutilated body and fixes it, watches the sinews attach themselves back again and the muscles latch onto his bones, and he whimpers, endlessly drawing his final breath.
“You poor idiot,” she whispers, and maybe he isn’t cruel but she is, when it comes to what binds her to him she is cruel, a sacred bond scribed on the fates themselves— to think that a mere mortal thought that he would break it— the obscenity of it was almost too much; it was laughable. “You wanted to uproot me?”
She finds Hades’s smirk from the corner of her eye, a tiny curve on the edge of his severe lip that grows more evident when she lifts the mortal— now looking more human and less like a trampled mass of blood and flesh— and places him back on the chair.
After the comfort of being saved he growls and screams anew, his muse before him a beautiful, vicious sight, as she ruins him herself, as she reaches for his mortal heart and tears it out, and she laughs while he dies and dies again, as he bleeds, and she takes that heart that thought it loved her, then she tramples it underfoot.
“I’ll free them,” she says when they’re walking back to the throne room, their hands sticky with blood, intertwined. “The birds. Back to their world.”
“Stepping down, are we?” Hades deadpans. “How unusual.”
“Not as unusual as your mood changing in there,” she retorts; she loved it, that sound that thundered out of his throat when he laughed, short and gritty and rarer than anything.
(And while leaving behind Pirithous, the mortal who came seeking her, she meets her little guard again and, “See?” she tells him about Hades’s lighter spirits, although there’s nothing to see really, not when Hades’s face is that stern, always. But the guard nods because that guffaw was loud enough to tell of her success, though she wasn’t striving for it then— not when that visceral rage swelled with catalysm inside her, made her think that if someone had come for her, someone could come seeking him, too; but it wasn’t that anger that made him laugh, it was right when she pulled her sandal out of the mortal’s heart and turned her back, then uttered a curse so obscene to bring herself down from her anger that Pirithous, even more dead than alive, still winced.)
“Instead,” she continues about her birds. “I’ll ask for vultures, they suit us better.”
Hades only clicks his tongue, and yes, she thinks, that; his intricacies and small, invisible gestures that belong to only her, his delight shown in occasional smiles hidden behind an infernal glare and the back of his hand, his longing in secret, muffled growls and the ardent heat on her skin. “Vultures,” she contemplates— because they’re more like them, aggressive symbols of bleakness, ugly and feared and deemed evil. She’s never felt the need to hide her own possessiveness, but she doesn’t have to say it now, he knows that they’re both birds of prey if anything; ragged and loyal and savagely protective.
If anyone comes seeking him she’ll crush them, she thinks, and she realizes that she voiced that concern when he adjusts his grip over her hand and, “Of course you will,” he tells her, and she takes it with humor, then asks him, taking his chin towards her, not to seduce anyone with that pretty face.
“I will try not to,” he responds dryly, like it’s always been out of his control who he seduces; and though he’s teasing, she remembers herself and how he took her with such ease, how her plan was to take away his inhibitions and his power, and before she knew it she was recklessly consumed with yearning, mad with it. And though she believes he won’t betray her (nor disrupt his routine to seduce anyone,) she still finds the scene before her— remorselessly violent, a mortal or so turned into an immortal twig or a branch because they dared steal his heart, and his— Hades’s, head, served to her on a silver plate, ravaged and dethroned, with that same unruffled expression plastered on his face, his beautiful eyes open and looking at her only, eternally. No penance would appease her; and it’s a comforting thing how her rage swells, how nothing would tire her, ever.
“That’s an extremely devious look,” he suddenly says. “Even for you.”
He’s a few steps ahead of her now, after she’s stopped in her tracks and was lost in her thoughts— and when she skips ahead to cling onto his sleeve he doesn’t react, only, “I would not be involved in whatever you’re plotting, would I?” Hades asks, and she sees it that he knows already.
“I’m only thinking of taking that guard to be my bird-keep,” she says, too innocently, and when he mutters, ‘lies’, under his breath she promises that, among other things, she really will take that boy to look after the vultures because he’s cute, and his bewilderment will be so endearing at first, wouldn’t it? Don’t you want to watch him being flustered when it all is so new and unusual?
He continues on his way, telling her to do as she pleases, but he halts in place when,“Hey,” she calls with cheer. “Tell me you love me.”
“I do,” he tells her simply, then he turns and approaches until she has to lift her face to meet his eyes, and she smiles— her wide, lethargic smile that charms him out of his wits, and she knows it’s working when he sweeps his thumb over her cheek, softly. “And you know it— my beloved undoing.”
“Well then, say it,” she demands, and when it comes in a whisper she bites the inside of her mouth to keep from chuckling. “Not like this,” Persephone continues. “You stingy old crow; say it out loud, scream it for everyone to hear.”
“I will not.”
Of course you won’t, she thinks, but she pouts and she teases because she believes his hoarse, toneless whispers— that he loves her, because when she reaches out to hold him he pulls her as close as she’ll come, no stubbornness in his touches, and even if he doesn’t voice it she believes him, because when she draws a long breath she sees the panic in his eyes, and when she screams what she feels about him there’s no anger between them, though she says it so loud that even the dead stop groaning for a few seconds. It’s only comfort now (and the precious bashfulness emanating from him as he presses a finger to his temples and sighs again, because she really should stop tarnishing the image of the Lord of the Underworld, he tells her).
“I think you should stop looking after that image for a little while, a few days at least, it’ll do you good.” Then she clasps together her hands in excitement and exclaims, “Let’s go to the surface and find the vultures together!”
He gets no time to respond with anything but a tired stare that only gets more and more spent as she adds that she’ll show him all the new crawlies she’s learned of, oh! and he could finally get his skin bronzed by the sun— come on, how long has it been since he spent some time above ground? Thanatos will look after this lively bunch, she adds; not a thing to be concerned about— he deserves some time off, and then it sounds within reach, and then he slowly realizes that she’s not joking.
“We personally get the vultures, or the lovebirds stay,” she bargains, and prepares to negotiate further when—
“W—what?” Persephone stammers, a hundred questions tangled in her as she tries to continue mouthing him off.
“We’ll go,” he tells her, and it feels like a challenge more than a submission, to see what else she’ll come up with, how far they can banter before one of them gives in.
But he loses, distinctly letting out a despairing grunt after she tells him that Mother will be thrilled to have the three of them over— who else beside them two? The bird-keep, of course!
She manages to force a tiny, exhausted smile out of him by how impossible she’s being, and she takes his agreement and runs with it, teasing him again about being theatrical. Their world stretches before her, veiled with mist and fog and lost, wandering souls— all of them foul and mournful, but it is home, certainly, it is, the life that she chose and the life that chose him, the death that she settled in like a lover’s embrace, and if she’s meant to be lost in it she will be, because as hard it is and as filled with shards— she was created for it; because she’s a creature of life and all of earth’s wonders, and what is that if it isn’t an eternity of transmutations, of death and decimation and living—
it is her, and it is him, two old vultures sheltered in the hollow tree they call home, prepared to tear apart anything if it meant protecting one another, if it meant they’d remain together, always.
Flower prompt: Edelwiess— eternal love, devotion