Din stared at the assemblage of deities before him. Zeus, surrounded by a flock of attendants; Hera, scowling at his side; Apollo and Hermes, speaking to a number of Apollo’s Muses. His eyes trailed over each one, unsurprised to find them all exactly where and how he expected—except for one. Din frowned and straightened in his seat, his gaze focusing on the empty seat next to Demeter.
“Harvest Mother,” Din asked to Demeter, “where is the Flower Prince?”
Demeter grimaced as she lifted her goblet to her lips, “In his garden, I imagine. Anything to avoid making an appearance.”
Din hid the deepening of his frown behind his own goblet. Cerberus chuffed at his feet, the left head lifting to resettle atop Din’s boots. He reached down and scruffed between his ears, looking over the assembled gods and goddess once more. He stood without a sound, his cloak of shadow wrapping around him as he departed the gathering with Cerberus on his heels.
Din held no love for his fellow deities, just as they held none for him.
Except, perhaps, for one.
His silent footsteps carried him through the many great halls of Olympus, the dark shadows leaping towards him as he approached. It was only a moment’s thought to latch onto one, draw it over his crowned head as a hood. Cerberus whined, moving to his side and pressing his right head to Din’s hand. Din shushed him, scratching briefly under his chin.
Din stopped just outside of the palace’s door, taking in the scenery around him. The sun was just past its zenith, casting warm light over the dozens of fountains and gardens that covered the mountaintop. There was only one garden he was interested in however, and he began to navigate stone pathways towards it.
Persephone’s garden was without question the green jewel of Olympus. Every leaf was vibrant, every petal perfectly shaped, every fruit plump and delicious. Din’s pace slowed as he entered the shade of a peach orchard until he was standing completely still. Each peach was beautifully round, their skin a soft pink. The tree’s leaves swayed in the slight breeze, casting playful shadows over Din’s face as he stared up.
Persephone’s garden was the only place on the whole of Mount Olympus where Din felt peace.
He began walking again, moving from tree shadow to tree shadow. He could hear the distant crash of water, and knew from previous visits he was approaching the small pond and waterfall the took up the center of the garden. He began to head towards it and then paused, keen hearing picking up a different sound.
Singing; someone was singing.
Once Din’s ears found the sound he couldn’t ignore it, and his path turned as he began to follow the voice. It was beautiful—smoky and warm, like grilled peaches drizzled with honey. His path led him to the edge of the trees, a large patch of grass spread out before him. Several yards away a lone tree stood amongst the grass, covered in yellow blossoms with white tips. What grabbed his attention however was the man sitting under it, leaning against the trunk and singing as his hands wove a strand of the yellow and white flowers together.
“The Prince of Spring,” Din breathed.
Din had seen the deity before, of course. The current personification of the spring deity was a man with bright silver hair and warm hazel eyes, gentle and elegant in appearance. Sunlight seemed to bleed from his very existence, as if he had stolen a sip from Helios’ cup. He wore an emerald colored tunic lined with gold that shimmered in the sunlight, the colors complementing his tanned skin.
He was beautiful.
Din stood, transfixed as deity sang and weaved. The flowers were taking shape now, bending into a circle. Din’s eyes caught on the swift movements of his fingers, twisting and pulling the thin stems with ease. Din lifted his own hands, staring down at them. His hands were not made for such delicate work—his hands were made to rule, to control, his hands perpetually stained with the lingering touches of death. He imagined, suddenly, what it would be like to take Persephone’s hands in his, to lace those graceful fingers between his own. A wistful fantasy, of course—for who would willingly touch the lord of the dead?
“You know, you could come and say hello. I don’t bite.”
Din startled, the shadows shooting out around him in a protective circle. Persephone didn’t so much as flinch, his soft grin remaining firmly in place. Din hastened to reign the shadows back in, tucking them into the form of his cloak.
“I beg your forgiveness, Flower Prince,” Din said, bowing his head.
Persephone chuckled, and Din looked up in time for the god to place the circle of flowers he had made atop Din’s crown. Din’s breath froze in his chest, and he stared at Persephone. Persephone stared back, mirth and something like hope pulling at the corners of his mouth.
“Tell me, what brings the King of Souls so frequently to my corner of Olympus?” Persephone asked.
Din swallowed, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.
“I…I enjoy it here,” he whispered. “It is quite lovely, your garden.”
“You honor me with your praise,” Persephone said, bowing slightly. “Does nothing like this exists in Hades?”
Din shook his head, “Nothing grows in Hades. Not even the mushrooms that feast upon rot and decay will call it home.”
Persephone smile fell at the edges, “I can hardly even imagine such a place.”
Something in Din ached at the words, as if an arrow had struck his chest.
“Well, all the more reason for you to be welcome here,” Persephone continued, grin returning. “And you are welcome, you know. Though I would ask you greet me properly at least, instead of lurking in the shade of my orchards.”
Din nodded, unsure what to say. Cerberus nudged his hand again, and Din took to opportunity to lean down and scratch under two of his chins.
“Oh? And is this the mighty Cerberus with you?”
Cerberus huffed, his tail thumping against Din’s leg as he watched Persephone expectantly. Persephone knelt, holding out one of his hands for the guardian to inspect. Cerberus sniffed at it with his left head, then licked the palm. Persephone laughed, the sound musical to Din’s ears, and the ground around them trembled as plants shot up from within. Each stem was a foot tall and covered in dark blue flowers, the sepals folded together to form a cup. These Din knew the name of: delphiniums, known for their toxicity. Din spared the flowers only a thought, however, his attention wholly taken by Persephone. This close, Din could see a scattering of freckles that stretched across his nose.
“You know, I—” Persephone began.
“Persephone? Where are you?”
The sound of Demeter’s voice had Persephone’s expression freezing, his smile falling into a scowl. The flowers wilted as he stood, and Din found himself mourning their deaths.
“Mother,” Cobb sighed, offering Din a weak smile. “I’m sorry, but I must go. Take care, your highness.”
Din bowed his head, his words stuck in his throat. Persephone turned and walked away, the grass wilting under his feet. Din watched until he was gone from view, then placed a hand on Cerberus’ back and loosed the shadows from his cloak. The darkness enveloped the two of them, and with a thought they were gone.
The Underworld was as gray and cold as Din had left it. He sighed, his hand dropping from Cerberus’ back as the guardian returned to his full size in a swirl of fire and shadow. Din left him at the gate, walking familiar paths until he was in his personal chambers. He stopped just inside, staring at the dark room spread out before him.
Something moved in his peripheral, and he turned his head to watch a white-tipped petal fall to the floor. He lifted his hand, pulling the circle of flowers from his head. Only a handful of minutes in the Underworld, and most of the flowers were already dying, their petals withered and gray. Din plucked the largest one from the ring, its petals still bright, and walked towards his desk. A few minutes of searching, and then he found what he was searching for: an unused journal, blank pages bound in black leather. Din flipped it to the second page and lay the flower upon it, carefully arranging the petals so that the flower appeared to be in full bloom. He closed the journal just as carefully, then set it on the desk and placed a stack of heavier books upon it.
He hoped it work.
The next time Din journeyed to Olympus, it was autumn in the mortal world. A terrible drought had kept him busy for the bulk of summer, more souls flooding in with each passing day. As he sat and listened to the other deities talk and laugh amongst themselves, he found his thoughts turning towards Persephone and his garden. The spring deity had made a brief appearance, sitting at Demeter’s side and with an expression torn between a smile and a grimace frozen on his face. When he had seen Din the expression had thawed just for a moment, the smile brightening if only for a moment. He had left soon after, Demeter scowling at his back as he went.
Perhaps Din wasn’t the only one uncomfortable surrounded by the rest of the pantheon.
Din stayed just long enough to satisfy his social obligations, and then began the familiar path to Persephone’s garden. He passed several beings as he went, attendants and Muses and nymphs, but the Prince of Flowers was nowhere to be seen.
Persephone’s garden reflected the change in mortal season, yellows and reds replacing the greens of his last visit. Fallen leaves crunched under his boots as he walked, the sound oddly satisfying. The air had grown cooler, not yet the bite of winter but no longer the swelter of summer either.
Din found Persephone sat beside his pond, legs crossed and chin resting in his palm, elbow placed on one thigh. The green of his tunic was gone, replaced instead with fabric of a lovely crimson. A few scattered flowers surrounded him, pink cups on long stems that Din once more recognized for their toxicity and ability to bring creatures to his realm: foxgloves. Din stopped a few feet away and cleared his throat. Persephone twisted sharply, though his surprised expression quickly turned into one of happiness.
“I had a feeling there was an extra shadow in my garden,” he teased.
“I wished to say hello while I was here,” Din replied, taking a few steps forward until he was at Persephone’s side.
Persephone hummed, his gaze returning to the water’s surface. The plants around him changed, the flowers disappearing and stems shortening. A moment later new flowers bloomed at the end of each stem, multiple rows of small petals that started out yellow and turned pink at the tip. Din sat beside Persephone, reaching out and tracing his finger along the edge of one of the flowers. To his surprise, the flower did not wilt under his touch as most things did. Silence filled the space around them, though it wasn’t the usual silence that followed Din. There was no sour glare, no hushed whispers, no wary glances. Just silence, broken by the wind moving through the grass and the waterfall crashing into the pond.
“Will you tell me something, o King of Souls?” Persephone asked after a while.
“You have but to ask.”
Persephone turned to look at him, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them.
“What is the Underworld like?”
Din frowned, tilting his head to the side.
“I don’t travel much, you see,” Persephone continued. “My mother takes care of most of the affairs in the mortal world; the only time I really leave Olympus is in spring.”
Sorrow colored his voice, and the flowers bowed towards him.
“The Underworld—I don’t think you’d care for it,” Din explained slowly. “It is the exact opposite of your garden here, cold and barren. There is no light, no life.”
Persephone chuckled mirthlessly, “You haven’t seen my garden in winter, have you?”
Din shook his head, “Winter is a very busy time for me. I don’t really leave the Underworld until spring.”
Persephone nodded, one of his hands dropping and plucking one of the flowers from around him. He twirled the stem between elegant fingers, his eyes gazing over the pond without seeing it.
“If you find you have a moment to spare,” he said after several minutes, “I’d be happy to host you here during the winter. I think you’d find it to your liking.”
I already find everything here to my liking, Din thought.
“I appreciate your invitation,” he said instead, bowing his head. “I will keep it in mind.”
Persephone nodded, the faraway look leaving his eyes as he turned to grin at Din. The grin didn’t reach his eyes, traces of sorrow lingering there.
“You have to go back soon, don’t you?”
“Yes. I’m afraid I cannot leave the Underworld for long. It is—unsafe to do so.”
Persephone tilted his head to the side.
“For you, or for everyone else?”
Din didn’t answer. He stood, bowing his head and retreating a few steps. Persephone stood as well, watching Din as he gathered the shadows around himself.
Something landed at his feet as he arrived at the gates to his realm. He looked down, brow furrowing as he recognized the many petaled flower Persephone had been holding. He hurried to his rooms, cradling the flower—the gift, for it could be nothing less—between his palms. The journal sat on the edge of his desk, as it had since the first flower had taken place inside. It had dried beautifully, and Din used the same amount of care to place the new one on the page behind it. He wondered what they were called—flowers were not something he knew, not unless they could send souls to his gates. He supposed he could ask Persephone for their names, next time he saw him.
He was looking forward to it, he realized. Looking forward, for once in his extended life, to making the trip to Olympus, if only to see the Prince of Flowers’ smile.
Winter came, and with it an expected influx of souls. In fact, there were even more than usual, the summer’s drought meaning the mortals were less prepared for winter than usual. Din was busy more often than not, and he often found himself gazing longingly at the black journal, at the two flowers pressed within.
It was only near the very end of winter that Din could make time to leave the Underworld, and instead of traveling to the palace as he normally did, he teleported directly into Persephone’s garden. His breath immediately fogged in front of him as he gasped, taking in the space around him. Snow and frost covered the ground, so white that his eyes hurt to look at it. The trees that normally took up the space were gone, fruit and flower replaced with the thick, dark trunks of pines, their branches bowed heavily with snow. Din took a step forward, the snow crunching loudly under his boots. The more he looked around, the more he was reminded of his own realm, lifeless and cold.
Din hated it.
His steps carried him between the trees, the only sound the crunch of his footfalls. There was no chirping of birds, no distant crash of water. He pulled his cloak closer to himself, a certain nervous energy buzzing under his skin. It felt unnatural, to walk through a place so barren where it was normally full of life. Was this what others felt walking through the Underworld?
“I was wondering if you would be able to make it.”
Din whirled around to face the voice, though whatever words he had to say froze as he took in Persephone. The bright colors of his normal attire were gone; in their place was a thick, long-sleeved tunic of white and silver. Around his shoulders hung a heavy cloak, pale blue and lined with a plush white fur. Even his very presence was different, and Din had the feeling of being stared down by a wolf as it decided the best way to clamp its jaws around your throat.
Persephone tilted his head to the side, and Din cleared his throat as he bowed his head, realizing he was staring.
“My apologizes. Things have been busy.”
Persephone nodded as he approached Din, his steps quieter than Din’s own.
“You cannot stay for long, then?”
“I am afraid not. I,” Din paused, his eyes darting to the side, “I wanted to come see you though, if only for a short while.”
“You…wanted to come see me?”
Din’s eyes found Persephone’s again. His brow was creased, a frown pulling at his lips.
“Yes?” Had Din said something wrong?
“I thought,” Persephone’s expression shifted, and he ducked his head, “I thought you merely appreciated my garden.”
Din opened his mouth, then closed it. When had the change occurred from visiting the garden to escape the other deities of Olympus, to actively seeking one out? Something was happening between them, some invisible thing sparking in the air, bright and hot enough that he could almost see it. He reached out, gently taking one of Persephone’s hands in his.
“Originally, yes. But that was before I had properly met the man who created such a beautiful place,” Din explained, his voice soft.
Persephone sucked in a breath. The snow shivered around them, and all at once dozens of stems were shooting through it, each one ending in a flower with five petals of a beautiful lilac color. Din stared, entranced, as more and more of them shot out from the snow until they were surrounded by hundreds of them.
Din lifted his head to find Persephone staring at him. The frown was gone, replaced by wide eyes and slightly flushed cheeks. A wolf caught off guard.
“Flower Bearer, I—”
Din’s pulse skyrocketed.
“Please,” Persephone continued, voice soft, “call me Persephone.”
Din nodded, shocked into silence. To call a deity by their name instead of one of their titles was something reserved only for family and the closest of friends and lovers.
“Then I ask that you to call me Hades in return,” Din choked out. It was only fair, after all.
Persephone smiled, taking his hand back as he knelt and plucked three of the flowers from the ground. He offered them to Din, who took them as gently as he could.
“I look forward to seeing you again, Hades,” Persephone whispered.
Din frowned, but Persephone was right. It was past time for him to return to the Underworld, and yet all he wanted to do was stay. Stay, and hold Persephone’s hand as they walked through the pines and snow. It wasn’t to be; he drew in a breath and let the shadows pull him back to the Underworld.
Spring came once more, and Din found himself walking the shadows of Persephone’s garden at least once a week. He was often alone, Persephone busy tending to his duties in the mortal world. As beautiful as the garden was—and it was stunning, in the fresh greens of spring—Din found it had loss some of the peace it had once brought him.
Not that he didn’t know the reason.
Din sat by the pond, eyes closed and listening to the gentle roar of the waterfall that fed it. He wondered what Persephone was doing, what part of the mortal world he was bringing his gift to. And what a gift it was, the return of spring and the end of winter. The return of color and warmth to the world, after so long in the cold dark. After so long fearing that they would see one of Din’s psychopomps, come to collect their souls.
Din frowned. Winter was hard for mortals—even with Prometheus’ gift of flame. Harsh weather and illness swept over the lands, claiming young and old without bias. So many elders taken in their sleep; so many babes, lost in the cradle. It was the natural order of things, of course—even Din would die someday, with another taking up the mantle of Hades—and yet sometimes, Din wished things could be different. While some beings arrived at his shores at peace with their fates, many did not. Fear gripped them, fear and sorrow and hatred, all of it pointed at Din. As if he was the one who sent illness and famine and war to their doorsteps.
Something fell on Din’s head and broke him from his thoughts, and he opened his eyes as he reached his hands up to investigate. Hands grasped his before he could discover what it was, and he tilted his head back to see Persephone standing behind him, smiling.
“Persephone,” Din breathed. There was nothing else he could say, not when the Prince of Flowers looked so beautiful. The green and gold tunic was back, as was the warmth and brightness that seemed to pour out of him. This close, Din could see the green and brown in his eyes, the freckles that ran across his nose, the faint strands of copper in his hair. All at once the shadows clawing at Din’s mind dissipated, as if they were never there to begin with.
“Hades,” Persephone greeted. “It is good to see you.”
Din swallowed, turning his head to avoid the honesty in the deity’s voice. Persephone chuckled, letting his hands go to sit beside him. Din mourned the loss of contact.
“How are things going?” Din asked instead.
Persephone shrugged, leaning back on his hands.
“Going well I suppose. I’ve had to yell at the Sun Bearer a few times for being lazy and taking his sweet time melting all the snow, but other than that it’s been fine.”
Din chuckled, trying to imagine Persephone angry. He found himself wishing to see it at some point. He wanted to see every facet of the other, to know him as well as one person could know another.
“And what of the Underworld? I imagine things have slowed for you a bit,” Persephone asked.
“A bit, yes. It gives us time to recover from how busy winter was.”
“Oh? And this is where you come to recover?”
Though his tone was teasing, a look at Persephone told a different story, his expression a mix of hopeful and pleased. Din reached out, taking Persephone’s hand in his.
“I would go no where else.”
Persephone ducked his head, but Din saw the blush crawl up his cheeks regardless. The hand in his squeezed, just once, before Persephone stood.
“I’m afraid I must return to my work. Please, feel free to stay as long as you like,” he said.
“I will. Thank you.”
Persephone smiled, and in a rush of warm, sweet-smelling wind and flower petals, he was gone. Din stared at the spot where he had stood for a moment before lifting his hand to his head. Another circle of flowers had been placed there, and he untangled it from his crown to get a better look at it. Two different types of flowers had been woven together: the larger of the two had thin, deep red petals and a round, black center, while the other was much smaller with five tiny, delicate white petals. Din plucked one of the red flowers and three of the white ones from the circle, holding them to his chest as he traveled back to the Underworld.
The new flowers joined the others in his journal, and Din ran his finger down the spine once he had placed the stack of heavy books on top of it. He wished he had something to give to Persephone in return, but what did he have to give? Shadow and smoke were poor gifts, and anyone who ate the food of the Underworld was trapped there forever.
He sighed, crossing to the window and staring out at the Underworld. Black stone and ash met him, twisted, bare trees with bone-white bark breaking up the landscape. He narrowed his eyes, a thought beginning to form in the back of his mind.
Perhaps he had something to give after all.
By the time Din had finished his gift, it was the beginning of summer.
Persephone’s garden was bright with sunlight and color, and Din had to take a moment to let his eyes adjust as he stepped from the shadow of a pear tree. He clutched his gift close to his chest, the shape of it digging into his fingers and distracting him at least momentarily from the nervousness cluttering in his chest.
He wandered through the garden, his eyes searching for Persephone. He found him lying on his side under a willow tree, his head pillowed in his arms. Din stopped a few feet away, taking in the relaxed, peaceful expression on his face. White flowers as large as Din’s palm surrounded him, almost star-shaped. Din stepped closer, sitting at to Persephone’s side. As he did, Persephone stirred, his eyes blinking open. He looked up at Din, a smile crossing his face.
“Oh, hello Hades,” he greeted, his voice thick with sleep.
“Hello, Persephone,” Din whispered in return.
Persephone sat up, leaning against the trunk of the willow and yawning.
“How long have you been here?” Persephone asked.
“Only a few minutes,” Din said. “I...I have something for you.”
Persephone tilted his head to the side, his eyes drawn to Din’s hand and the object held within. Din extended it towards him, letting him see what it was. A circular pendant of bone-white wood took up most of Din’s palm. A tree was carved into the right side of it, its branches stretching over the top. On the left side were three dog heads, carved from obsidian and set to look like they were howling. A silver chain hung from the top of the pendant.
“Oh, Hades,” Persephone breathed. “It’s lovely. Will you—will you put it on me?”
Din swallowed, taking the chain in his hands and looping it over Persephone’s head. The back of Din’s fingers grazed his neck, the skin soft and warm, and Din let his hands linger for just a moment before pulling them back. Persephone took the pendant in his hands, smiling down at it as he tilted it to catch the light.
“Hades, I,” Persephone looked up, and Din’s heart leapt at the sight of him, his soft smile and bright eyes. “Thank you. It’s wonderful.”
Din bowed his head, his words tangled in his mouth. Persephone’s hands rose and cupped his cheeks, lifting his head back up. Din’s hands covered his, marveling at how well they fit together. Persephone’s eyes flicked down and back up—looking at his lips, Din realized. The thought was gone as quick as it arrived as Persephone leaned in, his lips brush against Din’s. Din sighed into the kiss, letting his eyes slip closed, the world around them fading away. Persephone’s lips were soft and warm, and Din knew immediately he’d never be able to get enough. Din’s hands left Persephone’s to travel up into his hair, the silky strands sun-warmed to the touch.
“Hades,” Persephone whispered against his lips.
Din hummed, pressing against Persephone until he was lying back on the grass, Din’s body covering his own. Persephone groaned, throwing an arm over Din’s shoulders.
“Hades,” Persephone said again, his voice colored with longing. Around them more flowers were springing from the ground, some that were purple spheres on tall stems, others with white, heart shaped petals with yellow centers.
“I am here,” Din said.
Persephone nodded, pulling Din closer. Din trailed the line of his jaw with his lips, following it up to his ear.
“Persephone,” Din started, only to be cut off by a cry of outrage. They both turned to see Demeter standing several feet away,
“What are you doing to my son?” Demeter shrieked.
“Mother,” Persephone growled.
“He will ruin you,” Demeter spat.
“Then I will be ruined!” Persephone shot back, and Din got the feeling this was not the first time they had had this conversation. Persephone slipped out from under Din and stormed towards Demeter. Din caught a glimpse of the pendant hanging from his neck, the black and white standing out against sun-tanned skin and green cloth.
“You don’t understand,” Demeter continued. “He will corrupt you, turn you into some wraith of who you are now.”
“He will do no such thing!”
Din tuned the voices out, staring down at his hands. When was the last time he held something from outside of the Underworld that did not eventually wither away? When had his touch not eventually led to sorrow and despair?
Din bowed his head and reached into another pocket of shadow, pulling the black journal from within. He stroked his thumb over the cover, and set it at the base of the willow tree’s trunk. Then he closed his eyes, and let the shadows drag him back to the Underworld.
Back where he belonged.
Din leaned against Cerberus’ side, the guardian whimpering quietly as he picked up on Din’s distress. Din sighed, turning his head to bury in the thick black fur.
Fool. He was a fool.
What did he have to offer? A kingdom with no living subjects, full of ash and bone and darkness. That was no place for someone as radiant, as lovely, as warm as Persephone.
Cerberus whined softly, and Din pat his side. The hound twisted, turning so his right head could reach Din and nudge him with his nose.
“It’s alright, Cerberus,” Din placated. “I’ll be okay.”
It sounded weak even to his own ears.
Din wasn’t sure how much time past before he heard soft footsteps against stone approaching him. Cerberus’ left and middle heads lifted, and to Din’s surprise his tail began to thump against the ground. Din looked up, his brain needing a second to understand what—who he was seeing.
“Persephone?” Din scrambled to his feet. “What are you doing here?”
Persephone grinned, lowering the hood of the brown and gold traveler’s cloak he wore.
“I have something for you,” he said, holding out Din’s journal to him.
Din took it with a heavy heart, staring at the plain cover so as not to stare at Persephone. Even in the darkness of the Underworld he was beautiful, a brilliant gem amongst dark stone. Din longed to reach out, to take his hand, to press his lips along his face.
Hands covered Din’s, and Din watched as they moved, guiding his hands to open the journal. Din sucked in a breath as he stared at the page with the first flower pressed into it. Neat, flowing script marked the page now, gold ink shimmering in the dim light.
Plumeria. A flower symbolizing perfection, springtime, and new beginnings.
The hands guided him to turn the page.
Dahlia. A flower symbolizing elegance and dignity.
Page after page, the golden script named each flower. Mallow. Red daisy. Clovenlip toadflax. The last page held three flowers, ones that Din had not placed there himself. He recognized them of course: the white flower that had surrounded Persephone as he slept and the two that had bloomed while they kissed.
Moonflower. Symbolizing dreaming of love
Globe amaranth. Symbolizing immortal love.
Primrose. Symbolizing eternal love.
Din swallowed, staring at the page. His eyes kept finding the golden ink spelling out the word love, love,love. Lips pressed softly against his brow, and Din found the strength to tilt his head up and finally meet Persephone’s gaze. The warmth there stole his breath away, the depth of adoration making his knees weak.
“Persephone,” Din breathed.
Persephone leaned forward, and Din met him halfway. Din closed the journal, freeing one of his hands to wrap around Persephone’s waist and pull him closer, until they were chest to chest.
“My king,” Persephone whispered against his lips.
“My prince,” Din echoed. “Are you not afraid of me? Do you not fear that I will turn you to dust and shadow?”
“No. Never once have I looked at you and seen anything other than a man with far too much weight upon his shoulders.” Persephone pressed a kiss to Din’s brow, just under the edge of his obsidian and silver crown. “A man who needed a place to rest and find peace, if only for a moment.”
Din sighed and leaned down, his forehead resting against Persephone’s.
“The beauty you bring with you has never existed in the Underworld before,” he said. “You are so magnificent to behold, it hardly seems possible for you to be real.”
Persephone grinned, and the ground trembled under their feet. Din lifted his head, pulling Persephone tighter to him as he looked around. The ground cracked, and from within came dozens, scores, hundreds of plants, vibrant green stems and brilliant petals of every color filling the space around them. Din could only stare as dark stone was replaced with color and life. Some of the flowers he recognized, could name now, whereas most were new to him.
Din turned back to Persephone, his eyes wide. Persephone smiled, lifting a hand to cup Din’s cheek.
“My beauty comes from my love,” he said. “And I love you, completely and wholly.”
Din turned his head, pressing his lips to the middle of Persephone’s palm.
“I love you as well. I will love you until the end of time, and even past that.”
Din spoke it like an oath.
“Then you should know me by my true name,” Persephone whispered, leaning in to speak next to Din’s ear. “My true name, the name belonging to my soul, is Cobb Vanth.”
Din felt as if he’d been electrocuted, as if he had been struck by one of his brother’s lightning bolts. To know the true name of a thing was to know it in its entirety, down to the individual particles of stardust that made it. Looking at Persephone—at Cobb Vanth—Din could barely breathe for his brilliance.
“Cobb Vanth,” Din spoke his name like a prayer, “I take your name and keep it in my heart. Take mine, the name belonging to my soul, and keep it in yours. My name is Din Djarin.”
Cobb licked his lips. When he spoke, his voice was breathless.
“Din Djarin. King of the Underworld, Lord of Souls—the man to whom my heart and soul belongs.”
Din leaned down, capturing Cobb’s lips in his. The shadows coalesced around them, and when they faded they were standing in Din’s chambers. Cobb blinked owlishly at the change in scenery, his head turning to take in the space.
“This is my home,” Din explained. “Your home too, if you wish it.”
Cobb turned back to face him.
“Our home,” he said, as if he could hardly believe it.
“Yes. Our home, and our kingdom, for I would have you sit in a throne at my side, the resplendent King-Consort of the Underworld.”
Cobb leaned his head against Din’s shoulder, his face buried in Din’s neck. Din could feel his grin against his pulse.
“I would be honored.”
Din didn’t sleep that night.
Instead he set to work, taking bone-white wood and shimmering gold, crimson rubies and verdant emeralds, carving and melting and shaping. He was no Forge Lord, but he knew his way around a work table well enough. Each piece was crafted with careful hands and, perhaps more than that, an intense desire to see Cobb smile at the gifts presented to him.
The last gift Din plucked from the gardens of the Underworld as he returned to his chambers, the Underworld’s imitation of dawn creeping between tree and vine. He tucked it away in his cloak, his pulse fluttering nervously.
Cobb was sitting on the sill of the large window overlooking the Underworld when Din entered. He turned his head at the sound of the door opening, a smile curling across his face.
“There you are,” Cobb said, standing and meeting Din halfway across the room. His hands found Din’s shoulders as his lips met Din’s, soft and sweet. Din’s hands found his waist, settling there as if it was where they were meant to be.
“I have something for you,” Din explained, voice soft.
Rather than answer, Din took Cobb’s hand, leading him from the room. Cobb threaded their fingers together, and Din felt himself relaxing. Din stopped them at the doors to the throne room, ornate things carved from gleaming black stone and inlaid with silver. Din rest his hand against Cobb’s cheek.
“Will you close your eyes?” Din asked.
“A surprise then?” Cobb teased, his eyes falling shut. Din leaned forward and pressed a kiss to each eyelid before opening the doors.
He led Cobb all the way to the throne dais, taking a deep breath before reaching into his cloak and pulling out the first of the two items stashed there. He stepped behind Cobb and pressed a kiss to the back of his neck.
“Open your eyes, my love,” Din whispered.
Cobb did, and gasped. The throne Din had crafted to sit next to his was carved from the same bone-white wood as Cobb’s pendant. Vines made of gold wove around it, leaves of emerald sprouting from them. Flowers made of sapphires and rubies spilled across the top of the throne and dotted the vines in places. A viridian cushion covered the seat and back of the chair, embroidered with gold thread. Next to Din’s own throne of obsidian and silver, it was magnificent.
“Din,” Cobb whispered as he turned to look at Din. His words froze however as he saw what Din held.
“May I?” Din asked, lifting the crown slightly. It was made to match the throne, bone-white wood and gold vines and gems shaped like flowers twining together.
Cobb nodded, ducking his head as Din lifted the crown. It settled against Cobb’s head, beautiful against his silver hair. Din took a step back, taking in Cobb fully. Cobb grinned at him, then turned and made his way to his throne. His fingers traced over an armrest, finding a vine and following it all the way to the top of the throne. Cobb spun around with a flourish, then sat. Din’s breath caught in his throat—he had already known Cobb to be beautiful, but seeing him crowned and upon a throne was almost too much for Din to take.
“Come,” Cobb purred, patting the armrest of Din’s throne, “sit with me my king. My beloved.”
Din’s approached Cobb’s throne, pulling the last gift from his cloak.
“I have one more thing to offer you,” he explained, holding a single pomegranate out to Cobb. “If you will accept it.”
Cobb stared at the fruit, his eyes slowly rising to meet Din’s.
“To eat the food of the Underworld is to bind yourself there for eternity,” he whispered.
“Yes. To share it with another binds your souls together for eternity, so that nothing may ever separate you,” Din whispered back.
Cobb’s gaze dropped back to the fruit. He reached out, tracing his fingers over the dark skin.
“Then we shall share it.”
Din surged forward, taking Cobb’s face in his free hand as he kissed him. Cobb kissed back with just as much fervor, his hand dancing along Din’s neck before gripping a fistful of his cloak.
“Din,” Cobb breathed.
Din broke the kiss and nodded. He pulled a knife from his cloak, the edge impossibly sharp. With deft strokes he sliced the pomegranate into quarters, the red seeds glistening. Knife tucked back into the shadows, Din plucked a few of the seeds from within, holding them out to Cobb. Cobb smiled, sharp and brilliant, and leaned forward, mouth open. Waiting. Din swallowed, feeding the seeds to Cobb a few at a time, juice running over his fingers and over Cobb’s lips. Din was helpless against the desire to lean in and take a taste, his tongue running over Cobb’s bottom lip. He fell to his knees before Cobb, his beloved king-consort on his throne. Was this what mortals felt, when looking upon deities? Was this what it felt like to kneel and worship?
Cobb pulled back from the kiss and took a quarter of the pomegranate, tapping it against his palm so the seeds fell into it. Cobb returned the favor Din had done him, feeding him a few seeds at a time, chasing each one with his lips. Din suddenly knew that he would never again be able to taste pomegranate without remembering the taste and feel of Cobb’s lips on his own.
“I love you,” Cobb whispered. “I will love you until all the stars fall out of the sky, and even past that.”
“I love you,” Din echoed, “and I will love you even when the sun has gone cold and dark, and after that too.”
And so it was that the King of the Underworld wed the Prince of Flowers, and the souls of Din Djarin and Cobb Vanth became entwined so wholly that they were as one, completely and eternally inseparable from each other.
And it was perfect.
Millenia later, a businessman named Din Djarin walks into a flower shop, pulled by an unshakable feeling of nostalgia. Inside he meets the owner, a man with silver hair and a smile more brilliant than the sun named Cobb Vanth. And as they stare at each other, Din remembers the feel of lips against his own, the taste of pomegranate on his tongue. And then a tiny voice, somewhere deep inside his soul, wakes up and whispers: