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Within Reach

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It felt strange to be back in Hades. Persephone knew that it would take time for her to adjust to the lack of sunlight, the crowds of disembodied shades, the strange atmosphere of the underworld in all its gloom and beauty. So it only made sense that it would take time to get used to being a wife and mother again, she reasoned.

Actually, being a mother turned out to be easier than she'd expected, in some regards. Zagreus was a sweet boy in many respects, but not a child anymore - he sought her out for advice and companionship and affection, but he didn't need her constant supervision (or indeed, want it, given some of what she suspected he got up to!) She knew that Nyx had done much of the hard work there, picking up the pieces after her departure where Hades had fallen short, raising their son from a baby to a young man, and there was no way she could ever truly repay that debt. That didn't mean she couldn't try, though.

She also had regrets where her husband was concerned. He had never been one to express his feelings easily, even when they'd first been together, but now it was as if he'd walled himself off for self-defense, keeping everyone at bay in his painful isolation. Her departure had wounded him badly, and that had led to him passing that hurt along to their son, like a chain reaction of grief and anger. Persephone didn't bear all of the blame there, but that didn't mean she didn't feel a little bit guilty.

And then, she had so many questions about what had transpired in the underworld while she was gone - including some questions that were not the sort of thing she could ask Zagreus, or at least not without potentially traumatizing the poor boy.

In an attempt to clear up any lingering awkwardness or hurt feelings, she asked both of them to join her in the garden for some refreshments and a private conversation. It was one of the few places in the house that wasn't full of milling shades, and where they were unlikely to be interrupted by any of the house staff, or higher powers who might have business with the chthonic deities.

The garden was, somewhat surprisingly, in decent shape considering how long she'd been away. The pomegranates still gleamed like rubies in the dimly-lit, deserted chamber. Persephone arranged some low benches facing one another in one of the secluded groves, with cushions and a loosely-draped blanket or two, and waited for the others to arrive.

Nyx entered the chamber first, her tall and elegant silhouette unmistakeable against the doorway. Persephone rose to greet her with open arms. "As beautiful as ever," the goddess of night murmured. "The garden, and you as well."

Hades hesitated before entering the walled garden. "Persephone, my queen," he greeted her formally, and then inclined his head respectfully to Nyx as well, upon realizing she was also there. "Lady Nyx."

"Come in, come in," Persephone told him, taking his hand. "Don't just stand there. I wanted all of us to have a chance to talk, so that we could clear the air."

They sat, each on their own couch, Persephone in the middle with Hades to her right and Nyx at her left, feeling very small between the two of them, as she always had. "I was angry at first," she said, trying to keep her voice even and calm. "Angry that you kept me in the dark about Zagreus, and angry that you didn't tell him about me either. But I understand now why you did it. You had a number of bad options before you, and you picked the one you thought would be the least bad. And you were probably angry at me too," she continued, "for running away instead of staying with you. Even though I was grieving, you both were too, and you didn't have the option of dropping everything and running off to the surface, did you? It probably seemed very unfair that I ran away and left you with all the problems, and I don't blame you for feeling resentful."

There was a stunned silence from both of them. Perhaps they'd forgotten, in the intervening years, how blunt Persephone could be when she needed to be. After a few moments, Nyx said gently, "We never blamed you. You did what you needed to do, just as we did."

"I wanted to protect you," Hades added. "I thought I could do that best by letting you go. I see now that may have been a mistake."

Persephone nodded, taking their hands in hers. "I'll come right out and ask, since I've been wondering... Did the two of you, well, seek comfort with one another while I was gone? I won't be upset if you did. I just want to know what kind of situation I'm returning to."

Nyx gave a sad, wistful smile. "No, or at least not in the way that you mean, my dear," she said. "We did our best to get by, and to help one another when we could, but no... not that kind of comfort."

The horrified look on Hades' face was probably enough to answer her question all on its own, but still, Persephone said, "Why not? I wasn't around to get in the way anymore - I wasn't expecting to ever come back here, and you must have thought the same."

"It would have been disrespectful to you," Nyx said, while Hades grumbled, "You were still my wife, even if you had departed this realm never to return. I could not imagine betraying you like that."

"Well," Persephone said, torn between being gratified by this display of loyalty and frustrated with their obstinate refusal to face facts, "I'm here now. I came back because, despite everything we've been through, despite my misgivings, I love you both. And I'm telling you, if this is something you want, it doesn't have to be out of reach."

She stood, reaching for one of the dangling red fruits above their heads. She plucked one, feeling its weight heavy in her hand like past mistakes, and cut open the top so that she could break it into segments. Inside, the seeds glistened like drops of blood in the deep shadows of the garden. Persephone handed each of them a segment, the juice dripping between her fingers. With only a moment's hesitation, they each took it, and ate.