The plain stretches out before her, rippling and whispering with it’s ancient secrets, and Persephone walks with her hands outstretched, palms just scraping over the tips of the grasses that embrace the lower half of her body. She can hear the nymphs by the river, their splashing and shouting carrying across the flat ground, and smiles to herself as she wanders, the sun turning it’s gentle face down to her to warm her skin. Her feet are bare on the soil, and a trail of summer flowers is left in her wake, dotting the dry summer plain with splashes of colour.
A thrumming sound pokes annoyingly at her brain, and she plucks a flower, holding it loosely between thumb and forefinger, turning to investigate the sound disturbing her walk. The chariot is an ugly black against the beauty of the day, huge horses that race across the field, and it’s so out of place in the field that Persephone doesn’t think to turn and run, only watches with a furrowed brow as it thunders towards her, instinctively beginning to drop down to protect herself from the huge hooves when it swerves past her, and she has a moment of utter relief, curling her hands into the earth in thanks, before a strong arm is wrapping around her waist and she’s lifted into the sky, kicking and screaming, hands clutching onto the limb, ripped away from the ground. She lands ungracefully at the bottom of the chariot, the sharp crack of her head hitting the wood making her vision blur and thoughts slow. The path of the cart is not a straight one, and she watches through black clothed legs as the outside swerves wildly, and feels momentary pain at all the plants being crushed by the chaotic route. She squeezes her eyes shut against the spinning, and hauls herself up the chariot, fingers a white grip on the lip of the side. The wind whips at her hair and she can feel the hard body of the driver at her back, realizing she’s stood up between both of his arms that grip the reins, his forearms digging into her hips to keep her from falling, trapping her. Persephone looks across the horizon, turns to search for her nymph friends, but the river is already quickly disappearing behind them, and she begins to panic. She hammers soft hands on the chariot, tries to wriggle from the man’s strange embrace, but he barely seems to notice her struggle.
‘Mother!’ She screams into the wind, voice catching on the word, ‘Mother! Mother!’
She sobs, and screeches, pulling at the man’s arms, even crawls along the floor to try and jump out the back but his foot is suddenly there, pushing her scrambling back into the corner.
She doesn’t see the suddenly black gap in the earth, is cowering on the floor, calling for Demeter, but she does feel the sudden drop, her stomach clenching, hands flailing for something to grab onto. The last scream for her mother is ripped from her mouth with the wind.
The first breath of winter wind makes her heart stop. She’s sat by a lake, her mother weaving reeds into a basket under the shade of a willow tree, water nymphs spread around them. A cloud crosses over the sun and suddenly the gentle, warm wind is replaced by icy fingers and shivers. Persephone meets her mothers eyes and tastes pomegranate on her tongue. Demeter raises her head to the sky and waits for the cloud to cross Helios’ face, it is only a few moments before the sunlight returns and her mother returns to weaving, but there is a hardness to her face that wasn’t there before.
Persephone passes the next few weeks with a desperate need to not waste a moment. She does everything, sees everyone, dances under the moonlight and has a sickening hope of him watching, deep under the ground, seeing how much joy she finds up here where the air is fresh and clean, and that he might change his mind. He doesn’t.
They sit and wait in the main temple in Olympus, her mother by her side, in chairs that face Zeus’ throne. Her father sits with his chin on his fist, and she swallows hard, her mothers hand wrapped tight around hers. Sweet incense stains the air, and Persephone’s stomach rolls with nausea. Her ears prick at the sound of footsteps on the marble behind her, and she sucks in a breath, Demeter’s teeth clacking together with fury as she massages the back of her daughters hand with her thumb.
‘Brother,’ Hades greets, and as her whole body tenses at his voice, she has a sudden fear that she might never be able to move again. Zeus nods, and rises from his seat, motioning for Demeter and Persephone to do the same. It takes Persephone a moment to convince her joints to work, but she too stumbles to stand with her mother, Zeus crossing the room to rest a heavy hand on her shoulder, spinning her around to face her husband. He is framed by the sunlight spilling in from the huge open doors, black hair slicked back, and she feels tears burn the back of her eyes. She can’t breathe, trapped in the thick walls of the temple, her flowers too far for her to reach, and she won’t be needing them in a few moments, they’ll be left up in the sun while she shrinks and rots underground.
‘Good morning,’ he greets, voice smooth and polite. ‘Are you ready to leave?’
‘Please,’ Demeter interrupts, voice breaking, stepping forward, cheeks shining with tears, ‘Please, let her stay. She’s just a girl. She’s too young for the dark.’
‘Demeter,’ Zeus warns, and with a gentle shove to Persephone's spine, sends her stumbling across the floor towards Hades.
‘Persephone,’ Demeter screeches, and she hears her mothers shoes slapping on the ground behind her but cold hands are already closing around hers, and she’s yanked to Hades side before Demeter can pull her back into safety. Her mother doesn’t stop though, instead there’s a struggle as Demeter tries to twist Persephone out of Hades grasp and Zeus hurries to stop her. There’s a pulse of energy and Persephone loses all hearing, slumping against her husband, peeling open heavy eyes to find her mother splayed on the floor, not moving. She screams. Hades closes a hand over her mouth to silence her.
‘She’ll be fine.’
Hades nods at Zeus, before she’s being whisked around to the door, and practically dragged towards it, her feet scuffing on the floor. They break from the temple, and the cold pricks at her skin, wind rustling her hair, her flimsy dress fluttering. She’s shoved up into the chariot, and finds her legs won’t support her anymore, crumpling in the corner, hands over her face, teeth digging into her palm to stop herself from crying. Hades doesn’t speak.
She feels the ground rumble beneath her, her bare toes curling into the grass and her mother looking up from her basket of swollen berries. Demeter is by her daughter’s side in a second, vice grip around her wrist, red stained fingertips pressing marks into the golden skin.
‘It’s alright, mother,’ Persephone whispers, gently loosening the grip and gathering her mother’s limp hands in her own instead, ‘We’ve had a good summer, no?’
Demeter’s eyes glisten with tears, and she leans to rest her forehead against Persephone’s, lets her eyelids flutter closed, feels the divinity pulse through their knotted hands. Persephone flinches against the sudden heat that flares through her as her mother mutters an old protecting hymn under her breath.
The ground gives another alarming shake, leaves rustling above them, the warm late summer day in the forest suddenly growing cold and windy, the sky darkening. The material of Persephone’s dress whips around her legs.
‘Be careful, be safe,’ Demeter begs, sharp fingers digging into her daughters soft hands.
‘I will,’ Persephone promises, ‘I have been every other time, haven’t I?’
‘If he so much as lays a finger on you, you will tell me immediately.’
‘No, mother, I won’t,’ Persephone sighs, and looks down at their intertwined hands, there’s goosebumps rising on her forearms from the sudden change in temperature, ‘You know the rules, I’ll be back soon.’
Demeter shakes her head, eyes flashing, ‘Not soon enough. He cannot steal you from me, from life, like this. I will speak to Zeus again.’
‘He won’t change his mind.’
‘Yes,’ Demeter’s grip is so tight it begins to grow painful, ‘He will.’
It begins to rain, ice cold drops loosening the delicate binds in Persephone's hair and replacing the tears on her face. They stumble with the next heave of the earth.
‘He’s nearly here,’ Persephone breathes, and Demeter shakes her head wildly, reaching to take her daughters shoulders, holding her closer, chest rising and falling quickly.
‘I’ll come with you.’
The ground splits with a groan and a shudder, and the plant life around the crack curls in on itself, freezing with a much too soon frost. Hades rises from the gaping gap with no obvious effort, and the final drops of sunlight disappear, leaving the forest clearing grey and ever so cold. Persephone makes a soft sound of surprise. Demeter gathers her daughter behind her, standing between her and the man cloaked in black who begins to approach them.
‘My lady Demeter, what a pleasant last gift of the summer to see you.’
Demeter’s mouth is a thin line of fury, but Hades does not stumble, he simply looks over her shoulder to where Persephone watches, rain darkening her hair and eyes wide.
‘Persephone, my love, are you ready?’
She nods, quick and jutting, and withdraws herself from her mother.
‘Let go,’ she whispers when Demeter’s hand clutches to hers, ‘He’ll only get angry if we delay.’
The wind howls around them, and Persephone flicks a nervous glance to the waiting man. He smiles softly, hands clasped behind his back. She notices none of the raindrops seem to hit him.
‘I’m coming with her,’ Demeter announces, and Hades tips his head to the side, confusion crossing his face.
‘No, you’re not.’
He reaches out a hand for Persephone, who still hovers halfway between them, her arm clutched in Demeter’s grip.
‘No, Demeter, you are not.’
Thunder rolls in the distance, and the sky is now threateningly dark, wind whipping through the trees. While Demeter’s voice goes up and down in tone with stress and fear, Hades’ is even and strong, seemingly only puzzled by her sudden need to follow her daughter down into the depths. Persephone knows though, she knows this voice, this expression, her mother won’t be coming with her. Demeter will die before that happens.
‘Don’t, mother, please,’ Persephone says, ‘You don’t want to see him angry.’
Hades nods ever so slightly, ‘Listen to your daughter.’
Demeter’s grip on Persephone’s wrist begins to slacken.
‘I’ll be home soon, don’t worry,’ Persephone insists, and darts back to kiss her mother’s wet cheek before hurrying across the clearing to her husband, his arm rising to circle around her shivering shoulders. Demeter watches, body slumped and face blank, hands empty.
‘Ready?’ Hades asks, and Persephone raises a hand in goodbye to her mother, before she’s turning with Hades back to the split of crumbling earth. Her stomach drops as they step down and are twisted into a tornado, spinning wildly, dropping away from the sky and it’s sun and flowers and growth. Persephone clings onto Hades shirt and listens to his heart beating steadily, and cries.
Persephone finds a flower as black as night in a garden of roses on her last day in the sunlight. She glances to where her mother sits in a rotunda, seated in a rocking chair, expert hands bending stems to her will, before she reaches out with a trembling hand to touch the petals. The flower is nothing she’s ever seen before, but it is soft and smooth, and seems to turn into her touch, bobbing in the breeze. She knows it’s from him.
‘Don’t worry,’ she murmurs, cupping the flower in gentle hands, ‘I’ll be there soon.’
She jerks up as soon as she realizes what she’s said, guilt making her cheeks flush and stomach turn. Her mother smiles at her from her seat, and Persephone waves. She stumbles back from the plant, and plucks a white rose from it’s stem to hold it’s reassuring weight in her hands, turning away from the foreign dark flower.
Her mother has taken her far away, and they are protected by ancient charms and old magic, in the hopes that he won't find them, but he is Hades and Persephone doesn’t know why her mother would possibly think she could beat him. She finds she's not surprised when the familiar figure steps into the dining room where they eat lunch. The nymphs scatter, and Demeter jumps from her seat, Hades easily dodging the plate the goddess has thrown at him, leaving the ceramic to shatter against the wall. Persephone reaches out to stop her from grabbing another.
‘Lovely to see you as well, Demeter,’ Hades says without a smile.
Demeter tugs herself from her daughters hold and launches herself at the God, nails sharp as they streak down his face, she’s easily shoved away, but ichor drips from Hades cheek and his eyes are dark and mouth tight. Persephone has stood sharply, napkin dropping from her lap, and rushes to her mother, who spits and curses and struggles against the invisible walls Hades has built from nothing to protect himself from her rage. Persephone is crying as she tries to calm her, and the once calm dining room is now full of so much noise it makes her head sore. Demeter cries and shouts while Persephone talks just as loud to try and be heard, while Hades watches with a grim look to his face that makes her shiver.
‘You can’t win!’ Persephone screams, trying to hold her mother still, ‘You can’t beat him!’
Demeter’s face is red and furious, but this makes her pause, both of her bloody hands held in her child's.
‘I can’t let you go with him again,’ she whispers, voice hoarse, and Persephone feels hot tears on her cheeks.
‘What if I say I want to. Does that make it easier?’
The horror on her mothers face gives her all the answer she needs. Hades hand closes around her upper arm, and then she’s being pulled away. She can hear her mothers howls of grief as they walk across the field to the split in the earth, black and yawning. Hades pauses by the edge, and she turns to see what the hold up is. His eyes are hooded as he holds her head in his hands, leaning down to capture her mouth with is. He spreads her lips easily, licking in, breath harsh on her mouth, and she can feel the ichor from his scratches wet on her own cheek. They step over the edge of the gap like that, entwined.
Persephone sits cross legged, a shawl draped over her shoulders against the chill, bent forward with a hand stretched out to the pure white rabbit that sits just out of reach, watching her every movement. Her back is beginning to throb at the uncomfortable position, but she holds it, knows the rabbit is losing it’s resolve, the lettuce leaf sitting oh so temptingly in Persephone’s open palm. It takes one tentative hop, before it abandons fear and settles by her hand, capturing the leaf in its paws. It allows her to stroke it’s vibrating body, and the ache in her back is forgotten as she pets the soft fur. It freezes suddenly, head turned to look over her shoulder, and then with a jolt it’s disappeared into the underbrush, leaving Persephone with a half eaten lettuce leaf in her her hand.
‘Where’s your mother?’
She starts, scrambling to her feet and turning towards where Hades waits at the tree line, smiling.
‘At the house,’ she explains, and lifts one foot, then the other, off the ground, the grass suddenly cold underfoot.
‘You may say goodbye, if you wish.’
He gestures for her to go, but she hesitates.
‘You’re not coming.’
He barks a laugh that does something mean to his face, her fingers twitch to smooth it away.
‘I think it’s best if Demeter and I don’t meet if it’s all possible.’
She blinks, and then turns, leaving at a run, a white smudge in the trees as he watches her go. She has no doubt she’ll find the clearing again. There’s a draw in her gut towards it even as she sprints away. She finds Demeter praying by the pool behind the house, and the woman looks up at the sound of Persephone approaching.
‘I know he’s here. It went cold all of a sudden.’
Persephone’s breathing hard after her run, panting around her words, ‘Yes, I came to say goodbye.’
Her mother’s hug is tight and full of the warmth that she craves down in the dark.
They say nothing more, but Persephone walks backwards until her mother has gone from sight, only then turning to walk back to the clearing she met both the rabbit and her husband in. Flowers bloom as she passes, and she brushes gentle fingertips over trees, trying to fill herself up with the smell of the plants and dirt and fresh rain before she has to make do with smelling only ash and rock, the ground so burnt that she can’t even dig into it.
Hades is waiting, a smile crossing his face when she appears. He holds out a hand.
She doesn't say yes, but she doesn't say no either. His hand is cold as her own warm fingers close around it. She braces herself to be cold for a long time.
She’s been waiting for him. She welcomes the cold wind and sunless days, watches the plants wither and curl in to hibernate through the winter months with a strange sense of delight. Demeter cries and howls at the sky, but Persephone comforts her with the weariness of having done so for years.
‘I’ll be back soon,’ she promises, ‘You won’t even notice I’m gone.’
‘Everything notices when you leave, ‘Sephone, the ground freezes over from not having you walk on it. How could I possibly not notice.’
The last day dawns stormy, and Persephone fidgets all morning, smoothing down her dress and pacing the house. Demeter waits in a chair by the window, watching the forest line for him to appear, black and tall and dark, arms out to steal what isn’t his.
The sky rumbles with his approach, and Persephone flies into the front room, leaning past her mother to see him walk down the garden path, so foreign and out of place, surrounded by all the bright flowers, his brow creased as the plants flinch away from him. She flings open the front door, standing nervous on the threshold, and Demeter watches from inside as his face shines with delight, walk quickening towards her. She watches his mouth form her name like a prayer. Without anyone to hold it, the door slams shut as Persephone leaves it’s safety, reaching to be wrapped into the God’s arms, face in his neck. His black hair is stark against her light, but her hand rises to hold his cheek, his mouth opening to take hers. The wind whistles around them, tugging at her dress and breezing through his hair.
She pulls away.
‘Take me home now.’