Persephone sat in front of the dressing table in the bedroom for wives in the Underworld. Her neck was finally healed. Hades had been with her for the past month nursing her and his help aided her recovery like lightning. It was late April and the two of them were preparing for her last journey down the river Styx.
Looking in the mirror, Persephone saw herself maybe for the first time in centuries. She wasn't sure if she even looked that way a month ago. Her red hair had lightened so much it could only be described as strawberry blonde. It was so long that even with her curls, it reached her waist. They bounced as she walked. Her skin was changed, too. Now it glowed like health, like strength. Although these changes were amazing, it was her eyes that made the real change in her appearance. No longer emeralds, her eyes were light like peridot.
Sitting at the dressing table, she had been trying to tone down her appearance so she looked less like a goddess, but it was a lost cause. She couldn't hide her natural brilliance no matter how much powder she put on her face.
She smiled and spooned a dollop of cream from her pumpkin pie into her mouth.
Then she saw Hades behind her. He looked different, too. His hair was still white. His eyes were still red. But he'd stopped blowing smoke and, instead of moving like a deathly vapor, he walked like a man who had been freed from some terrible burden and now had something to live for. Persephone liked this side of him, but like he said, she wasn't the one who created this version of him. So, even though she could appreciate a portion of him, she wasn't the one who was going to enjoy the fullness of him. That was for Taylor.
"Are you ready?" he asked. Since they were going to Earth, he was wearing casual clothes.
She smiled at him in the mirror. "I'm going to finish eating this first."
"Be my guest," he said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed and waiting as she ate.
"So, what do you plan to do after you've escorted me back to Gaia?" she asked shyly. She knew his affairs were no longer her business, but she wanted to ask in a friendly sort of way.
"If you must know, I plan to pay a visit to Taylor. I've missed her since she went back to the surface. It's been three weeks. I want to see how she's doing with that idiot brother of hers. I hope he's being good to her. If he's not, I'll steal her away."
Persephone smiled. "Try not to be too arrogant about it."
"And if Rylan is too much of a pain, you can always kill him off, even if you can't send him to Tartarus."
"True," Hades said roguishly, he could never think badly of death. "But, even if he is a pain in the ass, his parents still love him. I think that even if he were to break their hearts a thousand times, it would be less painful than the way I would break their hearts killing him once. I'll just let him screw up."
"Are you sure?"
"Don't discount natural consequences, my dear."
Persephone put down her plate and they got up to leave. She was in a different kind of mood as they walked through the house. She walked through the baths with her pants on.
"Aren't you worried about getting wet?"
"Nah," she said. "I want to give this place a proper goodbye, so I won't miss it."
Hades shook his head like he thought she was crazy, but laughed out loud when she dipped her fingers in the chocolate fountain.
She licked them with gusto. "Is it true that you still have a promise from Zeus to collect on?"
"What are you going to ask for?"
Persephone smiled sadly as she shook the two remaining pomegranate seeds in a bottle in her bag. "Then Taylor won't need these."
"I'm sure she'd like to have them anyway," Hades said reassuringly. "It would make her feel better to have your blessing."
"Are you sure you'll let me talk to her? You wouldn't even let me see her during the time she stayed with us. If you do let me talk to her, I'll have to let her know the wonders she worked the God of the Underworld. It wouldn't be right if I kept you after the transformation she performed on you."
"No. It wouldn't." Hades was serious.
After he said that, Persephone had no desire to bask in the Underworld. She wanted to remove all traces of herself so Taylor could move in happily, without guilt.
Just before they stepped out onto the dock, Persephone heard a whimper from the shadows. She turned and saw six red eyes peering out from the darkness.
"Come here," she whispered and Cerberus came into full view.
His middle face had healed since their fight, but he was missing a tiny line of fur in two places across his forehead. He licked her hand with his middle face, but the head that bit her kept his eyes down.
Persephone got on her knees and stroked his head. "I'm sorry."
He whimpered. He seemed to say that he was the one who should be sorry.
Hades rolled his eyes and sneered, "How could you be a bad dog? You followed your master's orders since you didn't let her leave. Then you followed your mistress's orders by biting her." Then he added more gently, "You are a perfect dog."
Persephone nodded. Then she kissed each of his furry heads and said goodbye.
At the mouth of the river, Charon was waiting for them in his boat. Persephone stood on the dock and pulled out her money. "You know, Charon," she said. "Since this is my very last ride, I was wondering if I could ask you a question."
He looked at her with bored eyes. "You might as well."
She held her coin poised in her hand. "What do you need the money for?"
He sighed. "I'll only tell you after you give me your fare."
Persephone dropped the coins in his open palm and got on board. Hades followed her and for the first time, they sat together in the seat at the back.
Charon kept his face pointed toward the bow. "My daughter was stolen by a fire demon over three thousand years ago. He's been holding her at a ridiculous ransom. For ages, I wasn't able to pay it. Then I started this and it has taken me what has felt like a hundred lifetimes to earn enough to get her back." Then he turned around and looked back at Persephone. "The money you just gave me is the last of the money I need."
Persephone gasped. She jumped up to hug him, but Hades held her firmly in her seat.
"Thank you, milord, for holding her down. I don't like being touched."
Hades smiled. "Don't mention it. What do you plan on doing now that you've earned it all?"
"I imagine I'll keep doing this. Over the years there have been a great many things I have wanted to buy and haven't wanted to spare the money. Everything has been for her. So, I'll stay here and do this, probably forever."
Persephone struggled free and turned to Hades. "And you knew this all along? Why didn't you give him the money?"
"I gave him a job," Hades rebutted. "And frankly, he needed more money than a God could give. The amount the demon wanted was an amount intended never to be paid. He wasn't trying to be greedy. He was trying to get Charon to give up on his daughter, but if the demon won't make good on his deal now, I'll crush him."
Persephone nodded. "All right. I accept that."
"As you should."
At the end of the ride, Persephone got out onto the shore. She had one or two more things she wanted to say to Charon, but he had already turned away without a wave or a backward glance.
Persephone sighed and she and Hades headed toward the university.
The quad was basically empty as it was the end of the semester. Exams were over and there were only a few random students waiting around to receive their grades.
"Taylor's in the Occult's Addict club room," Persephone announced as she scanned the area. "Do you mind if I go there with you? I'd like to give her my small present."
Hades stretched out his hand to say that she should go first and they started walking.
"Do you think you'll still use your palace under the sea or are you planning to move it back to Olympus?"
Persephone smiled. "I don't know. I have to go back to Olympus to do my work, but it's such a chore. Olympians are so boring and everywhere I go I see Aphrodite and the very sight of her makes my blood boil."
"Still mad about Adonis?" Hades asked lazily.
She pursed her lips together angrily. "Yeah, I am. He lived with us for so long. We were his guardians. I was practically his mother and his name was even sealed in the book of necromancy. Then she had to insist on joint-guardianship and then she seduced him. That whore!"
"No one's arguing that Aphrodite will sleep with anyone and wants to sleep with everyone," Hades commented drolly. "Still, I don't know what there is to get worked up about. I never liked him."
"That's because his time in the Underworld disrupted our time to quarrel," she said dismissively.
"Perhaps," he chuckled.
They got in the elevator and it took them up to the student group offices.
"Wait out here. I'll go in first," Persephone said as she tapped on the door.
"Come in," Taylor called, but her voice sounded strained.
When Persephone went in, she saw Taylor turn white as a sheet, she was that surprised to see her. "What?" Persephone asked playfully. "You didn't expect to see me?"
"No," Taylor answered, turning her chair to look at Persephone in amazement. "I didn't expect to see you ever again. I thought Hades forbade it."
Persephone smiled. "He's allowing this. Actually, he's just outside the door. But this probably won't be the last time you see me. Immortal people have a way of bumping into each other repeatedly."
Taylor stared like she had just achieved her life's ambition, Christmas, her birthday, and her wedding day all in one sentence. Persephone had never seen such joy on a person's face. The expression only lasted a moment though before her whole face wrinkled up and she began to cry.
"Don't cry, honey," Persephone said, putting her arm around Taylor's shoulder. "It's all right. Everything is all right. Being immortal is wonderful, and besides, I brought a present for you—two presents actually."
Taylor grabbed a tissue out of the box on the desk and blew her nose. "What?"
"This," Persephone pulled the little bottle containing the remaining pomegranate seeds out of her bag and gave it to Taylor. "These are two of my presents. You know what these are, I presume."
"Of course," Taylor nodded.
"They still work, if you want them."
"Thank you," Taylor sobbed, taking the bottle.
Persephone suddenly hugged Taylor. "I have to tell you one last thing. It's you! You did the last thing that needed to be done for all of us to be saved. Gods love sacrifice and Hades was moved to his knees by what you did. God bless you! What am I saying? I'll bless you. What can I give you? Name it. It's yours."
"I can't take credit for eating those seeds. It was Seth who gave them to me. It was him who taught me not to be afraid. Even if I died—he made me feel like there was nothing to be afraid of. And now I have everything I ever wanted. So, you don't need to give me anything."
"All right. But still! I owe you a debt of gratitude that I can never repay. Thank you. With all my heart—thank you." Persephone squeezed her one last time, and then she pulled away. "I have to go. Hades is waiting and I don't want to make him wait any longer. He's changed so much and been so kind to me. It's better if I don't monopolize his favorite girl. Goodbye."
Persephone smiled and waved from the door and then went out. She closed the door between them.
"I guess this is goodbye to you, too," she said, looking into Hades' red eyes.
"Yeah," he said, pulling her into a hug.
They didn't hug for longer than a second before both of them pulled away simultaneously.
"I'll see you around, somewhere," he said breezily, like their goodbye didn't mean much.
"Yeah." She smiled. "I'll always remember our last kiss."
"You're too generous," he said sardonically. "Now get out of here."
He pushed her into the elevator and waved as the doors closed between them. At that last moment, when she knew that Hades was out of her life completely, her emotions were mixed and her energy drained. Their story really was a tragic one. Why couldn't things have been different? Her eyes were filling with sweltering tears. She brushed them away. Because he had let her go, she could forgive him and move on. She pulled herself together and pressed the down button.
Persephone took the elevator all the way down to the Safewalk office. She knew Seth was there wrapping up some loose ends.
Inside, Nixie was sitting on one of the sofas. Her appearance had changed since her curse was lifted. Now she looked like she was one-quarter nymph and it was a sight to behold. A siren was a dark creature with dead-white skin and sorrowful eyes, but a nymph was full of play and mischief. To her credit, she was holding court to literally eight young men and Nixie was soaking up every bit of the attention like it was her birthright.
However, Nixie's attractiveness didn't stop all eight heads from practically swiveling off their shoulders when Persephone entered the room. Luckily, Nixie wasn't jealous and she jumped right up to greet her goddess.
"Seth's in there. He's training the new Safewalk director, but the hottie is off at lunch right now, so Seth's all alone."
"Thanks, Nixie," Persephone said as she stepped past all of them to stand in the door frame of Seth's office.
His head was bent over his computer.
"I keep having this dream," she said lazily.
Seth's head jolted up.
Persephone smiled. He looked different, too. The paleness of his skin was long gone and he had the most gorgeous golden tan. Nixie may have eight suitors, but Persephone wondered how Seth had managed to make it to his office that morning without causing a ruckus. It was probably worse than when he sang outside her dormitory.
"Can I tell you about it?" she asked with a gleam in her eye.
"Tell me everything," Seth said, getting up from his chair. A glorious smile was spreading wide on his lips.
She kicked the door shut and said, "I'm lying on a beach and the sun is just setting. The stars are appearing. There's a bonfire beside me and a coarse woolen blanket under me. I've been eating peach slices and I've danced so hard my breath is fast. That's why I'm lying on the blanket, to catch my breath." Persephone leaned over his desk and looked in his face. "Then I realize that a dark stranger is watching me and as I open my eyes I realize that I've let him sneak up on me. He's standing over me, and I have this overwhelming desire to kiss him until I'm breathless. Do you think I need to see a doctor?"
"Definitely not," Seth said, closing the distance between them and tenderly claiming her lips with his. He moved around the desk in one motion and slipping his hands around her waist he lifted her up on the desk. "You're not sick. You're finally seeing things my way."
Seth's kiss was warm and as he deepened it, Persephone realized that she wasn't going to faint. She wasn't going to disappear into a dream world that would remind her of the reality from which she was trying to escape. For the first time, she found herself living in a moment that was good. There was no more waiting for a happily-ever-after. It had arrived. She was no longer pretending she was free to love who she wanted. Now she was perfectly free.
And Seth's kiss was better than the one in her memory. He no longer wanted her blood. He didn't want anyone's blood. He was just as free as she was and it was magnificent.
She pulled away and looked into his sherry-brown eyes. "So, when can we get out of here?"
"Soon. I just need to finish training my replacement."
Just then the door came crashing open and a striking blond young man came stumbling in. Persephone's blood ran cold as she slipped off the desk onto her feet.
"Please don't come in like that," Seth said to the intruder. "Darling, this is Brian Parker," he said gallantly.
"Brian, huh?" Persephone said icily as she inspected his long hair and curious expression. Seth didn't know who he was, but no amount of magic could conceal his true identity from Persephone. He was Adonis. "Fun alias. I thought you were dead. When I get through with you, you'll wish you were dead!" Then, for the very first time, Persephone conjured a whip out of thin air.
Brian's face turned pale as he recognized her. "I'm interrupting," he said, putting his hands up in surrender. "I should never have barged in. I'll go." In a flash, he was out of sight.
Persephone was about to chase after him, but Seth grabbed the whip out of her poised fingers. "Now this may be a lot to ask, but you're going to have to stop being the Goddess of the Underworld and start being the goddess of something a little less aggressive."
"Of what?" she asked angrily as she reached for her weapon.
Seth held her at arm's length. "Life."
Persephone felt herself deflate.
Seth put his arm around her and rubbed the small of her back. "So, just let that guy go—whoever he is. We'll run away together to the beach and I'll make your dream come true."
Persephone pouted. "So, what do you want to do with the whip? I don't know how to put it back."
Seth smiled. "We'll keep it. I might find it useful the next time some arrogant brat decides to fall in love with you. I'm not a god so I can do what I like."
Persephone rolled her eyes. "Being a goddess never stopped me from doing what I wanted."
"That's what I like to hear," Seth murmured into her ear. "Let's go. If that guy is an acquaintance of yours, he can probably handle this job without any more instruction. And we've got to get moving. I don't know if you noticed, but we're not anywhere near a beach."
Author's Notes: Thanks for reading this! I hope you enjoyed it. If you've gotten this far, please consider posting a review. I'd really appreciate that. Also, go over and check out the first chapter of 'His 16th Face' which is posted here. The completed version of that book (His 16th Face by Stephanie Van Orman) is available wherever fine ebooks are sold for $2.99 USD. Frankly, if you bought a copy, it would make my day