Down and down, through rooms of creatures who dove from me or ducked into shadows or knelt with their faces to the ground, down and down past hounds and cats and crows, I hurried. The weight of all the earth above settled onto me and soothed my frenetic pace so that when I took the final steps and stood in the white archway leading to her garden my breath was measured and my heart beat its agonizing, slow rhythm.
She sat in a reclining chair in butter-and-sunlight skirts. Her fingers moved delicately with needle and thread, stitching Hecate-only-knows into the folds and hems. Green grass, pink flowers and thin forever-saplings graced the garden, alive and glowing here as nowhere else in my domain. For her. Sunlight, unheard of in this realm, peered down through the long black shaft of castle above us, only a pinprick of white-blue sky, and somehow found her hair. A second chair waited for me, or for whomever made the leap to visit her, and a tiled table between was full with purple grapes and nectarines, olives, cheese, and wine. Tucked among the grapes was a large and shining pomegranate, uncut and whole, mocking me.
I longed to tear through its skin, digging my fingers into its flesh so that the seeds and blood spilled out. I would stain her silk and her skin with its sweet juice, and give the pips onto her tongue, and she would stay.
My silent glowering made her turn, as my presence always did. But the rich smile I expected, the warming of her dark eyes did not come. She regarded me passively, her fingers not halting in their gentle work.
"Where have you been?" she asked.
"The ocean with my brother." I made my face as cool as hers.
Her thin eyebrows rose like swans. "And it could not wait a mere three weeks, my lord?"
"It could not," I lied.
We regarded each other. Three weeks, she had said. Not even that. Only nineteen more sunsets until the Midway. Nineteen more dawns, ten thousand more deaths, births, resurrections, each beating in my chest with my heart.
I stared, finding cold darkness in myself, the peaceful black that I had lived with so long alone. I drew it around me, and tried to view her through its deadly veil.
But as always, her life pierced my death as though I had never existed.
She stood, letting the layers of silk fall to the grass, and walked to me. "Sit with me in the garden. And try not to kill the plants," she smiled a mischievous smile, and took my hand.
I allowed myself to be led, wishing I could feel the coming of Spring with anything but horror and revulsion. The sun shone, but its warmth did not penetrate as far into my world as its light.
"Eat," she said, pushing me down onto the grass. "And drink." She lifted the wine bottle and held it to my lips. "And come back. I know what you are doing."
I swallowed wine and looked up at her. "And what is that?"
"Leaving me first," she whispered.
I shook my head, but she stopped me by sitting on my lap. "Every year you do it earlier. One day it will begin the moment I return, and all through the Winter you will be distant from me."
"Because every year, I think this will be the time you do not come back to me."
"I will, though. Always," she said against my lips.
I was afraid of what I might say, with the dagger in my hand.
"Are you well?" She touched my cheek.
With my free hand I snatched her wrist and held it away from me, so that I could feel – only distantly – the warmth of her skin. "I am not."
Hesitantly, she met my eyes. I stared into her black-brown irises, wishing I could study the hidden petals of springtime flecked in their darkness.
"Hades," she said again, and I felt the pressure as she pulled at her wrist. I released her. My Persephone folded her hands together and stepped back. "Do not do this. We have weeks together, yet."
"I feel the sun growing in your heart."
"No more than last year, or the year before that."
"It is too much."
"More than I am worth?"
"No!" My fingers convulsed around the knife.
"Then peace, love. Have peace."
"Yes." I pressed into her, kissed her. Her hands moved around my neck and she returned the kiss.
"Oh, I never wish to leave you," she said, and her words hissed over my body to the knife in my hand.
"There is a way."
The sudden calm in my voice halted her passion, and she trembled. She backed away.
I allowed my smile to grow. "There will be nothing your mother can do, nothing any of them can do. Not even my brother. They’ll not take you again."
She shook her head, holding her hands out before her.
I rose to my knees and she stumbled back. My knife flashed as I knelt over my wife. The point pricked the skin beneath her jaw, and she closed her eyes. "Hades."
It was all she said.
I leaned in, and blood welled around the silver blade, slowly trickling in a single long stream down her white throat. Farther in, and she shuddered beneath me.
The night first kidnapped her, she fought me. She fought like the great Hector, like an Amazon, like Ares himself. I won, because I am a god, but it was not without sacrifice.
But now she lay still, her eyes cast high and away from me.
"Kore," I pleaded. She didn’t fight!
"I cannot defeat you, my king. Even Death comes to the Spring."
I thought of withered flowers, of dry and cracking earth. Harsh wind beating leaves out of trees, stripping them away.
And I threw the knife. I spread myself over her, putting my face to her neck. Her blood stuck to my mouth; it smelled of nectar. I inhaled, willing her Springtime to grow inside me. Oh, how I was brought to my knees!
My breath fluttered against her like the desperate wings of a moth.
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