Shreveport, Louisiana 1957
"I want to be the princess!" Bonella shouted.
"You can't be the princess." Her older sister, Mayella, finished braiding the coronet out of sweet grass. "The princess has to be pretty."
"I am pretty." Bonella's voice wavered. She didn't believe herself, was the thing. Mayella had inherited their mother's soft curls and heart-shaped face, while she took after her father, with her kinks and square jaw. Only eleven, she was still holding out hope she'd be as prettified as Mayella when she was thirteen.
Her sister laughed as she placed the wreath onto her crown. "Sure, B. You're as pretty as a beetle."
"Shut up!" Bonella lashed out with her arm and swiped the coronet right off her big head. "Just shut up!"
Her sister sat there with her mouth open, unbelieving. "You little—"
The rumbling motor of a Chevrolet and the crunch of wheels over gravel stopped her rant short.
"That's Pa," Mayella said, turning up her nose and gathering the folds of her skirt to stand. "Just wait 'til he hears you've hit me. You're in for a whoopin'."
"Wait." Bonella clutched at her sister's ankles. "Wait, sissy. I didn't mean to! I'm sorry!"
"Get off me." Mayella kicked away her hands. With that, she went tramping down the drive, screaming Pa! as she went.
Bonella jumped up. Without a second thought, she launched herself into the nearby cornfields. The sun was going down and the world beneath the stalks was dark. Her spindly arms pushed their great, green bodies aside as her bare feet flew over the fertile soil in which they grew.
Welp. She wouldn't be going home any time soon. Best she stayed out in the wild, eating mulberries and paw paws, catching fish in the creek and making friends with foxes. Better that than what was waiting for her back at the house.
She crouched down in the damp mud and stayed still. Bonella! she could hear Pa calling. You best get cher ass out 'ere fore I have to come getcha.
Naw, she wouldn't be going home.
There was rustling in the stalks. Bonella wondered how her daddy had found her so fast, but when she looked up through her interlaced fingers, it weren't her daddy staring back at her. It was a stranger.
A white man. A white man with no shirt on. A shirtless white man with wings sprouting from his back.
"Who is you?" Bonella asked, eying his wavy black hair. She weren't supposed to talk to white men, but he looked like the angels she saw in church. Surely he couldn't be bad if he was one of God's servants?
"I am one of God's servants," he said, as though he'd read her mind.
"You supposed to be in heaven. What you doing here?"
"I'm here to help you."
More rustling reached her ears, but this time from further away. Her Pa was searching for her.
"Did God send you?"
The man nodded. He stuck out his pale hand. "Come with me," he said.
She might've made overtures about leaving home, but she could always walk back with her tail between her legs. This man wanted to take her somewhere. Somewhere, perhaps, she wouldn't be able to return from.
Bonella, if you don't come 'ere right now I'm gone whip your butt to high heaven! Pa shouted.
Her mind was made up for her. If she was going to heaven either way, she might as well go with the nice white man. Bonella gave him her hand.
"Hold on," he said, as he pulled her up from the ground and crossed his arms over her front.
Her bony fingers grasped his forearm tightly. A vicious wind whipped up, blowing back the stalks around them and sending her hair into her face.
"What are you doing?!"
Her feet were leaving the ground. The weight of her body was being pulled upwards. A glance to the side revealed his wings, full with downy black feathers, stretching wide. Within a few beats, they'd left the cornfield behind. Above even the trees, Bonella could see her father's furrowed head as he continued searching the maze for her. At the boundary of the field, her sister pointed up at them.
"Pa?" Mayella screamed. This time, the epithet came out as a question.
A few beats more and Mayella was only a little brown dot in a sea of green and Bonella was watching the sun sink behind the western edge of the world.
"Where we going?"
"Hold on," said the man.
Bonella did hold on, though she wasn't known for being patient. She held on until, when she looked down, she couldn't see Earth anymore. She held on until her body lengthened and thickened. She held on until a creeping consciousness of otherhood invaded her mind and she became aware she wasn't Bonella. Or, at least, she wasn't Bonella anymore.
She was Bonnie.
The man holding her slowed his flight then. His arms released her and she floated out into the black ink of space. Her body turned, by degrees, until she faced him once more.
"Who are you?" She no longer saw him as an angel. "What is this?"
"You're dreaming," he said, with a voice like liquid nitrogen. The timber bass made her want to sleep. "My name is Morpheus, king of dreams. I was sent by Hades to help you."
"Hades…?" Bonnie struggled to recall where her body was in the real world. For some reason, a part of her thought she was back in Mystic Falls; while the rest of her knew she was in the Underworld. "So you were sent by God. A god," she mused.
"To help me with what?"
"Navigate your dreams." Morpheus waved his hand, gesturing to space. "Your mind is a real place. That's why I'm able to visit. If you don't like a place, you need only travel to another one. You understand?"
"Like what we just did?" Bonnie nodded. "You're going to teach me how to fly?"
Morpheus' implacable face crinkled. Perhaps this was his version of a smile. "No. You don't need to fly to travel. This is your mind. You control everything here."
"How?" The last thing Bonnie felt was in control.
"By knowing yourself. Think of how you want to feel and your mind will take you to a time and place where you felt that feeling. Try," he said. "Now."
"Okay." Bonnie closed her eyes. "I'll just try. You gave me a fifteen-second description of what I need to do and now I'm just… Going to do it, I guess."
"Less talking, more trying."
"Alright. Give me a second." She took another moment to consider how she wanted to feel. Happy. Fulfilled. Joyous. She hadn't felt those emotions for a long time. Bonnie's mind scanned over her entire life and she felt a pull toward certain birthdays and Christmases she'd had as a kid, but there were better moments and she could feel them farther back in her mind. Memories from lifetimes before this one. Memories of winning wars and of being married fifty years and of giving birth. Memories she hadn't dreamt yet. On the other side of her closed lids, the light was changing.
"Keep going," Morpheus said.
She didn't know where she was going, only that something was tugging on her. That happy, fulfilled, joyous feeling was coming closer.
"You can only travel if you remember who you are," Morpheus warned. "Don't forget you're in control."
When Bonnie opened her eyes, he wasn't there anymore. She laid on her back, propped up against something, staring up at the sun. She was in an incredible amount of pain.
A gurgling sound brought her attention down to her lap. A baby was sequestered in her arms. She heard the soft tread of feet on grass and turned her head.
"Aloisio!" left her lips, even though Bonnie knew the figure walking toward her wasn't named Aloisio. His name was Hades. "Vieni da me! Venite a vederla!" Come to me! Come see her!
The god crouched down beside her head.
So Bonicia was her name. Bonnie glanced up and saw she was in fact resting on a woman's knees. This woman was her mother.
"Madre, silenzioso!" She held out her hand to Hades. "Guardare il suo viso, il mio amore. Darle un nome, e sara chiamata che qui di seguito." Bonnie's mind translated the impassioned words spewing out of her mouth. Look upon her face, my love. Give her a name and she shall be called that hereafter.
Hades took her hand. The god had tears—real tears—welling up in his emerald eyes. Bonnie couldn't believe what she was seeing.
He opened his mouth and out came what she'd expected least to hear.
There was the happy, fulfilled, joyous feeling she'd come searching for. It filled her from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. Bonicia was content to know her daughter was loved and Bonnie was struck by the god using her niece's name. The niece he'd saved from Lamia the first night they met…
"Aman—" Just as she began to speak, she was catapulted from Bonicia's body. In the air, several hundred yards away, Bonnie watched the young woman's form burst into light and disintegrate into nothing. The squalling babe landed in Hades' large hands, then the grandmother's, when he too disappeared.
"You understand how this works now?" Morpheus appeared by her side.
"No," Bonnie exclaimed. "What was that? Why was Hades here and where did he go?"
Morpheus beat his wings once. "He is not a part of the original memory. Mayhaps, he visited using his physical form and was exorcised when he began interfering? You have free reign of this place because it's your mind. I have free reign because I'm the king of dreams. He is the ruler of the dead. He has no place here."
"So that memory was… fake?" Bonnie asked.
"We cannot know how this memory existed before he interfered." Morpheus bowed his head. "You are waking up. I shall see you for tomorrow night's lesson."
Bonnie kicked off the silky sheets of Hades bed and huffed at the dark ceiling. She was awake.
Sweat dripped down Hades' brow and hung, like raindrops, in the fine fibers of his lashes. The corded muscles in his arms and upper back rippled with each great blow. He'd cleared another seven acres as she slept and wanted to return before she awoke to an empty manor, but as he tore down another hunk of raw earth, a cavity emerged.
Falling debris from the edges of the cavity dusted his head and shoulders. There, in the darkness, was water.
He'd found an underground spring.
Hades stood at the edge of the pool and stared out across its mirrored surface. Summoning a white gladiolus into his palm, the flower blossomed in his grasp. When he let go, however, and the flower tumbled into the black water, it decayed. Decomposed.
He'd found an acid spring.
He considered closing the pool back up, but ultimately decided to leave that decision to the judges. Perhaps they could find some torturous use for the place.
Hauling his robes back onto his slick skin, he set off across the flatlands in the direction of the manor. When he reached the Styx crossing, Hermes was there, floating above its thrashing waters.
"I was just coming to see you," the golden god said.
"Any news?" Hades climbed into a row boat and took up the oars.
"Demeter's been MIA since Zeus' decree, presumably planning. Hecate's off-the-radar as well."
"Doesn't matter where they are," Hades said, rowing great strides. "They won't ever come here."
"True." Hermes flew alongside the boat. "Not even Hecate is bold enough to return. She'll be too concerned with maintaining her freedom. Speaking of which…" Hermes zipped to the front of the boat. "How's the girl?"
"You'll see, won't you?" Hades rowed harder. "She should be waking up."
When they opened the doors to the manor, a blast of heat dried the sweat on Hades' skin.
"It's hotter than Hephaestus' forge in here. Good gods." Hermes swiped his curls from his forehead.
At the bottom of the hill, they'd seen smoke issuing from the manor. Every furnace in the house was on, it seemed. Hades could hear sawing and drilling coming from the back portion of the estate.
"I'm right here." She entered the foyer from the dining room wearing a traditional stola—which bared her shoulders and draped loosely around her body—made of lilac linen. Her hair was wound and pinned using the bone comb which used to adorn the goddess Persephone's head.
Hermes whistled. "You look almost as hot as it is in here right now."
"Thank you." She offered a small smile. "Good morning. If it is morning."
"Morning is whenever you wake up," Hades said. "Why are the furnaces on?"
"I'm used to the Virginia heat and my toes were getting cold." Bonnie shrugged. "I can have them turned down. Come on. Breakfast is ready."
Spinning, she disappeared back into the dining room.
"Am I asleep?" Hades mumbled.
Hermes clapped a hand onto his back and laughed. "This is weird, but I doubt it's one of Hypnos' tricks. Come on. I'm hungry."
The dining room table was laden with confections. Spiced meats and ripe fruits. Jams and loafs and nuts and seeds. Juices, sparkling wine, goat's milk and cheese.
"What's all this?" Hades asked. He usually kept his breakfast simple. Barley bread, soft-boiled eggs, and a fig.
Bonnie plucked a Kalamata olive from the assortment and rolled the drupe between her teeth and tongue before swallowing. "I'm going to be dead in two weeks… I thought I'd make the most of it."
"Thirteen days," Hermes chimed.
"You're not dying." Hades took a seat at the table. "Not if I can help it."
"That's the thing. You can't help it." She took the seat across from him. "Though I appreciate you trying. Morpheus taught me a lot last night."
"Did he?" Hades mumbled, loading his plate. He was hungry after earthscaping all night.
"I'm sure he did." Hermes sank down into the seat beside Bonnie, a shit-eating grin on his divine face. "Morpheus is good with the ladies. As long as they're asleep."
"What is that noise?" Hades swiveled his head. There was now banging coming from the back of the house.
"Oh," she said. "I was walking around this morning and I noticed there aren't many windows in the library. There's also a general lack of light in the west wing, so I'm having skylights put in. Hope you don't mind."
"You said just ask," Bonnie parroted. "I'm only trying to leave my mark somewhere, before I—"
"You're not going to die. Stop saying that." Hades picked up his fork and knife and cut into a piece of smoked ham. "You're the queen of this realm and the lady of this manor. You're free to change whatever you like."
"Good." She plopped another olive into her mouth. "But I probably am going to die and that's something you need to come to terms with."
A silence fell over the table.
"I don't want to hear those words come out of your mouth again," Hades said.
"What? That I'm going to—"
"I wouldn't test him, sweetheart. He's the sensitive sort. Let's just try and have a nice breakfast." Hermes sighed. "I can't stay long."
"Yeah?" Bonnie rolled past the elephant in the room like she was wearing blinders. "Where are you going?"
"I've been tasked with putting a few things in order before your audience with Zeus."
Hades shook his head.
"Private things." Hermes stuck the end of a sausage into his mouth.
"Oh," Bonnie said, a sly smile creeping onto her face. "I'm not allowed to know? It's my life on the line, my friends, my family I'll never see again, but I'm not allowed to know the plan? I'm allowed to interior decorate, as queen of the realm, but I'm still not allowed to know the plan?"
Hermes swallowed the food in his mouth. "That's not it, love."
"Love?" she exclaimed. "I don't even know who you are."
"You did once." His signature smile slipped. "My name is Hermes."
"Good to know," she said, turning back to Hades. "What is the plan?"
Hades shook his head again.
"Are you serious?" Bonnie was gearing up to go full postal.
"We don't speak about the plan because we cannot know who is listening. Even here," he said. "I understand you're agitated, but you have to be patient. You have to trust me."
"Funnily enough, I do trust you." Bonnie took a long sip of sparkling wine, then set down her cup with a clink. "I trust you to withhold information. Like when you went inside my head and inserted yourself into my memories? Or when you enrolled at my school under a fake name? Or, how about, all those times you could've told me exactly who I was? Would've been the easiest thing, but no. I trust you to act in your own best interest, Hades. I trust you to fight for the things that you want. And since I just so happen to be in her body..."
Hades pushed back from the table and stood up. "Leave us. Now."
"Let me just…" Hermes began collecting bits of meat and bread. "I was serious about being hungry."
"There's no need for this." Bonnie leaned back in her chair. "I've said all I needed to say."
"I haven't," Hades replied.
As they waited for Hermes to exit the dining room, she bit her lip. He'd long since lost his deadly edge, but even though he didn't frighten her, she could still see he was frightening.
"Are we going to fight?"
"Do you want to?" Hades leveled her with his dark gaze.
"Too bad." He strolled around the edge of the table, his movements slow and disarming. "Why would we fight when we're on the same side?"
He'd never used this voice before. Smooth, like magma sliding down the face of a mountain, burning everything in its path.
"Are we?" she asked. "On the same side?"
They were now. He'd circumvented the table and was approaching her chair from behind. Bonnie stood up quickly to put space between them, but she was too late. They were standing practically face-to-face.
"This is unfair." Her heart was threatening to beat out of her chest at his proximity.
"So is you taking your stress out on me." He cocked his head to the side. "And my house."
"I thought it was our house? Can't have it both ways."
"Same goes to you." Hades lowered his head to stare into her eyes. "You said you'd try."
"That was before a time limit was set. Two weeks…" Bonnie shook her head. "If I remember too fast, I die. If I remember too slow, I die."
"You're not going to—"
"Yes, I will. Sorry to say, but I've died a thousand times. I've died young and I've died old and I've died even when I didn't want to. That's part of being human. Whether it happens now or in another sixty years, it will happen." She was shocked to find tears welling in her own eyes. "Can't always get what you want."
"You're not going to die by Zeus' hand. Or Demeter's. I can promise you that." His hands came up to brush her sides. "I know you're scared. I know you want to go home. And, no matter what we have to do, we're going to make that happen."
Bonnie stared up at him through her glistening lashes. "Why couldn't you have said that two millennia ago?"
Hades blinked. "What?"
"Did Persephone not cry like this? Did you not know she was scared? That she wanted to go home?" Bonnie asked. "Why didn't you just let her go?"
He'd thought he could stand to task for his actions, but there were no adequate answers for these particular questions. The shame which bubbled up from his gut could've burned a hole right through him.
"She didn't cry, but… I knew she was scared." Hades gritted his teeth. "Scared she would never go home. Never see her mother again."
Bonnie couldn't imagine wanting to return to Demeter, but then again, she hadn't been raised by the woman.
"I couldn't let her go. I loved her more than I ever loved..." His jaw rippled with tension. "That's no excuse."
Watching him come to terms with himself was a humbling experience. More so for the fact she believed him.
"I'm torn," Bonnie said. "Because you keep on saving me and a part of me hopes you'll save me again. But I also know, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't need saving at all."
From the man in black to Kai to Hades, he'd kept her alive and well. But the original sin dated long before. If he hadn't kidnapped her then… Everything would be different.
"As powerful as I am, I can't go back. I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry for putting you in this position. I'm going to do everything in my power to ensure your freedom and safety."
Bonnie stepped out of his tentative hold. "It's not me who deserves your apology."
He nodded. "I hope to be able to apologize to her soon."
"I don't see how that's going to happen…"
"Do you want to hear the plan?"
Hades held out his hand. "Come with me."
Bonnie, for all intents and purposes, laid down her grudge and took hold of his hand.
Upon arriving at the library, he released his grip on her hand. The banging had since stopped. Three skylights, each long and narrow, now allowed ambient light to filter weakly into the cavernous space. Hades descended into the circular, sunken pit, in the middle of the room. Book-laden shelves ringed the perimeter. Bonnie had traced her finger along numerous spines earlier that morning and seen familiar names like Plato and Aristotle alongside unfamiliar names like Aesop and Sappho.
As he approached a raised dais in the center of the pit, she asked: "What are you doing?" The dais held a bleached-marble statue carved in the likeness of a scantily-clad, muscular man. "Who is that?"
"This is my father," Hades said, stepping onto the dais. "Come."
Bonnie followed him up onto the platform. "Didn't your father…?" She mimed like she was eating a jellybean.
"He sure did." Positioning himself behind the statue of Cronus he, almost lovingly, cradled its marbled head. "Which is why I have this."
With a sudden yank, Hades broke his father's neck.
Or, at least, he appeared to break the statue's neck. The statue remained intact, however. After a moment, Bonnie realized the dais had begun to sink. They were lowering into the floor.
"What the—?" A wave of disorientation scrambled her bearings.
Hades came and took ahold of her hand again. "We're going someplace we can talk."
The floor was quickly elevating above their heads. All around her, a different sort of darkness proliferated. This was the dark of the deep earth. After passing through a thick layer of soil, the dais dropped into a hollowed-out dome. Inches from the ceiling, Bonnie could see the dome was embedded with multicolored jewels, each bioluminescent and emitting their own particular light. Below, an entire living space sprawled out against the white-gray veins of Carrara.
The dais settled amidst a war room, of sorts. A black table, much like the one in the dining room but thicker cut, loomed beside. Little figurines, composed of semi-precious stones, sat atop the table, waiting to be placed in opposition to one another.
"What is this place?"
"My control room."
Gilded mirrors served as partitions in the grand, open space. On these mirrors, disparate images flickered. Bonnie stepped off of the dais to obtain a better look.
On one mirror, an old man struggled to push a boulder up a steep hill. On another, three young men laughed around a smoking fire. On another, she saw Charlie rowing his boat down a sluggish river. And on and on and on…
"I can see everything from here. The entrances, the exits. The blessed, the doomed. This is where I rule from." He left the dais to stand by her side and stare into the mirrors.
"You can see everything?" Bonnie asked. "Like everything?"
"There are no views from inside the manor and I cannot see into Tartarus," he clarified. "As well, my kingdom expands daily. I must commission new mirrors, but these are specially made. The metal isn't easy to come by."
She ran her fingertips over one mirror's smooth face. "I can imagine."
"Would you like to hear the plan now?"
"No. I'd rather talk about the weather." Bonnie turned her head to face him. "Yes, I'd like to hear the plan."
He'd had no idea she could be so sharp. Still reeling from her dressing down in the dining room, Hades could admit: There was something fitting about her attitude. Something which indicated, perhaps, she was leaving her human self behind.
He went over to the obsidian table and placed his palms on top. The bit of black rock wrapped around his thumb vibrated lowly.
"Hermes, as messenger of the gods, can travel widely without attracting attention. I've sent him to obtain the allegiances of each major and minor god."
Bonnie was reluctant to join him at the war table. She kept to herself, by the mirrors. "For what purpose?"
"In the event you fail to prove your divinity, I will not allow my brother to kill you. Once I defy his decree, it'll be a fight. And no one gets to be neutral in a fight like this," Hades said. No one except the Moirai.
"Won't he hear from someone you're planning contingencies?"
"Hermes knows how to be discreet."
"Well," Bonnie drawled. "How are things looking so far? Where does everyone fall?"
"Of my siblings, Hera and Poseidon will yield to Zeus. The Cyclopes will follow Poseidon, as will the minor water gods and nereids." Hades placed a teal figurine, an aquamarine figurine, and a lapis figurine onto one side of the table.
"Cyclopes…" Bonnie nodded.
"Even if you fail to prove yourself as the goddess, Hestia won't be able to bear seeing you die by way of your face. Whereas, Demeter hopes you will fail." He placed a corn-yellow figurine on the same side as the others and a canary-gold figurine onto the opposite end.
"Dear old mother." Bonnie finally came to stand next to him.
"The very same. Demeter will have the support of Dionysus. He loves her," Hades said, "when he isn't drunk out of his wits." He placed a plum-colored figurine next to the corn-yellow one.
"Go on." Bonnie felt as though she were learning someone else's family drama. She had a hard time acknowledging—let alone accepting—this was her family. They were all ready to go to war with one another because of her.
"Hephaestus stands with us, this I know, but his wife has proven herself untrustworthy. Aphrodite serves her own whims. Her lover, Ares, will fight on the side of strength. Or, in this case, perceived strength. He'll side with his father." Hades moved the corresponding figurines to their sides of allegiance.
"This isn't looking too good."
"Artemis and Apollo will most likely stand with us, though we haven't any confirmation yet. Athena will most likely side against Poseidon. As well, we have Hermes."
"What about Hecate?" The woman who'd left a brand on Bonnie's mind, with her midnight hair and crackling voice. "Should I hazard a guess?"
"She's not on our side." His voice was as cold as the air emanating off of the river Cocytus. "She cast the spell which subdued your goddess nature and placed you into this reincarnation cycle. She now works alongside Demeter to ensure you remain trapped."
"Okay. Who does that leave?"
"Everyone," he said. "The Titans—those who remain outside the grip of Tartarus. The Anemois—the primeval wind gods. The Muses, the Graces, the Oneiroi. The gods of the sky. The many mothers, like Metis, Leto, and Asteria. The minor gods and creatures, of whom there are many."
"Goodness." Bonnie sighed. "Hermes has his work cut out for him."
"He'll work diligently, but there isn't much time."
She walked away from the table in favor of exploring. He followed after her.
"What will I have to do? To prove I'm really a goddess?" And how could she, when she didn't believe she was to begin with?
"You have all the trappings of a human being. Your body, your smell, your mind." They wandered down a hallway of mirrors. "You'll need to display some hallmark of power."
"Like what?" She swirled around to face him. "What powers does a god have, exactly?"
Hades felt his mouth twist upward into a smile. "The list is endless and unique to each of us. Those which we have in common are almost unlike powers. Strength. Speed. Immortality. Instantaneous travel. We are born with these."
"You saw me at cheer practice, didn't you? Safe to say, I have none of those."
"Once you tap into where Persephone lives trapped inside, you'll—"
"She couldn't fly, but—" Hades thought. "Flourish."
"Once I remember, the powers are mine?"
"That is the hope."
"Then what's the plan to get me to remember?"
They emerged from the mirrored hall into a lounge. Low-to-the-ground leather couches, with embroidered pillows, stretched at perpendicular angles. Foot tables created a small maze within the larger square.
Bonnie strolled over and plopped onto one of the couches.
"Morpheus will help you to navigate your dreams. You'll seek Persephone's memories and practice using your powers at night."
"The power I don't have yet?"
"Right. The bone comb gave you a memory, didn't it?"
"It wasn't a memory." Bonnie could imagine the young goddess standing in the mirror, frustrated tears leaking from her angry eyes. "At least, it didn't feel like my other memories. I saw her standing in the mirror, but I wasn't her…"
"Well, I'll introduce you to more of Persephone's things. One at a time. We'll see if they bring anything back."
"Sounds good." Bonnie patted the back panel of the couch. "Come sit. Please."
Hades took a seat on the cushion next to her. They hadn't been this close since they laid in bed together, after Eros' love spell. There was a part of him shrieking this was another trick.
"How do you live down here?"
"It's my home," he said. "My formative years were spent inside of my father's stomach… This isn't much different."
"Don't you miss the sun? The moon? The stars?"
Her stola was slipping off the smooth skin of her shoulder. "I never saw planetary objects as just that." Using his deft fingers to slide the fabric back over the rounded slope, he heard her breath hitch in her throat. "Helios is the sun. Selene is the moon. Asteria rules over the stars."
She nodded. "How have you spent your time?"
"What do you mean?"
"After Persephone disappeared, you must've searched for her?"
"Relentlessly," he said.
"What else did you do?" Who else did you love? she was asking. How did you spend your time? Who are you really?
Hades' face was clear as a windowpane. "I read," he said. "And I ruled."
"What did you read?"
"Tell me something." She was digging; attempting to excavate him like a mound of dirt.
"Piovonmi amare lagrime dal viso con un vento angoscioso di sospiri, quando in voi adiven che gli occhi giri per cui sola dal mondo I' son diviso." Hades paused. "It means—"
"Bitter tears pour down my face with an anguished storm of sighing." Her voice was low, her gaze distant. "When my eyes chance to turn on you through whom alone I am lost from the world."
"You know Italian?"
"I guess I do…" Bonnie replied, thinking of Bonicia in the field. "It's beautiful. Keep going. Please."
"Vero è che 'l dolce mansüeto riso pur acqueta gli ardenti miei desiri, et mi sottragge al foco de' martiri, mentr'io son a mirarvi intento et fiso."
"Yet it is true that your soft gentle smile quiets my ardent desires." Her translation rode alongside, her measured voice underpinning his every word. "And saves me from the fire of suffering, while I am intent and fixed on gazing."
"Ma gli spiriti miei s'aghiaccian poi—"
"But then my spirits are chilled, when I see—"
"Ch'i' veggio al departir gli atti soave torcer da me le mie fatali stelle."
"At your departure, my fatal stars turn their sweet aspects from me."
"Largata alfin co l'amorose chiavi—"
"Released at last by those loving keys—"
"L'anima esce del cor per seguir voi; et con molto pensiero si svelle."
"The spirit leaves the heart to follow you, and in deep thought, walks on from there."
A charged moment passed between their two bodies.
"That is how I have spent my time," he said, staring down at her. "Since you left."
As a disembodied spirit seeking lost love? Bonnie couldn't understand why she—why Persephone—would leave such a lasting impression on a god such as Hades.
"What was that? A poem?" she asked, squirming underneath his direct stare.
"A sonnet by Petrarch. Sonnet seventeen in The Canzoniere, to be specific. I have it upstairs if—"
"Could I borrow it?"
"—you'd like to… Yes."
There was the charge, again. The low-grade electricity which seemed to hum in the air around their heads.
"You're going to be disappointed," Bonnie said, surprising herself with her own certainty. "Again."
Hades was mesmerized by the way her hair curled over her forehead and nearly into her eyes. "For once, I don't think that's true."
Standing up from the couch, he offered her his hand to help her rise.
"Where are we going?" she asked, as he pulled her.
"To pick out a stone for the new pendant." He didn't let go of her hand. "This way."
The Paris streets were slick with rain. Hermes wished he could simply fly the remaining blocks to Maison où Résident les Hellions—the "house where hellions reside"—but even at four in the morning, there were too many humans milling about. By the time he reached the nondescript door buried in the middle of an alleyway, his shoes were ruined.
He knocked once on the door and a slat in the red wood slid open. There were no eyes to be seen behind the slat. Only darkness.
"Answer this," a garbled voice rumbled. "I am a black child sprung from a bright sire. A wingless bird, fleeting to heaven from earth. Each eye that meets me weeps, but not from grief. And in thin air I vanish at my birth. What am I?"
"I am smoke," Hermes answered. "Now open the door."
A metal mechanism clicked and the door swung back. Apparently, of its own accord, as there was no one waiting.
Hermes floated down a shadowed hallway, following the sound of ghostly choral music. At the end of the hall, the music reached its height and a bridge stretched out over open air. He could hear laughing and the tinkling of glasses, but beneath the bridge, there was only a sea of darkness.
Hermes walked to the middle of the bridge and, trusting himself, jumped off.
A quick fall and he was in the club, surrounded by singing sirens carrying trays of ambrosia and drunk nymphs dancing the tsamiko.
Turning his head, he spotted a beautiful young man at the bar and made his way over.
"Brother. Must you use my Roman name?"
"Should've done like I did." Apollo slammed back a shot of ambrosia. "Two civilizations, same name." He grinned hazily. "You here to party?"
"Not tonight. I'm looking for someone."
Hermes maneuvered out of dancing with a dryad—pale branches woven in her fiery hair—before nodding.
"I think I saw her earlier with her crew or whatever they call themselves. Rabid women," Apollo said, gesturing for the satyr behind the bar to refill his glass. "Almost as bad as me."
"Where did you see them?"
"Come now, have a drink. You're always working, working, working. And when you aren't working, you're fighting with Hecate. Rest now, brother."
"I can't," Hermes said, even as he held up his finger to the satyr. "Well, just one."
"That's the spirit." Apollo clapped him on the back. "What's this I hear about our Persephone returning?"
Hermes met his eye. "How'd you hear?"
"My twin, of course." If Hermes was gold alloy, Apollo was pure sunlight. His bright blue eyes radiated like morning dew on blades of grass and his hair was as light as high noon rays. "I would've come but Euphrosyne was taking a shot from the bellybutton of a Mario Kart character. I won't say which one, but—"
Hermes spotted the familiar, sharp cheekbones of an empusae walking by.
"Let's meet in Mykonos. Tomorrow. You can tell me all about it…" He was already walking away.
"Wait! What about—?" Apollo picked up the other god's drink. "Oh, well." He downed the ambrosia in one gulp.
Hermes moved deftly between packed bodies, following the empusae to a secluded corner of the club, where the sirens' song was almost muted. He watched her disappear through a side door.
Inside of the room, Hecate hands were wound in the hair of one of her servants, braiding. "Is he gone?" she asked.
"No, Mistress. Apollo still drinks at the bar," said Claria, the empusae who'd just entered.
"My money says he's there all night," said Anfell.
"What money?" Hecate laughed, tying off the braid.
"I have drachmas squirreled away," Anfell argued. "Don't you mind my money."
The door burst open. All three of the empusae assembled bared their teeth, hissed, and gathered around their mistress.
Hermes strolled in with his hands clasped behind his back.
"I'll need a moment alone with Hecate. Please find your way out." His tone left no room for discussion.
The empusae turned, seeking their mistress' command.
"Go," Hecate said. "He won't hurt me. Go."
The troupe exited slowly, glancing over their shoulders at the messenger god who'd ensnared their leader.
"This is where you've been hiding out?" he asked, once they were gone.
"Who said I was hiding?" she returned, crossing her legs.
"You weren't in the usual haunts."
"How inconvenient it must've been to have to look for me now I'm no longer a prisoner."
"Excuse me?" Hecate sat straight up in her red-velvet chair. Bird had never spoken to her with such derision.
"Shut up!" A fierce gust of wind blew through the room, whipping the pillows off of the couch and sending a lamp careening onto its side. Bird's face was no longer a mask of geniality or amusement. He was truly incensed. "You're going to listen. For once."
Hecate held out her hands. "Speak."
"You're no victim, Cate. From the beginning, you've placed yourself in the middle of disputes which need not your participation. You stripped a goddess of her divinity—her power, her immortality—and a god of his one true love."
Hecate scoffed. She turned her face away from him.
"It's true. Hades was wrong to take her hostage, but he was wrong in his actions, not his sentiment. He was wrong because he took away her choice. You—" Hermes stepped forward. His voice wrung her dry, like he was squeezing her with his bare hands. "You have done the same."
"And? What's changed? Because you've spent the last two millennia hopping in and out of my bed regardless."
"What changed?" Hermes asked. "Nothing. That's the point." He'd run past himself in his fervor to make her understand and he was tired now. "You stood in front of everyone at the Hall of Twelve and you lied."
"I did what I've always done: I looked out for me." Hecate used the pointed tips of her fingernails to scratch the wooden arm of her chair. "Demeter isn't well."
She'd seen Demeter before the summons.
I was so close, the goddess had said, pacing back and forth. She was almost dead, then he came.
It was then Hecate saw the larger cycle—tragic and vast—and she understood the interlocking fabric of fate. How one couldn't escape. Not ever.
It's hopeless. She swore an oath—
NO! The goddess had shaken with raw fury. He cannot have her! Her eyes had glowed yellow.
"What's new?" Hermes quipped, interrupting her reverie. "You disappointed me."
"What's new?" Hecate stood up. "Are you here to scold me or to take me back to the Underworld?"
"I can't be sure Hades wouldn't throw you into Tartarus, so no. But I am done scolding you. I can't make you see the error of your ways. Only the Fates can do that."
Hecate took one small step and they were standing close enough she could feel his breath on her forehead. "Then why are you here, Bird?"
"I haven't been able to convince you of much since we started this thing." He pointed between them. "Except, maybe, that I love you. I hope that's enough to warrant you taking my advice just this one time."
Hecate waited semi-patiently for his words of wisdom.
"Apologize to the girl."
Hermes tugged on the lobe of her right ear, a spark of playfulness returning to his visage. "You have deprived her of something she cannot even begin to fathom. Not yet. But one day—soon—she will. Persephone is returning. She was your friend once. Maybe she can be again. But don't wait," he said, backing away. "Don't wait."
Hecate balked. She didn't know what to say, which was a first.
"We won't be seeing each other again for a while. And certainly not like this."
"Are we breaking up?" she asked, watching him place more and more distance between them.
"Were we ever together?"
Before she could answer, he was gone.
Anfell creaked open the door. "Mistress?"
"Don't." Hecate held out her hand. "Give me a moment."
The door closed and she was left by herself. Contemplating. Alone.
Bonnie stared down at a glass drawer of raw stones and Hades stared at the soft planes of her cheeks, where the light glinting off of the stones refracted on her skin.
"Choose whichever you like."
"They're all beautiful. I—" Bonnie stilled her outstretched hand. "Can I touch them?"
"Of course," Hades said, holding back a laugh. Why did he do that? Hold back? She was right there, in front of him, close enough to touch and yet… He worried she was only a beautiful mirage.
Bonnie picked up a spiked piece of Apache Gold—black stone with gold marbling—and held the stone up to her eye.
"What exactly does the pendant do?" she asked. "I mean, besides spy on me…"
This time, he allowed himself to laugh. Just a little. "It's a link with my ring." Hades held up his hand. "It allows me to feel shifts in your emotions and know when you're in danger."
"Like at the library…"
There was something in her voice that wasn't right. Trauma crept in the low tones and made her waver.
"You were afraid. I should've come immediately," he said. "I should've—"
"You're always blaming yourself for things you can't control. Don't. Not this time. You came. You showed up and you saved me. Without you, I would be dead." Bonnie set the stone back into the grey felt drawer. "I don't know how I feel about you knowing my every emotion, but…" She shrugged. "What the hell? As long as an all-powerful goddess wants to kill me, I suppose its warranted."
"Once you've reintegrated with Persephone, you'll be able to protect yourself. Demeter isn't all-powerful. Only a mortal would view her that way."
"Yeah? Well, I am a mortal." She ran her fingertips over another stone. "For now at least."
"That's Malachite," he said, gesturing to the dark green stone currently beneath her fingertips. "Do you like it?"
"I do." She picked up the stone. "Malachite. Malachite. Huh."
"Would you like a pendant made with that?"
"Sure." She handed him the stone. "I think I'm going to take a bath now."
"I should as well." After a silent moment, he added, "Separately."
"That was implied," Bonnie said, with a haughty tilt to her chin and an amused grin on her lips. She spun and began the long walk back to the dais. "You coming?"
Hades ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He could be a lot better at this.
Her bath went long.
Bonnie found the lack of hours strange and unsettling. The light outside of her window didn't change. There was no morning, no midday, no afternoon, or evening. No sunrise, no sunset. The air was stale and stagnant and dry. Crust built in her eyes and she rubbed them red to keep them clean. She spent a few hours reading the book which had arrived at the door—the one Hades mentioned, The Canzoniere—and took an early dinner alone in her room.
Or, Hades' room.
She wondered where he was sleeping and if he was comfortable. Only when she grew tired and decided to close the blinds did night truly come and even then sleep evaded her. She laid on her back in his bed and stared up at the ceiling.
Perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her but she thought she saw stars twinkling in the darkness. Were their diamonds embedded in the ceiling?
On the edge of sleep, Bonnie wondered where she would meet Morpheus and what he would teach her. She felt a small spark of hope. Maybe Hades was right. Maybe she would survive.
"Wake up, Hun. We need to talk."
Bonnie shot up in bed and frantically searched the darkness for the source of the voice.
Hecate stood at the edge of the bed. Latent bands of electricity wrapped around her head like a crown, illuminating her sharp face.
"What are you doing here?" Bonnie gathered the covers closer to her chest as she weighed the pros and cons of screaming.
"Oh, I'm not really here. It's just a trick of magic, sweetheart. Don't worry." The goddess of witchcraft rested her hand on Bonnie's leg. "I'm appearing to you now because I messed up. I broke the number one rule of Goddess Code—don't turn your best friend into a mortal. I'm the worst, I know. But someone advised me to redeem myself and I'm going to do one better. Why? Because I love you. And, because I love, I'm going to tell you exactly what you need to do to save yourself."