Few things were as exhausting as waking up in an unfamiliar bed.
Again, Bella awoke alone among soft sheets and artificial darkness. Black-out curtains protected her from the lights of the city as she slowly pushed the comforter off her legs and rubbed her head. She could feel her sinuses pressing outward in an attempt to escape her skull entirely, the pain increased to the beat of the throbbing of her temples.
She needed some goddamn Advil.
Her feet nearly slid out from under her on the glossy hardwood forward as she eased off the bed. She had to catch herself on the nightstand, nearly knocking over a ridiculous lamp that looked more like a modern art experiment than anything useful. Nearly all the décor in the room was made from twisted, artistic metallic designs. She could even make out the intertwined wire netting that composed the chair in the corner. Sitting on that must have felt like resting on a cheese grater.
Gradually, thankfully, the events of the previous night did return to her. Peeking out between the curtains onto the skyline confirmed her suspicion—though she felt every bit as out-of-place as she had upon waking up in the underworld.
Figures he's the God of Wealth too.
Despite Jasper's continuing and inexplicable hospitality, they had only stayed at the shop for less than an hour following Bella's so-called outburst before Demeter called. Evidently, "appropriate accommodations" meant the most expensive, multi-room suite in the most expensive hotel in the city. And, evidently, they could afford it—as Hades apparently had a surplus of gold among his equally large stock of lost souls.
Not that Bella had much say in the matter. She had been nearly unconscious as Emmett and Rose half-carried her through the lobby. Under the grand chandeliers and the classic bellhops, Bella only had the wherewithal to consider how she had only seen similar hotels in movies.
Now she had spent a night in the grandest hotel of all.
She just wished she could tell Alice about it; she was going to be so pissed. Especially with all the free food—don't hotels also give out free shampoo bottles and stuff, too? Yeah. She would be pissed.
Despite it all, Bella smiled.
A crash followed by a yell came from beyond the door. Bella closed the curtains and searched the closet, tugging a complimentary fluffy robe over her mysterious new pajamas before heading out into the unknown.
Jasper and Esme—Demeter, she remembered—were sitting at a granite breakfast bar, three cups of coffee in front of them. Jasper looked exhausted, dark circles standing out on his pale skin. Demeter had warmed since the previous night, smiling at Bella as she left her room.
"Morning, dear. How was your rest?"
"Uh, good. Thanks. This place is… insane." Bella eased down onto one of the stools, gesturing to the third cup of coffee.
"Tell me about it," Jasper grumbled. "All yours. Figured you'd want some."
"Thanks." Bella sipped it, before taking a large gulp. It barely tasted like coffee, not a trace of acidic bitterness could be found. No wonder every rich person had a caffeine addiction.
There was another crash. Jasper pressed his palms against his closed eyes. "You have to press the powerbutton after the light comes on."
"This beast is broken!" Was that Hades? Bella turned.
"The God of the Dead has been having some trouble this morning," Demeter said, not at all attempting to hide her amusement.
"He wouldn't leave you alone, I told him to go watch some TV or something. Had no fucking idea it would turn into this." Jasper squeezed his eyes shut, tapping his fingers once on the counter before shoving his stool back and storming out toward Hades's yelling.
Bella had initially taken Jasper as the type who could sit in traffic for a full week without getting frustrated, but as she watched him shove back the stool and stalk off into the living room she realized she may have been wrong. Or, Hades had managed to break Jasper's patience within only a few hours.
Her hands curled tightly around the mug in her hands as she carefully watched the doorway Jasper had disappeared through. She nearly flinched when Demeter laid a hand on her wrist. "How are you feeling?"
Bella sipped her coffee as she turned to look out the window. No birds flew by, not even a plane.
Demeter considered her silence. "Fair point. There's rarely a good answer to that question, isn't there?"
"I'll just be better when Rose and Emmett get back." They had left shortly after dropping Bella off at the hotel, heading back out to try and track down any trace of Hera and Alice. "I… hate sitting here. And the headaches." She did hate it here, as much as she hated the underworld—maybe more.
"You showed quite a bit of power last night, the headache isn't surprising."
Jasper and Hades were arguing now, their voices steadily rising in volume. Bella shifted in her seat.
"How's he? I mean Jasper, with all of this. Didn't he know you before?" God's know Bella was still grappling with the basics of the whole situation—though, at least Jasper wasn't told he was married to a god on top of everything else. At least she hadn't known Hades as anyone other than Hades.
Demeter smiled. "He'll manage. The boy has been searching for a purpose for a time now; I believe this may strengthen him in the end."
Now there was a thought. What was the fate of the human boy, dragged into the world of gods without a single warning?
Bella had nothing to say. Thankfully, her silence was swallowed by the shouting that now came full-force from the adjacent room. The awkwardness was growing, and she could see words forming on Demeter's lips with every passing moment. The roots of a conversation she was too tired to have.
"I should go check on them. Before Hades kills him." She really was desperate to leave.
Demeter stood as well. Her arms lifted slightly at her sides before she crossed them gently. "Let us talk later."
"Yeah, alright." Bella could imagine Demeter had a lot to say, though she wasn't sure she was ready to hear it.
The woman was familiar, in a way. Like the opening notes to an otherwise unfamiliar song. She could acknowledge something, at least, in her brain nudged her forward.
But she had never met this woman. She did not know her. Esme, Demeter, was a stranger.
She was not Persephone.
The pain at her temples drummed harder.
Black spots had started to appear in the corners of her vision as she walked in on Hades and Jasper mid-argument. Jasper waved a thin black remote like a saber as he stabbed at Hades, who stood stonily with arms crossed.
"Are… is everything okay?" She pressed at her sinuses, rubbing her thumbs above her eyes in some attempt for relief.
"Here. You try." Jasper tossed her the remote, which she barely caught as he stormed out of the room. She could hear another door shut, before the familiar sound of rushing water. Shit, she was planning on taking a shower.
"Jesus. How the hell did you manage that?" Bella carefully eased down onto the couch, setting the remote beside her.
"This technology is impractical." Hades remained standing, refusing to look at her as he glared at the television. Was he always this childish? Wait, was he wearing jeans?
She only chanced a quick moment to process Hades's new outfit, tight long-sleeved black shirt and plain jeans balancing on his hips. Esme had said something about getting new clothes before she left the shop—hopefully he had changed before they left, gods know what the desk attendant at the hotel must have thought watching a man in some Ancient Greek bedsheet stroll in.
"No TVs in the underworld? Doesn't Morpheus have one?"
Hades continued to glare silently.
She sighed. Apparently, his temper had survived the makeover.
"Listen, it's not that hard. What were you trying to do? Watch a movie? Here." She grabbed the remote and turned on the massive TV, watching it flicker to life as they were dropped into the middle of a news broadcast critiquing some recent political decision. "There. Calm down, just sit. You're going to have a stroke." Maybe it was the exhaustion talking, but she was feeling irregularly brave this morning.
Cautiously, Hades eased down beside her, uncrossing his arms to lay them awkwardly at his sides.
She glanced at him carefully out of the corner of her eyes. His hair had lightened spectacularly, once mirroring the depths of the ocean with pitch black and blue hues, it now shone a rich ember-red in the light. The lines that drew roads down his jaw and nose had softened, easing the sharpness of his appearance. He almost, almost looked human, but his uncomfortable stance and stern gaze gave him away—King Arthur in a t-shirt and jeans was still King Arthur. A stiff, regal figure with a king's features perched on the dark leather sofa. An antique among modern furniture.
He was every bit as out of place as she was; maybe, more so.
The realization sent a cold chill through her chest, and maybe a slice of guilt. He was here because of her.
No, he was here by choice. He would never have left her either way. At least maybe now he would understand, he could be plucked straight from his home and onto the moon if that was needed.
"Do you… have you heard from Rose and Emmett yet?"
"They have continued searching; Morpheus believes he may have found a trail to follow." Morpheus carefully avoided her gaze. "Are you well?"
"I'm okay, thanks." The newscasters continued to argue with each other, ribbons of less important news quickly rushing across the bottom of the screen. Bella had never been interested in politics, but somehow it all felt almost amusing now as she watched it beside a literal god. What would it be like if it was suddenly revealed that the state of the world was out of everyone's hands after all?
She tried to imagine Hades in a suit at Washington. Somehow, she didn't think that would end well.
"I just prefer the old ways," Hades said suddenly.
"Huh?" She glanced at him. He kept his view forward, glued to the screen.
"This technology. I never had an interest in it. So I never used any of it. I never imagined I would need to. Evidently, I was false in that assumption."
"Oh… I mean, that makes sense, right? You're like… several thousand years old, or something. It's okay. Plenty of people don't really use technology." Most of them grandparents, but Bella left that detail out.
He nodded stiffly. They both watched the news for a moment longer, before Bella gave up trying to find interest in it. There were some decent movies on demand, so she picked a random one and sat back.
Hades was still sitting as straight as before. Did he not know how to relax into a chair? Or was the man made of steel? He looked like she did, back in the underworld. Every step tentative and searching for unseen traps, feeling out the world blindly in a failed attempt to adapt.
A choice made to follow her into the depths of his own hell, into the unknown so he could stand beside her in an unfamiliar world. Was it still Stockholm Syndrome if they were both equally out of control, outside of the spheres they considered home?
"Thank you, by the way." The words stung, but the guilt tasted equally as sour.
His eyes widened, ignoring the screen completely to stare at her.
Bella shifted uncomfortably. "I just… I know you didn't have to do this. Be here. I mean, you didn't have to come with me. And we don't know how long it'll take to get Alice, and everything, but thanks. For coming here. For doing this. At least, for not just… keeping me hostage."
Hades turned toward her, his knees nearly touching her own as he carefully grasped her hand, balancing it between two of his own as his gaze pierced her. The space between them crackled with intensity, fire growing low from her toes and touching each breath between them.
His voice was low, covering his emotion with a paper-thin layer of control. "I would follow you to hell, Bella. I do not need your thanks, only your company. But should you desire my leave, say the word and I will be only an echo to your song."
She carefully pulled back, desperately willing her face to stop flaming as heat blew across her cheeks. "Okay, easy, too much. Thank you and everything."
He took a deep breath, stealing the last bit of oxygen between them as he released her hand and turned back to the TV.
His legs still stayed within a hair of her own, but she did not move them.
In some amusing twist of fate, Bella had managed to pick a historical drama based in Rome, which managed to actually grasp both hers and Hades's attention as Roman senators argued over someone named Hannibal.
"Such a weird name," Bella grumbled. It sounded too similar to cannibal, who named their kid that?
"It was common for the time." Hades finally eased back into the sofa, potentially relaxed by the familiar warfare on screen. He even had a small smile, though Bella wasn't sure if it was from genuine enjoyment or amusement at the multitude of historical inaccuracies.
They would skip that history lesson, for now, the topic of names reminded Bella of a question she had been mulling over since their arrival. "Hey, I know you won't probably change forms or whatever, but will you pick a new name too? Like Morpheus did?" The name "Hades" didn't exactly blend in.
"I have a name I used when I once walked among the humans, back in an era of great death."
Well, that was grim. "What was it?"
"This is absurd. Do they truly believe Hannibal was beaten at Zama? Insanity." Hades was fully relaxed now, if not for the irritated roll of his eyes as the battle played out on screen. "Edward."
"What? Wait, is there a Roman Edward?" Bella really hadn't been paying close attention to the movie.
"No, that was my name among the humans. That is the name I shall use here."
"You don't want to… change it to something modern?"
He looked at her curiously, head tilted to the side. Fiery hair kissed his brow. "Is Edward not a modern name?"
Maybe not as common as it was in medieval England, but it was barely a point worth arguing over. He was used to it—and besides, it would still stand out a hell of a lot less than Hades. Bella shrugged, "Sounds fine to me, Edward."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a hint of a smile on his lips.
They watched the rest of the movie in peace, almost alien normality as Hades would occasionally point out inaccuracies with a dry amusement as Bella pushed him to elaborate. Maybe it was a good thing she had never finished High School after all, seems the history textbooks weren't much good anyway.
Sly comments dwindled into quiet huffs as the room was wrapped in warm silence.
Hades never mentioned a moment from the night before, about her outburst. Bella never brought it up, letting that particular ghost breathe down her neck as she closed it up in Pandora's box.
Not now. Just let me have this one minute.
But the minute ended with Jasper's arrival, shaggy blonde hair dripping in wet noodle strands down his pale cheeks as he entered the room, bare feet leaving tracks behind him.
"Oh sweet, you got it figured out." He nodded at the TV and jerked his chin at Bella. "Shower's open if you want in."
"Yeah… thanks. I'll go… do that." She stood jerkily. Hades kept his eyes on the movie, though his knees shifted forward as she abandoned her spot on the couch. She had nearly made it out of the room before his restraint fractured, his words stopping her.
"I retrieved some supplies for you while you slept. They are in the cupboard under the sink."
She stared at him expectantly, but nothing followed.
The realization dragged her heart down to the tips of her toes, stretching a sense of mourning which she refused to analyze. Hades had spent one minute with her, as Bella. One movie-length moment without any mention of Persephone or the memories she lacked.
What the hell had happened to him?
"Okay… thanks." She slipped outside and down the hall, locking the bathroom door behind her.
The bathroom was every bit as grandiose as the rest of the penthouse, the mirror stretching to the ceiling over two porcelain sinks and granite countertops. The bathroom in James's apartment was so tight Bella had to practically sit sideways any time she needed to pee in order to avoid banging her knees on the counter. Here, she could probably do a full dance routine without touching a single piece of furniture.
Out of one alien world and into another.
She carefully avoided the mirror as she ducked down to search for Hades's—Edward's—supposed supplies. She could already picture what she looked like, brown hair caked with sweat and knots topped by a snow of dandruff. The constant crying had probably scrubbed the skin right off her cheeks, leaving her red and raw as a fish dropped in the dead sea.
A soft pair of cotton sweatpants and a plain t-shirt sat beside a small tote filled with shampoo and similar beauty products.
But the Holy Grail escaped her. Each item was placed aside, the tote turned upside down before Bella finally clasped the only item she truly treasured—what had haunted her thoughts for nearly two weeks—in both hands.
"Oh, thank you, God." A brand new razor. An itch began to travel up her leg, pleading for mercy between each long hair that coated her body. She could not wait to shave her armpit hair.
At this point, she could probably go without a winter coat—hers was practically homegrown.
The hotel shower was thankfully easy to figure out, only requiring a moment of blind experimentation before it filled the room with steam. Bella stripped out of her clothes, peeling away the synthetic layers of skin as she stood, naked and cold, in the steam.
Three, careful breaths.
Each filled her lungs, blew her up like a balloon, swelling her as she swallowed every moment and let them brew in her gut before she let them leak from her lips.
She was Bella. She had her own name, she had a life she had lived in relative success—relative survival, and she would never return to it. It had been dark, it had been full of spiders which snuck up her sides and sat in her hair as she watched her sister desperately attempt to shield her from the darkest nights.
It had been a horrible life full of dark terrors, so why did she mourn it?
Why, in the pit of her gut, every time she looked at the people who had suddenly claimed her life—Hades, Demeter, Morpheus, Emmett, even Jasper—did she feel the fear of no-return?
Every second she lived since Hades had found her had felt like another step farther away from everything she had known.
Bella shivered in the warming bathroom, sliding back the glass shower door and stepping inside, letting the water beat her back and skull as she shut her eyes.
Someday soon, she would wake up. Alice and she would return to their lives, to the track they've run together from day one, and this would be over. Persephone would be the echo to her song, and Hades would only be a ghost.
Death stands beside you.
Bella pursed her lips, angrily grabbing the bottle of shampoo and squeezing a fat lump of it onto her hand before aggressively attacking her knotted hair.
Hecate was insane, vague, and as genuine as a carnival psychic. Hades stood beside her now, sure, but he wouldn't forever. Bella wouldn't let him. She was not Persephone, and he would have to live with that. Best he figured it out now rather than figure it out later and abandon her over it.
Her toes framed the shower drain, pale roots anchoring her to the tile.
Every drop slid down her back, traces hot paths down her skin.
She was not Persephone, but the looks on Emmett's and Rose's faces…
Bella stopped the assault on her hair, pressing the palms of her hands into her eyes as her temples throbbed with the weight of the night before. She focused on the stinging of the shampoo in her eyes, unsuccessfully attempting to use it as a block against the sensations that pooling along her veins.
She had felt it before, the liquid electricity that connected each piece of the world like brushstrokes in a painting. Emmett and Rose weren't the only ones to suffer at her hands, they had been far from the first to have that life pulled from them as Bella sucked it away into her magnetic hold.
Persephone's powers; for so long, she had blocked out her memory, for years—until Hecate pulled it from her in the underworld.
Hot breath on her neck, Alice's sobbing, the weight of another life sitting empty on her chest.
Bella had nearly killed Emmett and Rose the night before. She didn't understand it, she may have not believed it if it had been the first time, but she had nearly pulled the life force directly out of them. It was Persephone's powers; she didn't need Hades or Demeter to tell her that.
And she had done it before.
"I am Bella." She spat water onto the floor, watching it swirl down the drain as she turned off the taps and stepped out.
The mirror was still coated in fog, but Bella needed to see herself. She needed the validation of her own image, so she could trace the familiar flaws and ease the anxiety that had seized every element of her being.
She was scared.
So she picked up the towel and rubbed away the steam.
It was still her face, but shifted one-degree to the right. Her dark brown hair had gold veins running down, intertwining with the light to accentuate the pink tones that kissed her pale cheeks. Her eyes, once a plain brown, had matching strands of gold dancing around her pupils.
Even her nose, once small and tipped, seemed to have flattened and lengthened. From a fairy to a noblewoman.
Bella quietly slipped on the sweatpants and t-shirt, leaving her hair to drape across her back as she wandered out of the bathroom. The fog followed her out the door.
Hades and Demeter were suddenly silent as she entered. For a moment she thought they may have gone quiet at her sudden transformation, but one look at the furious edge of Edward's gaze proved otherwise. Esme's hands were folded carefully, but her knuckles were pale with the pressure of how tightly she kept them clutched.
Bella had interrupted something. At that moment, she didn't particularly care.
"I need to talk to you, both of you."
"Anything, my dear," Demeter nearly cooed, sliding forward as she reached a hand toward Bella.
Edward's steely gaze leveled on Esme, who refused to acknowledge it.
"Teach me how to control this. I need to control this," Bella said calmly, opening her hands, palms facing the ceiling.
"I can teach you." Edward stood, understanding her meaning. Bella took a step back.
"Soon. Now," Bella begged quietly, flexing her fingers. "Before I kill someone. Again."
Neither Hades nor Demeter moved toward her now. Demeter slowly drew back her hand, covering her lips with it as Bella's words sucked the air from the lofty room.
Hades opened his mouth, shut it, and opened it again.
"Emmett and Rose just called." All three jumped as Jasper burst the tense bubble that had formed around them. Bella crossed her arms and turned her head as Jasper laid his cell phone on the counter—either unaware of the electric air or too apathetic due to his own anxiety.
"They might know where Alice is."
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One more chapter before we touch base with Alice.
As always, let me know what you think. Finally, Edward can go by his "given" name-only took 10 chapters.