"…his smile, his anger, and his kisses."
The eyes of Lord Hades were as dark as the terrifying depths of Tartarus, all the light gone from them when they turned from Eros to Sakura. He fixed her in place with a level gaze that was not cold, but burning, and Priestess Sakura had no doubt that she was facing a god. If before she had been hesitant to speak, now she was completely unable.
"Oh, hello!" said Yukito brightly, sitting up from Touya's lap. "I know you, don't I?" Lord Eros leaned backwards into an upright snuggle against Touya; the Lord of Hades slipped his arm around Yukito's waist possessively. "Sakura, right?"
"You know this one?" Lord Hades murmured into the Erote's ear.
"She's one of my mother's little priestesses," Eros murmured back, his lips a breath away from Touya's.
"I don't entertain visitors," said Touya to the priestess. "Go back to Elysium."
"But she isn't one of the dead, To-ya," the Erote argued sweetly.
"Trust me to know these things?" Lord Hades responded. To Sakura, he said in a harder tone, "I told you to go. Do not make me ask again."
Lord Eros pulled his gaze away from the Lord of the Underworld and turned his concerned attention to Sakura. "You are dead? What happened?"
Priestess Sakura found that she could form words as long as she focused only on the kind Erote. "I had to come to bring you back," she said.
A strange look crossed the Erote's face. He stood up slowly and stepped back from Lord Hades. A sudden pair of glowing wings covered him, replacing Eros with Anteros.
"Why would you do such a thing," demanded Lord Anteros. "A mortal's death cannot be taken lightly!" His eyes flashed silvery in his stern face.
Touya sighed heavily. He stretched out on his back across the grass and crossed his arms behind his head.
"It was the only way…" the priestess began, her voice quavering.
"Ridiculous!" Yue said with a toss of his head, but there was a quality of fear in his expression. "Yelan chose you over herself –"
Sakura dared to interrupt him. "I volunteered," she said emphatically, "Lord Anteros, to ask for your return." Wide eyed, she searched his face for a wisp of understanding. "I know my duty," she added in a whisper.
A frown crossed Lord Anteros' countenance. "It should not have been you," he said quietly.
"You must return to the temple," the young priestess continued. "If Our Lady were to find you missing, it would be terrible for my Sisters."
"I would have returned in due time."
"We were uncertain if you had been taken against your will," Sakura replied. She risked a darted look in the direction of Lord Hades, who was watching their conversation disinterestedly.
"I can leave at any time," the Erote said.
Touya suddenly took interest. "No, you can't," he said.
"Why not?" asked the winged god. His ghost of a smile had a slight challenge to it.
Lord Hades grinned. "Because you've eaten the food of the Underworld," he answered.
"Oh!" exclaimed Sakura in dismay.
"I do not eat," said Yue emphatically.
Sakura knew the truth of his often-repeated declaration. "What has he eaten?" the priestess dared to ask.
Touya laughed heartily. "What hasn't he eaten?" he answered with a peculiar quality to his question. "More than a few pomegranite seeds."
"I do not eat," the Erote said again.
"Lord Hades," Priestess Sakura began humbly, "was it Lord Anteros who… partook of the Underworld's food? Or was it Lord Eros?"
The laughter of the Lord of the dead faded into suspicion. "What do you mean?"
"I have eaten nothing," Lord Anteros proclaimed. "My other self is the glutton."
Touya studied the Erote for a few moments in silence before one eyebrow slowly went up with understanding. "Now, that's a problem," he said.
"You have no idea," Yue answered back.
"Yukito is your other self. You, yourself, don't eat, and haven't eaten anything here," Hades mulled. "So he has to stay… but you can go." Touya turned his focus to Priestess Sakura; she cringed involuntarily. "I don't suppose you have a solution in mind for this," Lord Hades inquired of the frightened girl.
Yue sighed theatrically, drawing the other god's attention. "Shared time," he stated with a note of familiar defeat. "It's always like this," he added in a subaudible grumble.
"Um?" voiced Sakura with confusion.
"Six months on, six months off is too long of a separation," bargained Touya. "What about splitting the week?"
"Or day and night?" Yue negotiated, clearly unhappy about any option.
"I would want some nights," claimed Lord Hades. "Can we work in an occasional trade?"
"That would be acceptable," Lord Anteros agreed wearily. "Now, then – may I go?" He tipped his chin up with a haughty glare.
Touya made an open handed, slow wave in a wide motion. "If nothing is keeping you here," he said.
"Come, then, priestess," said the Erote to Sakura, beginning to walk away.
"She can't go with you," said Hades as if explaining the obvious. "She's dead."
Yue turned back around sharply. "Her death was necessary to reach this place. But it was not her time."
"She's still dead," said the dark god coldly.
The Erote looked at the young girl. Her face was brave, though her eyes were sad. "Priestess!" he said.
"I knew what would happen," said Sakura plainly. A small and trembling smile touched her lips. "I knew that I couldn't return with you."
Yue's cold face changed; it softened with understanding. He walked the few steps toward the young priestess and dropped to one knee before her. Taking her small hands in his own, he looked into her eyes and told her, "Your sacrifice is not unappreciated. You have shown yourself to be above all others in your devotion." He pressed his forehead to her hands before standing. "I will not leave without you," he announced.
Hades scoffed. "Have it your way," he said, also standing. "Stay."
"No!" cried Sakura in distress. "You have to return!"
"I will not go," insisted the winged god gently, "unless I take you with me."
"I'm not in the habit of letting mortals return to the living," said Touya.
They were at an impasse. Lord Hades was unyeilding; he leaned casually against a tree and stared down the Erote. Lord Anteros was equally stoic, only the silver flash in his eyes betraying his anger. Priestess Sakura finally sat down on the ground, waiting without hope for one of them to surrender.
A sudden colored blur of motion broke the silence. With a squeal, a prysmatically colored young woman appeared and latched herself onto the Lord of Hades fiercely. "Iris!" Hades shouted. "Get off of me!"
The rainbow messenger fluttered her giant butterfly wings coquettishly while attempting to maintain her grip on the god. "Touya," she cooed. "I've missed you! Aren't you happy to see me?"
The Lord of the Underworld glared. "Do you have a message for me, Iris?" he growled.
"No, no message," she said with flirtation.
"Then why are you here?" Touya interrogated with exasperation.
"Oh, just to announce…" the colorful girl purred, leaning in to his face seductively, "…your visitor."
A vision of light filled the orchard, and Kythere appeared. She floated into the clearing with a spangle of stars shining around her like a crown, and when her feet touched the ground, flowers began to spring up. They were delicate wildflowers, their frilled petals a rich pink color, and they perfumed the air with the vanilla scent of wild carnations. The goddess of Love had the guise of a young woman with flowing waves of hair and amused green eyes. When she spoke, her voice was musical. "Hello, Touya," she said. She then strode toward the Erote. "Hello, Yue," she said.
"Mother," Anteros said, his surprize apparent.
"Welcome, Kythere," said Lord Hades brittlely. "What brings you to my home?"
The goddess crouched by Sakura. "This one," Kythere explained. "Don't be afraid of me, my dearest Daughter," she said, "my most dutiful Sakura." She stood up again and looked at the Lord of the Dead. "I know it's breaking your rules, but you won't refuse me if I ask for her return, will you?" she petitioned sweetly. "You already have my son. Perhaps you could give me back my Daughter."
Hades looked like he might argue, but in the end his words held only an edge of sharpness. "Who can refuse you, oh goddess?" he rhetorically asked. "Take her, if you like. She will return to me eventually."
"You have my thanks," said Kythere. "Well, then," she continued, taking the girl priestess by the hand, "Amor Vincit Omnia. Lead the way, Iris." The butterfly-winged woman finally freed Touya from her tenacious embrace and danced ahead, with a spectral aurora for a shadow. With a final look toward her son, and Sakura in her protection, Kythere followed after the rainbow messenger.
Yue began to follow, but stopped. Without preamble, he changed his form and, as Eros, walked back into Touya's arms. "We won't be parted long," he assured his lover.
Touya pulled Yukito into a tender kiss. "The nights are getting shorter and the days are getting longer," he said afterward.
"We'll have to renegotiate in autumn," said the Erote. "I have to go now," he sighed merrily. "My mother is waiting."
Author's notes: Things you might want to know
Kythere is another, little used, name for Aphrodite, the goddess of Love. She is associated with doves, sparrows, and rabbits. The myrtle is sacred to her. That is Nadeshiko, by the way; her actual flower is a "wild pink", but it looks like a wild carnation. I chose not to use the name "Aphrodite" because I felt that it was too well known.
She is the mother of the Erotes, winged young men that are the representations of love.
Eros (Cupid) is the god of passionate love. [Yukito]
Anteros is the god of unrequited love. [Yue] This is sometimes said to be "mutual love", but there seemed to be more evidence in favor of "unrequited love" when I was brushing up on my mythology.
I have used elements of several myths, including the story of Aeneis in Hades, the kidnapping (or was it?) of Persephone, Orpheus and Euridice, Cupid and Psyche, Echo and Narcissus. That's Tartarus, not Hade's palace, that scares Sakura. Medjool dates are really good; I highly recommend them with a walnut half in place of the pit. Iris [Ruby Moon] is a less important messenger of the gods than Hermes, and she uses the rainbow as her path to her destinations.
Amor Vincit Omnia = Love Conquers All
Look for Madoushi. Fujitaka should be obvious. Priestesses are Naoko, Rika, and Chiharu. I was being intentionally silly with this story. In a story full of gods, I could not resist the Deus ex Machina ending.