Chapter 16:

The older maid's name was Nera, and she was almost exhaustingly enthusiastic about their queen's return to the Underworld. The other one – Oenone – was much quieter, but Kore had caught her smiling a few times. Nera, at any rate, didn't seem to be able to acknowledge that Kore had no memory of the Underworld. She was chattering on and on (there was a lot of chattering going on lately, Kore was noticing – was it a Greek thing?) about new additions to the serving staff, to replace those who had gone on to their rebirth, and the proposed extension to the judge's chamber, and didn't Milady Persephone look so lovely with her hair braided like that around her crown? Kore was doing a lot of nodding and smiling, trying to be friendly, and it seemed to suffice for Nera.

It was more that half an hour before she was primped and polished to the maids' satisfaction (her dressed having been dusted off and non-tacky jewelry affixed to her ears). They pushed her out the door without further ado, so that she nearly ran into Hades.

He looked like he'd been waiting a while. "I'd forgotten how much they dote on you. I should have known better than to expect you to be ready in a few minutes. What do you think of them?"

"Nera…talks…a fair amount," Kore said carefully, trying to be diplomatic. "Maybe it was just because I was gone for so long…"

"No, that's just Nera," Hades chucked ruefully. "There are rumors that her own children poisoned her just for the sake of quiet." Kore looked horrified and he immediately fell over himself trying to explain. "No, see, that was a joke, sorry, it wasn't that funny, I mean, you develop a kind of morbid sense of humor down here - "

Kore burst out laughing. "I was messing with you. I'm not that horrified. Hades…" she paused, looking for the right words. "I think you need to loosen up a little around me. I'm here for the two weeks, at least, I'm not going to be running away." 'I couldn't,' she thought to herself, 'I don't know how we got here.' "So you shouldn't worry so much about doing everything 'perfect', or whatever."

He looked at her for a few seconds, and then smiled, wide. "That sounds like you, Seph. You have no idea how happy that makes me."

She shrugged, a little embarrassed and a little happy that he was happy. "Well, I just don't want to have to spend another afternoon playing dress-up under the bed, you know?"

"Yeah, I figured that." They started walking down the corridor, to the dining room, she assumed.

"It's dusty under there," she reminded him.

"Oh, believe me, I know. The staff never seems to get around to cleaning underneath the furniture. I guess they don't expect immortals to be crawling around on the floor…"

"Hey, I wouldn't have had to do that if you hadn't been all weird - "

"Oh, so now I'm weird? Is that it? Nice way to talk to your husband."

She simply laughed and followed him through the door to their dinner.

For some reason, the awkwardness that had plagued the two of them earlier in the day had dissipated. Probably, Kore mused, it was because they had realized that there was really nothing for them to do but pretend it wasn't at all awkward. She was relieved. Since Menthe had run off earlier (where was that nymph anyway?), Hades was really the only source of company she had. Well, there was Nera, but that woman was a little too similar to her mother to be in her top choices.

But they had managed to talk throughout the meal. Hades asked her about her life on Earth, and she found herself reminiscing about her high school friends as if she had last seen them years ago instead of months. And then, tentatively, Kore had asked about the Underworld. She'd avoided the subject she was most deeply interested it – that is, her personal relationship with Hades – but generic questions about the running of a kingdom seemed safe enough. He was more than happy to wax poetic about the different realms in his world, promising to take her to visit each and every one during the next two weeks.

And maybe it wouldn't be too bad, she thought. They had moved out into the courtyard for a dessert of honey cakes and figs. Her eyes were adjusting to the constant darkness and she could now make out more nuances in the landscape. It wasn't a barren, flat land at all. Beyond the immediate gardens (for there were gardens around the palace, and she was looking forward to inspecting them properly in the morning) (oh, that was a thought. How did they know when it was morning here?), there were rolling hills covered in the same pale green stuff she'd seen from her window. Beyond them, a valley, mountains, and the eerie pale glow. Hades had told her the light came from the Elysian Fields, where the good went to live out their afterlives until their reincarnations.

It was almost beautiful, in its own way. She could understand why someone might be drawn to it. Why someone might choose to stay and rule over it, even if it meant giving up half a life in the sun.

"Are you tired?"

His voice broke her from her thoughts, and she realized that they'd been sitting in a companionable silence for quite some time. Kore nodded, and yawned. "How do you guys keep track of days and nights and stuff down here?"


Huh. So that wasn't a huge mystery, at any rate. She shrugged and accepted his hand as he held it out to her. Not because she didn't think she could find her way back to her room – the palace was already starting to seem fairly familiar to her – but because she found she simply wanted to hold his hand. It was comforting. It felt right, to have to her hand clasped in his as they strolled through the halls of their home.

She didn't object when he kissed her goodnight again, not even in her head afterwards, when he had gone and she was tucked into the soft black sheets of her bed. In fact, she replayed the kiss over and over again as she was falling asleep. Like the warmth of his hand around hers, it was familiar and comforting.

She thought, as she drifted off, that she might find herself liking Hades much more than she had originally thought.

A/N: Um...hi!

I'm back! I bet you never expected to hear from me again, did you? Pretty much I just hate leaving things unfinished and I found myself randomly looking at this story again this evening and realizing that I rather wanted to finish it. We'll see how it goes. My profile explains the situation more

Anyway, this is kind of a filler chapter, to help me start to get back into the feel of the story (it's been TWO YEARS since I last wrote anything for it, and that's a loooong time). Not a lot happening, shorter than usual. I'm traveling for two weeks as of tomorrow, so I won't be able to write again at least till the end of July. But you might expect to see an update again this summer.

Love to all who are reading this, and especially to those who care to review!