Disclaimer: I don't own Escaflowne.


Chapter 35 – The Way of All Things

Persephone sat in front of the dressing table in the bedroom for wives in the Underworld. Her neck was finally healed. Hades had been with her for the past month nursing her and his help aided her recovery like lightning. Now it was late April and the two of them were preparing for her last journey down the river Acharon.

Looking in the mirror, Persephone saw herself maybe for the first time in centuries. She wasn't sure if she even looked this way a month ago. Her red hair had lightened so much it could only be described as strawberry blonde now. It was so long, even with her curls, it reached her waist. They bounced when she walked. Her skin was changed, too. Now it glowed like health, like strength. Although these changes were amazing, it was her eyes that made the real change in her appearance. Forget emeralds – her eyes were like peridot.

Sitting at the dressing table, she had been trying to blot down her appearance so she looked less like a goddess, but it was a lost cause. She couldn't hide the brilliance no matter how much powder she put on her face.

She smiled and spooned a dollop of cream from her pumpkin pie into her mouth.

Then she saw Hades behind her. He looked different, too. His hair was still white. His eyes were still red. But he'd stopped blowing smoke and instead of moving like a deathly vapor he walked like a man who had been freed from some terrible burden. Persephone liked this side of him, but like he said, she wasn't the one who made this version of him appear. So even though she could appreciate a portion of him, she wasn't the one who was going to enjoy the fullness of him. That was for someone else.

"Are you ready?" he asked. Since they were going to Earth, he was wearing casual clothes.

She smiled at him in the mirror. "I'm going to finish eating this first."

"Be my guest," he said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed and waiting for her as she ate.

"So, what do you plan to do after you've escorted me back to the surface?" she asked shyly. She knew his affairs were no longer her business, but she wanted to ask in a friendly sort of way.

"If you must know, I plan to pay a visit to Celena. I want to see how she's doing with that idiot brother of hers. I hope he's being good to her."

Persephone smiled. "And if he isn't, even though you can't send him to Hell you could certainly limit the amount of damage he could do by cutting his life short."

"True," Hades said roguishly. "But, even if he is a pain in the ass – his parents still love him. I think that even if he were to break their hearts a thousand times, it would be less painful than the way I would break it killing him once. I'll just let him screw up. Besides, what I learned taking his life is more valuable than the damage he will do."

"Are you sure?"

"Don't discount natural consequences, my dear. If he's too much of a monster, the chances are good someone else will take him out for me."

Persephone nodded and put the bottle that held the last two seeds in her bag.

"What do you want to do with that?" Hades asked.

"I thought I'd give it to Celena as a present."

"But if she swallows one, she'll end up here in the Underworld for one month of the year."

"Yeah." Persephone smiled.

She put down her plate and they got up to leave.

Persephone was in a different kind of mood as they walked through the house. She walked through the bath with her pants on.

"Aren't you worried about getting wet?"

"Nah," she said. "I want to give this place a proper goodbye, so I won't miss it."

Hades shook his head like he thought she was crazy, but laughed out loud when she dipped her fingers in the chocolate fountain.

She licked them with gusto. "Is it true that you have a promise from Zeus to collect on?"

"Yes."

"What are you going to ask for?"

"Immortality."

Persephone smiled sadly and shook the seeds in her bag. "Then she won't need these."

"I'm sure she'd like to have them anyway," Hades said reassuringly. "It would make her feel better to have your blessing."

"I'll have to let her know the wonders she worked with my husband. It wouldn't be right if I kept you after the transformation she performed on you."

"No. It wouldn't." Hades was serious.

After he said that, Persephone had no desire to bask in the Underworld. She wanted to hurry up and get her fingerprints out of there so that Celena could move in happily – without guilt.

Just before they stepped out onto the dock, Persephone heard a whimper from the shadows. She turned and saw six red eyes peering out from the darkness.

"Come here," she whispered and Cerberus came into full view.

His middle face had healed since their fight, but he was missing a tiny line of fur in two places across his forehead. He licked her hand with his middle face, but the face that bit her kept his head to the ground.

Persephone got on her knees and stroked his head. "I'm sorry."

He whimpered. He seemed to say that he was the one who should be sorry.

Hades rolled his eyes and sneered, "How could you be a bad dog? You followed your master's orders since you didn't let her leave. Then you followed your mistress's orders by biting her." Then he added more gently, "You are a perfect dog."

Persephone nodded. Then she kissed each of his furry heads and said goodbye.

At the mouth of the river Charon was waiting for them in his boat. Persephone stood on the dock and pulled out her money. "You know, Charon," she said. "Since this is my very last ride, I was wondering if you could answer one question for me."

He looked at her with bored eyes. "You might as well."

She held her coin poised in her hand. "What do you need the money for?"

He sighed. "I'll only tell you after you give me your fare."

Persephone dropped the coins in his open palm and got on board. Hades followed her and for the first time, they sat together in the seat at the back.

Charon kept his face pointed towards the bow. "My daughter was stolen by a Japanese demon, over two thousand years ago. He's been holding her at a ridiculous ransom. For ages, I wasn't able to pay it. Then I started this and it has taken me what has felt like a hundred lifetimes to earn enough to get her back." Then he turned around and looked back at Persephone. "The money you just gave me is the last of the money I need."

Persephone gasped. She jumped up to hug him, but Hades held her firmly in her seat.

"Thank you, milord, for holding her down. I don't like being touched."

Hades smiled. "Don't mention it. What do you plan on doing now that you've earned it all?"

"I imagine I'll keep doing this. Over the years there have been a great many things I have wanted to buy and haven't wanted to spare the money. Everything has been for her. So, I'll stay here and do this – probably for ever."

Persephone struggled free and turned to Hades. "And you knew this all along? Why didn't you give him the money?"

"I gave him a job," Hades rebutted. "And frankly, he needed more money than a god could give. The amount that demon wanted was an amount intended to never be paid. He wasn't trying to be greedy. He was trying to get Charon to give up on his daughter, but if the demon won't make good on his deal now – I'll crush him."

Persephone nodded. "All right. I accept that."

"As you should."

At the end of the ride, Persephone got out on the shore. She had one or two more things she wanted to say to Charon, but he had already turned away without a wave or a backward glance.

Persephone sighed and she and Hades headed towards the university.

***

Quad was basically empty at the end of the semester. Exams were over and there were only a few random trailers waiting around to receive their grades.

"Celena's in the Occult's Addict club room," Persephone announced as she scanned the area. "Do you mind if I go there with you? I'd like to give her my small present."

Hades stretched out his hand to say that she should go first and they started walking.

"Do you think you'll still use your palace under the sea or are you planning to move it back to Olympus?"

Persephone smiled. "I don't know. I have to go back there to do my work, but it's such a chore. Olympians are so boring and everywhere I go I see Aphrodite and the very sight of her makes my blood boil."

"Still mad about Adonis?" Hades asked lazily.

She pursed her lips together angrily. "Yeah, I am. He lived with us for so long. We were his guardians. I was practically his mother and his name was even sealed in the book of necromancy and then she had to insist on joint-guardianship and then she seduced him. That whore!"

"No one's arguing that Aphrodite is the filthiest slut that was ever stepped on dry soil," Hades commented drolly. "Still, I don't know what there is to get worked up about. I never liked him."

"That's because his time in the Underworld disrupted our time to quarrel," she said dismissively.

"Perhaps," he chuckled.

They got in the elevator and it took them up to the student group offices.

"Wait out here, while I go in first," Persephone said as she tapped on the door.

"Come in," Celena called, but her voice sounded strained.

When Persephone went in, she saw that Celena was white as a sheet. She was that surprised to see her. "What?" Persephone asked playfully. "You didn't expect to see me?"

"No," Celena answered, turning her chair to look at Persephone in amazement. "I didn't expect to see you or Hades ever again."

Persephone smiled. "Actually, I come bearing exquisite news. Hades has removed my last pomegranate seed of his own will and our marriage is consequently dissolved."

Celena stared like she had just got her life's ambition, Christmas, her birthday, and her wedding day all in one sentence. Persephone had never seen such joy on a person's face. The expression only lasted a moment though before her whole face wrinkled up and she began to cry.

"Don't cry, honey," Persephone said, putting her arm around Celena's shoulder. "It's all right. Everything is all right. And besides, I brought a present for you – three presents actually."

Celena grabbed a tissue out of the box on the desk and blew her nose. "What?"

"This," Persephone pulled the little bottle containing her remaining pomegranate seeds out of her bag and gave it to Celena. "These are two of my presents. If you eat these you will be forced to spend two months of the year in the Underworld."

"Wait! Were these yours?" Celena gasped.

"Yes, but don't be afraid of them. They still work."

"Thank you," Celena sobbed, taking the bottle.

"You're welcome. My third present is waiting outside that door."

Celena's eyes flew open. "You don't mean he's here, right now?"

"Yes." Persephone suddenly hugged Celena. "You know, it's partly because of you that he decided to let me go. He said that you and your parents taught him something about love that he never learned with me. He loves you. And I owe you a debt of gratitude that I can never repay. Thank you. With all my heart – thank you." Persephone squeezed her one last time, and then she pulled away. "I have to go. Hades is waiting and I don't want to make him wait any longer than I have to. He's changed so much and been so kind to me. It's better if I don't monopolize his favourite girl's time. Goodbye."

Persephone smiled and waved from the door and then went out. She closed the door between them.

"I guess this is goodbye to you, too," she said, looking into Hades' red eyes.

"Yeah," he said, pulling her into a hug.

They didn't hug for longer than a second before both of them pulled away simultaneously.

"I'll see you around, somewhere," he said breezily, like their goodbye didn't mean much.

"Yeah." She smiled. "And I'll tell you what – if it's a New Year's party – I'll even kiss you at midnight."

"You're too generous," he said sardonically. "Now get out of here. You're cramping my style."

He pushed her into the elevator and waved as the doors closed between them.

Persephone took the elevator all the way down to the Safewalk office. She knew Van was there wrapping up some loose ends.

As she passed through the doors, she remembered the time she waited forty-five minutes outside his office and he didn't come out. Hopefully, today would be different.

Inside, Merle was sitting on one of the sofas. Her appearance had changed when her curse was lifted. Now she looked like she was one quarter nymph and it was a sight to behold. A siren was a dark creature with dead-white skin and sorrowful eyes, but a nymph was full of play and mischief. To do her credit, there were literally eight young men paying her homage and Merle was soaking up every bit of the attention like it was her birthright.

However, Merle's attractions didn't stop all of their eight heads from practically swiveling off their shoulders when Persephone entered the room. Luckily, Merle wasn't jealous and she jumped right up to greet her goddess.

"Van's in there. He's training the new Safewalk director, but the hottie is off at lunch right now, so Van's all alone."

"Thanks Merle," Persephone said as she stepped past all of them to stand in the doorframe of Van's office.

His head was bent over his computer.

"I keep having this dream," she said lazily.

Van's head jolted up.

Persephone smiled. He looked different, too. The pale skin was long gone and he had the most gorgeous golden tan. Merle may have had eight suitors, but Persephone wondered how Van had managed to make it to his office that morning without causing a ruckus. It was probably worse than when he sang outside her dormitory.

"Can I tell you about it?" she asked with a gleam in her eye.

"Tell me everything," Van said, getting up from his chair. A glorious smile was spreading wide on his lips.

She kicked the door shut and said, "I'm lying on a beach and the sun is just setting, the stars are just appearing. There's a bonfire beside me and a coarse woolen blanket under me. I've been eating peach slices and I've danced so hard my breath is fast. That's why I'm lying on the blanket – to catch my breath." Persephone leaned over his desk and looked in his face. "Then I realize that a dark stranger is watching me and as I open my eyes I realize that I've let him sneak up on me. He's standing over me, and I have this overwhelming desire to make love to him. Do you think I need to see a doctor?"

"Definitely not," Van said, closing the distance between them and tenderly claiming her lips with his. "You're not sick. You're finally seeing things my way." He moved around the desk in one motion and slipping his hands around her waist he lifted her up on the desk.

Van's kiss was warm and as he deepened it, Persephone realized that she wasn't going to faint. She wasn't going to disappear into a dream world that would remind her of the reality she was trying to escape from. For the first time she found herself in a situation where the moment she lived in was good. There was no waiting for a happily-ever-after. It was here. She wasn't pretending she was free to love who she wanted. She wasn't keeping her hands to herself for her lover's protection. None of that was necessary because she was perfectly free.

And Van's kiss was better than the one in her memory. He no longer wanted her blood. He didn't want anyone's blood. He was just as free as she was and it was magnificent.

She pulled away and looked into his sherry-brown eyes. "So, when can we get out of here?"

"Soon. I just need to finish training my replacement."

Just then the door came crashing open and a striking blond young man came stumbling in. Persephone's blood ran cold as she slipped off the desk.

"Please don't come in like that. Sephie, this is Allen Schezar," Van said gallantly.

"Allen, huh?" Persephone said icily as she inspected his long hair and curious expression. Van didn't know who he was, but no amount of cover-up could conceal his true identity from her eyes. He was Adonis. "Fun alias. I thought you were dead. When I get through with you, you'll wish you were dead." Then, for the very first time, Persephone conjured a whip out of thin air.

Allen's face turned pale as he recognized her. "I'm interrupting," he said, putting his hands up in a surrender pose. "I should never have barged in here. I should go." In a flash, he was out of sight.

Persephone was about to chase after him, but Van grabbed the whip out of her poised fingers. "Now this may be a lot to ask, but you're going to have to stop being the Goddess of the Underworld and start being the goddess of something a little higher."

"What?" she asked angrily as she reached for her weapon.

Van held her at arm's length. "Life."

Persephone felt herself deflate.

Van put his arm around her and rubbed the small of her back. "So, just let that guy go – whoever he is. We'll start again. We'll run off together and make ourselves into the perfect match."

Persephone pouted. "So, what do you want to do with the whip? I don't know how to put it back."

Van smiled. "We'll keep it. I might find it useful the next time some arrogant brat decides to fall in love with you. I'm not a god anyway, so I can do what I like."

Persephone rolled her eyes. "Being a goddess never stopped me from doing what I wanted."

"That's what I like to hear," Van murmured into her ear. "Let's go. If that guy is an acquaintance of yours, he can probably handle the job without any more instruction. And we've got to get moving. I don't know if you noticed, but we're not anywhere near a beach."

The End


Author's Notes: IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FAR AND HAVEN'T REVIEWED YET, PLEASE REVIEW NOW SINCE WE'RE AT THE END OF THE STORY.Okay, thanks to everyone who has been reviewing or who has reviewed. All right, so my forum is still up and you can access it via 'Shivering Wings' on my profile page. And check out my profile later on for information about my upcoming projects. Thanks to everyone who has supported me through this story.