"You're wrong!" the flaxen-haired girl said. "I know all about the act of love."

She was met with a sardonic laugh, tenor and melodic, coming from behind her as a hand brushed over her exposed breast. Its owner circled her and spun around, a chlamys draped across one shoulder, his only garment. "Oh, Elektra…"

"Voleta," she pouted.

"Voleta. My apologies," he said, pulling the fibula pin from a brooch with a stylized theta etched on its surface. It clanged on the floor like a bell. The black fabric followed it, slinking off his shoulders to revealing his pale, smooth frame. His black hair was cropped short. Piercing silver eyes stared out of a flawless, angelic face. "You know nothing about the act, other than which parts fit together. It's why you came to me so readily. You're curious."

"But, the Great Lady—"

"Yes, yes… Hecate sent you to some village or another for the great rite of hieros gamos," he finished for her. "And then some noble youth climbed up your body and squirted inside you to bless the planting of the fields, or founding of a city, or what have you…"

Voleta gaped up at him, shocked at his flippancy. He ignored her and continued.

"And because of this, you think you know anything about the act of love," his smiling face came within inches of hers. He slid a finger under her chin and pushed up. "The first thing I'm going to teach you is to never open your mouth like that unless you intend to use it."

"I came to you because I saw you and wanted you," she said indignantly. "Our Lady said that after the rites we could have as many men as we like as long as we are mutually fulfilled."

He laughed again. "And do you have the faintest idea what she was talking about?"

Voleta bit her lip.

"Well despite your ignorance, your Lady is at least right about that," he said, pushing Voleta back against the sheets with a finger, "and I intend to make good on it. Allow me to educate you."

"And what is it about you that makes you such an expert on something meant to create life, anyway? You're—"

Voleta's breath hitched as the beat of large, black-plumed wings guttered the flames of the oil lamps and fanned her hot skin. She saw them in full for the first time as he stretched them, their span spreading into the darkness of his room, eclipsing the lamps. Voleta suddenly felt very small.

She wavered again. "Y-you're…"

"Death," Thanatos finished for her

[A/N: Scene abridged to comply with site guidelines and FOSTA/SESTA. For the full scene, please visit my website or visit Receiver of Many on AO3.]

Aidoneus knew as soon as he rounded the corner to the hallway outside Thanatos's apartment that Death was entertaining a guest. The sounds of female pleasure, half-hearted protestations, and full-throated exclamations were barely muffled by the heavy ebony door. Every so often, the noises were interrupted by soft cajoling and hard, lascivious words from the Minister of Death. Aidoneus slowed his pace.

He had passed by this room under these circumstances many times over the aeons and had kept walking, bitten his tongue, and rarely voiced his opinion of his friend's private life. As long as he did his job, and didn't flagrantly disregard the rules or create discord, Aidon figured that Thanatos could be left to his own vices.

But today the sounds echoing from his Minister's chambers made his blood burn. He had known those pleasures, or at least had a taste of them. He thought about his wife, the very subject he'd come to discuss, and wavered next to the door, wondering if he should reconsider. The crescendo of noise on the other side only heightened his frustrations. Enough of this, he thought. He gave a slight knock against the frame.


Impatient, Aidoneus clenched his jaw and rapped loudly on the door.

He withdrew, the muscles of his stomach clenching as his wings curved over his shoulders.


He hushed her with a glare, holding a finger outstretched toward her. Thanatos gasped for breath and turned his head toward the door. "Who is it?"

"Open the door."

Thanatos spun back toward Voleta and smacked her lightly on the rump. "Get up."


"Do you have any idea who I'm making wait outside that door right now?" he whispered to her. "Lord Hades Aidoneus."

Her eyes grew as wide as the full moon as she scrambled off the bed, picking up her soiled chiton and wrapping it around her. Thanatos slung his chlamys over his shoulder again, pinning it in place.

The door finally opened. Aidoneus watched a blonde woman dart past, barely nodding her head to him, a quick 'milord' escaping her lips as she ran. He heard her bare feet pad down the stone hallway as he entered his minister's chamber. Aidoneus closed the door behind him, wrinkling his nose at the heavy smell of sex hanging in the air.

"My lord," Thanatos said with a slight bow, adjusting the draped fabric under the base of his wings. "I would apologize—"

"I don't expect you to," he said. Thanatos lit a censer next to his bed and sat down to catch his breath. The smell of pennyroyal and wormwood started to cover the scent of the Minister of Death's latest conquest. "Who was she?"

Thanatos looked at the ceiling, mouthing names as he thought back. Phaedra, Elektra, Voleta… "Voleta," he finally said.

"One of Hecate's Lampades nymphs?"

"I think so," he said with a shrug.

"Thanatos, please tell me she wasn't a new initiate. That you know a little more about her than barely remembering her first name," Aidoneus said as he looked for a place to sit. He squinted at the surface of a chair near the bed, making sure it was clean before he leaned back into it.

"I'm not an idiot," he laughed. "The only ones I take to my bed have already undergone the hieros gamos. The white witch would make my cock disappear if I touched any of her virgin initiates."

"Hecate's none too happy with you having them once they return, either."

"They come to me willingly, and she's none too happy with me in the first place, whether I fuck them or not." He leaned back with a smile and a sigh. "I swear by the Fates, Aidon, I found this one already standing in my chambers when I got back. It was almost adorable how she tried to seduce me. She just looked at me and pulled the pins on her chiton before I even shut the door," he guffawed, then grew quiet, watching Aidon blush. Thanatos leaned in closer to him. "Now that's new!"

"What is?"

"In all the aeons I have known you, the only reaction you ever had to hearing about the women I've fucked has been disapproval."

"It still is," he said, cocking an eyebrow at his minister's vulgarity.

"Yes, but there's more now! Your chief concern was always about how my behavior might cause problems with Hecate. I couldn't even get you to blink when I talked about sex. But now," he said with a smile, "our new little queen has changed you."

Aidon's lips thinned and he looked at the ground. "I suppose."

"And that's not a bad thing." Thanatos grew serious, the constant smile finally leaving his face. "I take it you didn't come here to talk about Voleta or Hecate?"

Aidoneus shut his eyes. Every day at dusk he had come to Persephone as she looked out over the shifting colors of the river. Each time, he would take her to bed, reenacting their night three weeks ago. When he made love to her, he would extinguish the lights and just feel the press of hot skin, listen to her ragged breathing and sharp cries of pleasure as she held him ever closer. Tangled together in the dark of her room, he could feel passion and joy. But as soon as their embrace ended, her fear and sadness would return with a shiver. When it was over, he knew it wasn't love she felt for him— just a potent mix of desire and fear. With the lamps doused, at least he couldn't look into her eyes and know it.

"Aidon?" Thanatos said, watching sadness wash across his friend's face.

"It's becoming unbearable," he started slowly. "I love her."

Thanatos snorted and shook his head. "If you're coming to me for advice on love, I'm the wrong person to give it."

"My experience with women begins and ends with her. Yours, however— Honestly, Thanatos, how many have you had?"

"Gods, I don't know. How many days has it been since Prometheus handed fire to those fools?"

"You mean to tell me that you've been with one woman each day since…"

"At least, if I can help it; and you can't blame me for trying! My job isn't exactly pleasant, you know. I need diversions, and you don't allow wine down here. Or ergot kykeon— a barley mead hallucination would do me good, just once in awhile." Thanatos cleared his throat. "So when someone sees through that hideous shell I become in the mortal world, and wants me all the same, I give them what they want. It's only fair if it's someone's last request. Wouldn't you agree?"

Aidon narrowed his eyes. "No, I wouldn't. These women throw themselves at you thinking that you'll find it in your heart to save them from… you."

"Entirely untrue. I tell each of them plainly what is about to happen to them and why I'm there. They know there's no going back; I only show them how sweet death can be," he smiled.

"All the same, I don't understand the appeal. I thought you would have gotten bored with it and settled down by now."

Thanatos laughed. "You're talking to me, remember? It's hard to settle down when you make a habit of never fucking a girl twice. Believe me, I only had to make that mistake with the one."

"Dare I ask who?"

"Eris," he muttered.

Aidon curled his lip. "Eris?!"

"Multiple times. Sometimes I still— I can't help myself. She's just…" he looked off into the distance and whistled low, running his hand through his hair. "Look— crazy women make for an amazing lay."

"I wouldn't know."

"My dalliances aren't what you came to talk about, in any event," Thanatos said, "This is supposed to be about you. Now, my king, what advice could you want from your humble minister on matters of love, knowing full well that I'm only interested in love's counterpart?"

He was silent for a moment, deciding whether or not this was even a good idea. Thanatos waited.

"Sex itself is hardly a problem for us," he said quietly.

"Really!" Thanatos smiled and leaned forward, his wings relaxing and spreading out behind him. With a glare from Hades they snapped back. "I mean no disrespect to our queen, of course. I'm just glad for you."

"This isn't easy for me to speak about," he said, looking away.

"The door is shut, and nothing will travel beyond it. You can speak plainly to me, Aidon," he said seriously, the smile gone from his face.

Aidoneus squeezed his temples with his fingers and began again. "That part of our lives is… it's wonderful. Incredible, really. But it's all we have right now."

"Then keep it as it is," he said with a shrug. "So many men would dream to have even that."

"But that's not what I want. I can't keep doing this in perpetuity."

"So what is it that you want from her?"

"I want her to want me to be more than just her lover." Aidoneus paused, frowning. "I want to be her husband. I want her to be my wife; my queen."

"Well, sorry to say, you can't will her to love you, or make her love you with what both of you are doing right now."

Hades looked down and ran his hand back through his hair again.

"Aidon, it's not as dire as you seem to think."

"No?" he snapped. "I know I can't make her love me, or trust me, but Persephone can't bring herself to do either." He stood up and turned toward the door, muttering to himself. "This is foolish. I should just take your advice, and enjoy the way things are now. She is my consort; she's ready and willing for me when I go to her, and I should just be content with that."

"Wait," Thanatos said. "Stay. You just said 'trust'. How much trust do you put in her, exactly?"

"I don't understand."

"Well, from what I hear, our little queen has been wandering in circles around familiar parts of the palace for the last few weeks, either with Hecate, or to the garden with Askalaphos and Cerberus. Where were you?"

"This realm doesn't run itself—"

"Except for at night when you're with her, you mean."

"What is your point, Thanatos?" he bristled.

"That it's hardly a question of her trusting you. How much do you trust her? How much of our world has she seen?"

Aidon sat down again. "The last time I took her anywhere, she ran away from me and straight into the Lethe. I almost lost her."

"She'd only been here for a matter of hours, and from what I heard from Menoetes, your big black three-headed puppy gave her quite a scare."

"I keep her in the palace to protect her."

"Like Demeter did?"

Aidoneus glared at him.

Thanatos stood firm. "Put some trust in her, Aidon."


"I don't know. I'm sure the situation will arise if you actually spend time with her outside her bedroom."

Aidon sat there, absorbing his friend's advice. For all Persephone knew, traveling beyond the palace would bring the same pain she had experienced at the Lethe.

I just worry that it will take the same aeons for me to fall in love with it as it did for you…

If she was ever going to love him, she would also have to love the land he ruled— the place that bore his very name in the world above. "I'll speak with Charon. The best view of our realm is from the Styx."

"There's a start. Now, as to the real reason you came here…"

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, please, Aidoneus, if you wanted to talk about women and love you could have gone to Mother Nyx or even Hermes when he comes down here."

Color started to rise into his cheeks. "My biggest concern was discussed. Anything else is… incidental."

"Hardly; you said so yourself. 'How many women have I had?' The reason you came to me was to talk about how you can better please your queen."

Aidon felt heat rush to his face and saw a smile curl his friend's lips again. "Well—"

"I thought so," Thanatos said, leaning back and clearing his throat. "Lesson the first: in every way imaginable, know every inch of each other…"

She felt different. Persephone stood in front of the polished hematite mirror, turning this way and that, examining her figure under the long peplos in the glow of the oil lamps. Her hair was darker; thicker. She could dismiss that change— it may have been the darkness of the mirror's reflection itself. Her hips flared out more than before, and effortlessly held up a jeweled girdle, another gift from her husband.

She cupped and shaped her hands under her breasts. That definitely wasn't from the reflection. Her cheekbones were more pronounced. Persephone sucked in her cheeks, rounded and girlish three weeks ago, and saw the face of a woman staring back at her.

The changes grew more noticeable every passing day. After wandering into the Lethe, she had slept on and off for almost three days, according to Aidoneus and Hecate. It took a great deal of time to adjust to the opposite schedule of this world. Day was night, and night was day.

Persephone would stand at the balcony when the river Styx started to change color at dusk, her knees shaking, knowing that Aidon would come to her. As the river darkened, she could feel his presence beside her. His arms would wrap around her waist as they stood silently, watching the last light of the daytime dance across the water. His hands would caress her skin, running across her arms and her hips, curving over her breasts and thighs until her body ached with need and she turned to kiss him. Each night he would carry her into her room as he had after they first watched the sun set three weeks ago.

Before he extinguished all light in her room, she would watch his face as long as the flicker of the lamps allowed, his eyes filled with a longing that went beyond desire and pleasure. Persephone would surrender to him in a tangle of embracing limbs, alive, afraid, reaching, and fulfilled, then listen to his breathing as he held her to his chest until she fell asleep.

I love you… She had said it first. She had lost hold of her memories for the moment, but she had said it just the same. She couldn't bring herself to say it again.

Last night, strange dreams of winding branches, growing leaves, and buds preparing to blossom alternated with visions of her home in Eleusis and nightmares of a widening maw of dark fire. She had cried out in her sleep and jolted awake to feel him rocking her back and forth, stroking her forehead. He whispered to her, tender words in the dark to soothe her back to sleep. It was only once she closed her eyes again and started drifting off that he whispered to her that he loved her. But when first light woke her that morning, just as it had every morning, he was already gone. She wanted him to stay, but how could she ask? The next time she saw him it would be for the nearly silent ritual they played out every night in her bed.

Hecate accompanied her each day. She toured the palace and gardens with Persephone, explaining the myriad complex rules of the underworld by way of hints and riddles. During those first few days walking with Hecate, Persephone thought her mind was playing tricks with her, echoing the cryptic words of the selenite-crowned goddess. But Hecate had in fact aged rapidly before her very eyes, her brilliant red hair streaking with more and more silver every day. Her pale skin grew wrinkled and fragile. Their walks grew shorter and slower. Three days ago, she had stopped visiting Persephone entirely.

When she asked Askalaphos the gardener what had happened, he simply shrugged. "She just does that," he said, then returned to carefully pruning the poplar trees. For weeks Persephone had tried with all her might to make a flower, any flower, grow here. Even the flowers already rooted in the ground wouldn't respond to her. She'd spent several days in a row trying to open just one asphodel before eventually giving up, deciding that these flowers were as dead as everything else here, and that the life-giving powers she had spent aeons perfecting in the world above had no effect on them. Askalaphos wasn't any help there either, shrugging once more and telling Persephone that making the flowers grow down here was his job.

When he wasn't busy harassing the sheep and chasing down wandering souls, Cerberus had taken to trotting up to Persephone as soon as she reached the portico. Persephone had nearly trained him out of bothering Menoetes's herd by asking Askalaphos to fashion her a large stick out of one of the smaller poplar branches. Cerberus had gone tearing after it each time, tongues lolling out of his three mouths and after he dutifully brought it back to her. His long tail would wag and inevitably crush the asphodel in the garden, to Askalaphos's chagrin, until she threw it again. The herd of black sheep grew every day. Menoetes himself said that he'd never seen so many offerings from the world above as he'd seen in the last two weeks.

A rustle of cloth interrupted her thoughts.

"My queen?" a small voice said from the doorway.

Persephone startled and turned around to see a young girl with strawberry blonde hair staring back at her. Her hair was crowned in selenite beads and her white peplos draped and gathered over her hips and hung to the floor, worn as if she were an adult. A half moon hung on her forehead.

"H-Hecate? Is that you?"

"Yes, I'm me! It's very nice to see you again, Persephone," she said in a very mature but tiny voice as she curtsied.

"What happened to you?!"

"Didn't Aidon tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

Hecate rolled her eyes and let out a small sigh before shaking her head and grumbling to herself. "Aeons and aeons… I should know better by now."

She walked over to where Persephone stood and cocked her head to the side. The young queen's eyes were wide with wonder, her mouth dry.

"Ooh, look at you! You're like a tree showing its first full leaves! And your hair got darker. It's very pretty on you!"

"Thank you. I'm still not sure what that means for me exactly…" Persephone said trailed off. She was still trying to absorb that this little girl and the ancient wise woman who had guided her through the Palace of Hades were the same person.

"Oh! Yes, I'm younger now…" Hecate said, remembering where she left off. "See, your parents are Olympians, so they won't ever die, as long as there are mortals who worship them." She paused and examined Persephone, wrinkling her brow. "Well, it's like that up above, but it's different for you down here. This world is changing you into the goddess you were born to be. Since you're the queen here, you won't need the mortals to worship you as much any more."

"That I was born to be…" she thought about her younger cousins, Artemis and Athena, Hermes and Ares, who all looked older than her though they were born later. The woman who stared back at her in the mirror was who she was meant to become. But what was that, exactly?

"I don't need worshippers to live forever either: I'm connected to the moon. That's because I'm even older than the mortals," Hecate continued with a giggle. "Up in the world above, the moon is small, but it's getting bigger. And when it is, so am I! I'm a woman when it's full, and then a wrinkly old crone when it's disappearing again. And oh, you should see this place when it's full! Its light shines here at night through the Styx…"

"You're older than the mortals… are you not an Olympian?"

"Oh, no; I'm much older than that. I'm a Titan."

Persephone recoiled briefly and composed herself. Titans were the monsters her mother told her stories about as a little girl.

"It's okay," Hecate said with a laugh, reading her thoughts, "My mother told me all kinds of stories about the Protogenoi just like that. Oops! Sorry. I forgot I'm not supposed to read your mind anymore."

"Don't worry, Hecate, it's— Who are the Protogenoi?"

The girl rolled her eyes again. "Ugh, Aidoneus tells you even less than Demeter," she whined. "Chaos, Hemera, Gaia, Ouranos— my mother had the worst stories imaginable about him— You won't meet them. But Nyx and her sons live here. She's the goddess of the night. And Charon is the boatman, and Morpheus is the king of dreams, and there's Hypnos, who rules over sleep." Hecate paused to frown pointedly. "And Thanatos looks like a skeleton and makes people dead."

"What's the matter with him?" Persephone asked.

Hecate wrinkled her nose. "Nothing. We… don't get along."

She could feel Aidoneus approaching her room. Warmth washed over Persephone and her skin prickled. Her entire body pulled in the direction of the hallway beyond as he came ever closer.

"Persephone?" his voice echoed through the amethyst antechamber outside her room.

She twirled a lock of hair and fussed with the crown of asphodel she had made that morning before turning around to see him slowly approaching the door.

"May I come in?"

"Of course," she said. She thought it strange that he should ask since only last night they were tangled together in the sheets of her bed. Persephone glanced at the rumpled sheets and felt heat rush to her face.

Hecate failed to suppress a smile as she slid off the edge of the bed and walked toward the door. "Well… I have to go now. If you need me, my queen…"

"Thank you," Persephone said, nodding back at Hecate.

The small girl strode regally out of the room, leaving her alone with Aidon. He watched her eye the bed nervously once more and push a loose lock of hair behind her ear, her arms folded across her chest. Aidoneus shook his head. This was the only reason she thought he would ever visit her. Then again, it was the only reason he'd ever given her.

He cleared his throat. "I was wondering if you would like to come with me today."

A smile peaked the corners of her mouth. "Where are we going?"