In a world that’s told me all my life to shut up
I spend my spare time stringing words together
Filling pages with what I have to say
And sending them out to strangers
Hoping that someone might listen.
In a world that’s told me all my life to shut up
I spend my spare time stringing words together
Filling pages with what I have to say
And sending them out to strangers
Hoping that someone might listen.
I’m not careful.
I’ve dropped more things than I can count
I trip over at least once a day
I walk into things much bigger than me
Because I don’t pay attention.
But I pay attention when people talk
I notice quirks and mannerisms
I remember small details
And store them like secrets
Like precious treasures.
My hands are covered in cuts
My legs are covered in bruises
And I barely notice
Because it’s normal now.
But I’m mindful of their personal space
I’m careful of their boundaries
I’ll swallow my words and my heart
To keep others comfortable
And put them at ease.
I fall out of chairs
I trip up staircases
I slip on wet floors
And I spill enough coffee each week
To fill an entire new cup.
I’m not careful
Not with myself, at least
But with other people?
My hands will always be steady
And my heart will always hold you safe.
Author Note: This is a little story featuring Arun and Naomi as a small birthday gift for my wonderful friend Taija. It was inspired by a comment she made whilst beta-reading for me a long while ago about how she would deal with an unwanted presence in her mind via Bond spell, and after having this song stuck in my own head for the last three days, I thought it would be a fun thing to write!
‘Twenty-two bottles of milk on the wall,
Twenty-two bottles of milk.
If one of those bottles should happen to fall,
Twenty-one bottles of milk on the wall.’
Arun’s feet were wet.
‘Twenty-one bottles of milk on the wall, twenty-one bottles of milk…’
He hadn’t exactly expected to be in this situation, but still.
‘If one of those bottles should happen to fall…’
The king’s boots shouldn’t leak.
‘Twenty bottles of milk on the wall.’
He caught himself flinching, but whether from the freezing bog he and his men were being led through, or the song stuck in his head, he honestly had no idea.
‘Twenty bottles of milk on the wall, twenty bottles of milk…’
Swallowing back an agitated sigh as the next, repetitive verse started over, he spared the small woman leading their group a quick glance before gritting his teeth and looking away again. He didn’t want her to know she was annoying him. He wasn’t even sure she knew he could hear her, but the cold tug of humour on the Bond every time she started a new verse made him think she knew exactly what she was doing.
‘Seventeen bottles of milk on the wall…’
She had been counting down from ninety-nine, which possibly wouldn’t seem like very much at all under normal circumstances. It wasn’t a long measure of time, when all was said and done, but it was driving him slowly crazy.
‘Eleven bottles of milk on the wall…’
She was downright infuriating. He knew he had annoyed her that morning –in fact, his entire existence seemed to annoy her no end- but this was another level of petty entirely. She wanted him out of her head, she wanted to Bond severed, and she had no understanding of how impossible that was. It seemed she was going to try and drive him out of her mind through sheer madness.
‘Eight bottles of milk on the wall…’
Well, good luck to her. She would have to give up eventually, and that would happen long before the Bond ever broke. She would realise it sooner or later.
‘If one of those bottles should happen to fall, five bottles of milk on the wall.’
Sooner, he hoped.
‘Three bottles of milk. If one of those bottles should happen to fall…’
He was cold, he was wet, he was tired, and he had long since had enough of Ffion. Why was it always so miserably dark and damp? Arun just wanted to go home, to feel warm, and for his life to be back under his own control again.
‘One bottle of milk on the wall, one bottle of milk….’
As it was he was just as stuck here as Naomi was with the Bond spell tying their minds and lives together.
‘If one of those bottles should happen to fall…’
He supposed that he should set an example and deal with it with as much dignity as he could muster.
‘Ninety-nine bottles of milk on the wall!’
I want to wake up and know that each day is mine for the taking. I want to drink my coffee and leave the cup in the sink without feeling bad about it. I want to sing in the shower. I want to wear the things I like, and have my hair the way I like, and do my makeup the way I like. I want to be able to meet my own eyes in the mirror. I want to own myself again.
I want my own home. I want to sleep in a real bed. I want to fill my home with pretty lights, art, and music. I want to buy lots of houseplants and name them all and grow smaller plants from cuttings and give them to the people I love.
I want to make noise; to sing and laugh and dance without being told I’m making a nuisance of myself. I want to do things that make me happy without being harassed. I want to learn to play the ukulele. I want to knit. I want to learn to crochet. I want to read whenever I feel like it. I want to write, write, write!
I want to achieve my goals. I want to work hard. I want to succeed. I want to have fun while I’m doing it. I want to create things and fill my life with beauty and magic. I want to learn new skills. I want to meet other writers and artists. I want to share ideas and ideals. I want to be a good friend. I want to bring a bit of sunshine to the people around me. I want to make people laugh. I want to help people believe in themselves. I want to be soft and loving and kind.
I want to be in love with someone who’s in love with me. I want to be with someone who doesn’t think I’m disposable, or a stop-gap until something better comes along. I want to be in love with someone who thinks my laugh is the best thing they’ve ever heard. Someone to share the things that matter with. Someone to share the things that don’t matter with.
I want everything to be simple. I want to enjoy life. I want to do things and see things and go places. I want to spend entire weekends in bed, doing absolutely nothing. I want to learn how to make myself a priority. I want to be done with feeling guilty for making myself happy.
I want to be happy.
Helen Smith was boring.
Her life was boring. Her job was boring. Even her name was boring. She was average height, average build, her eyes were brown and her hair was mousey. The most extraordinary thing about her face were the few freckles that scattered her nose, cheeks, and forehead.
She was in her mid-twenties, and she had done everything by the book – whatever that meant. She had finished her education, partied a bit, landed a reliable job, had a few unsuccessful relationships, and lived with her best friend, Jules, for the past three years.
Jules was not boring at all, and the two of them had been close since senior school. Jules had always kept Helen’s life a little more interesting. That was all changing now, though. Jules was moving in with her boyfriend, and Helen was moving into a new place. Alone.
She was happy for Jules, but she enjoyed company in general. She had considered looking for another roommate, but after meeting with a few interested parties, she had quickly changed her mind again.
Perhaps she would get a cat.
Author note: This is just a small thing I’m working on at the moment to try and get myself back in the habit of writing daily, and finishing something, and allowing myself to write badly. The plot isn’t even my own idea -a friend suggested it as a joke- but I’m having fun and that’s what counts.
When it’s finished I don’t plan to do anything with it, but I wanted to post this first bit to let you guys know that I am working on something. Even if that something is just learning how to be a writer again!
“Do you know what your problem is?” Asks the stranger at the party. He has that smug look on his face I’ve come to associate with questions where no answer can ever be right.
‘Yes,’ I reply, more bluntly than I meant. I laugh quickly to dispel the sudden tension. ‘Would you like a list?’
Would it surprise you to know that he didn’t?
I excused myself soon after. The topic was a sour one, and his unmitigated gall in trying to tell a woman he barely knew just what was wrong with her left a bad taste in my mouth that lingers still.
I know what my problem is. All of them. I see them every single day. I hear them. No one knows what’s wrong with me more than I do.
I’m too hard on myself. If I can’t do something perfectly I will punish myself until I can. I forgive mistakes in others with ease, but never in myself. I never feel worthy of anything good.
I’m in no way moderate. My whole life is all or nothing. I burn myself out until I can’t move, I laugh until I cry. I get annoyed when I have to stop, because going and going and going is all I want to do.
I’m self-destructive. I don’t get nearly enough sleep. I don’t eat well; I live on coffee and toast. I tell people I’m fine when I’m clearly not. I hold everything in until I can’t hold it in any longer, and then I snap like a brittle twig.
I’m a living contradiction. When I’m upset, I can’t look anyone in the eye. We all know I’m hiding, but I do it anyway. Suddenly making eye contact becomes the hardest thing in the world, because I don’t want people to see. But I want people to see, too.
I’m socially inept. I talk before I think and I make people uncomfortable. I say things that aren’t acceptable. I can’t lie. My face always betrays me. My mouth does, too.
I’m too loud. I laugh at inappropriate times and things. I laugh at everything, and where my laugh used to be a comfort to me, now it’s just another insecurity. I sing off-key. When I get excited I talk too quickly and my voice pitches too high.
I’m emotionally volatile. I get hurt easily. I worry too much. I worry about things I can’t change and people who barely give me a second thought. I would do anything for anyone, even when they absolutely don’t deserve it.
I dislike myself. I won’t let myself be angry, even when I need to. Even when it’s justified. I always find a way to make everything all my fault, so my anger becomes internalised and aimed straight back at me.
I apologise too much. I run myself down. I can’t stand the sight of myself or the sound of my own voice.
I am a wreck of a human being.
But you know what else? I’m determined to do better. I’m stronger than I look. I get up every single day and face the world, even when it feels like the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I still believe in love. I believe the best of people. I am full of hope.
So yes, I do know what my problem is, but knowing a problem is the first step to solving it.
The first time she summoned me, neither of us realised she had. It was only long after the fact that even I understood how she had called me to her side, and longer still for her to believe it. We did not recognise one another for who or what we were that first time, which was more my mistake than hers. I am as old as time itself; older even. My domain is the dark depths of the ocean, my power as strong as the currents and my strength implacable as the tides. She was only a child of six, living in the human world.
There is a storm ravaged and remote beach along the south coast of England, a place where I had visited a few times in my existence, the small patch of sand only visible for a few hours each day before being swallowed up by the sea, leaving only the sheer, red cliffs to be battered by the ocean. That was where I first saw her, not questioning for even a moment how such a small thing had managed to get there, let alone how she planned to get back out again.
I stayed away from humans for the most part, but something about this child called to me, her carefree laughter like music and her blue eyes dancing with a wonder that I knew was only brief in their realm. She saw the magic of the world, but human society had a harsh tendency to blot that out of their young as quickly as possible. I was tired from my travels, lonely perhaps, though I would not have admitted it at the time, and this small child caught my attention.
She was quite alone, racing back and forth and laughing as she played tag with the waves, shrieking in delight each time I caught her. I had not meant to play along, but her simple pleasure and innocent glee made my involvement irresistible. Her black hair streamed out behind her, her round face red with exertion and hilarity as my waves chased her back and forth, and as we played the small game, I noticed save for her tiny feet she was completely dry. Perhaps it was cruel, though I tend to believe it was mostly thoughtless, but I felt challenged by that. I am old, as I have said, and details occasionally slip away from me. Details such as young human children being unable to swim.
I pulled my power back, then pushed forwards once again, with much more force than I had been using, and the little girl hardly had time to cry out as the wave washed over her head and knocked her over. The act itself was careless, but when I look back now I am filled with abhorrence that I almost decided not to help her. I am often accused of cruelty, but have always shrugged it off as a human concept, far beneath my notice. I suppose that is what comes of being as old as the world and commanding the power of the oceans.
Still, save her I did, despite my brief hesitation. I felt responsible for her predicament as her body was dragged back into deeper water than she could possibly survive, her little lungs filling with cold ocean as she tried to cry for help. She fought against me, even as I lifted her up to the surface and pushed her tiny body back towards the safety of the beach. She continued to inhale more water than was safe for a human, and I knew she did not understand that I was trying to help.
I pulled together my power until I was a solid form, making certain it was human-shaped, and swept her little body up in my arms. I thought little above the basics of the shape I took; male, black hair not unlike her own, and adult. A normal sort of human shape, I believe, and other than the sea green eyes that I couldn’t help, relatively unremarkable. She coughed and spluttered, heaving and crying as she clung to me while I carried her to dry land, and I remember thinking how very small and easily broken these creatures were.
‘There there,’ I said patting her back and helping to expel the water from her lungs. ‘You are safe now, little one.’
She said nothing, but continued to cry and gasp, pointedly refusing to let go of me. I tried not to sigh in resignation, sitting down on the sand and rocking her gently as I waited for her to become calm. It’s difficult to explain in terms that can be understood how it feels for me to contain myself to a body. It isn’t uncomfortable, exactly, but it is unusual. To me the world is small, the creatures who reside here smaller still. When I confine myself to a solid form I do not feel small, but I feel like I ought to. I occasionally make myself far too large for the species I am attempting to impersonate, but as I held this shivering bundle of frightened human child, I had never felt larger. She was so tiny and helpless, and for the first time in my long years, I felt clumsy. It was odd, and in my confusion, I became annoyed.
‘What are you doing playing with the ocean if you cannot swim?’ I asked, the question being the very justification I would have gifted myself had she not survived. She looked up at me, and I could see the hurt and fear in her sky blue eyes, the innocent joy of only minutes before completely dissipated.
‘It wasn’t supposed to do that!’ she cried, her lips quivering. ‘I was only playing! We were having fun!’
Her choice of words confused me for a moment. ‘We?’
‘Me and the sea!’
I watched her carefully, but felt an odd shame for my actions. She did not mean to accuse me, at least not in the sense of her knowing I was personally to blame, but it cut me somehow. We had been having fun, and I had ruined it. It was not her fault that I had become carried away.
‘You must be more careful in future,’ I cautioned, sweeping my strange reactions aside in the face of her sense of betrayal at my hands. ‘The ocean is dangerous. It is vast and deep, and cares little for those who treat it with no respect. You must learn to swim if you wish to play again, but even then you must understand and accept the dangers of taking so lightly a timeless creation.’
She looked up at me, the wonder at my words plain on her open face. Perhaps it was a little heavy for one so young, but I felt compelled to warn her if I might. She shifted slightly on my lap and the movement jolted us both as the red, bleeding scrapes along her legs and arms where the sand and sharp stones had dragged against her helpless body pained her. Tears again began to well up as she noticed the state she was in, and I found it almost laughable that humans were more upset by the site of an injury than the actual pain itself.
‘There now, don’t weep,’ I soothed, looking at the injuries and assuring myself they were only superficial. There was no real damage, no broken bones or even seriously damaged flesh, but her tears came anyway, a fresh tide of salt water pouring forth. ‘Hush little one, won’t you? It is not serious.’
She hiccupped, her emotions more volatile than I had expected, her own anger and frustration at her tears flashing forth. ‘It hurts!’
‘I can heal you, if you choose?’ I asked, my dislike for the sound of her weeping becoming stronger with each moment. Elementals such as I are governed by strict rules, the most important of these that we cannot give without receiving, nor can we take without giving back. So far we were balanced, she having given me her laughter and I had given her life back. There were always loopholes, ways around certain things in order to get or do what was needed, but to heal her injuries would require more obvious payment.
‘Can you?’ she sniffled. ‘Do you have a plaster?’
I believe I may have smiled at that, her innocent misunderstanding of my offer, her childlike belief that a strip of man-made plastic would set everything right once more was endearing and sweet. ‘No little one, I do not have a …plaster. I have instead the ability to make your wounds vanish immediately, but it is very precious. If you wish me to use it, I must ask for something in return.’
‘What?’ she asked, the simplicity of a child much more refreshing than her adult counterparts. There was no suspicion, no disbelief for my words or claim, and I became a little saddened that one day this would leave her. She would become as jaded as every other human at some point, and it was a terrible shame.
I considered my options as I looked at the child. Payment must be taken, but she had nothing to offer me. An adult, in the rare instances that I had offered any service, could be bought off with a kiss or some personal gesture, but this was a small girl and I did not want such a thing from her. I saw the tears on her round cheeks, the way they had tracked to her chin and mingled with the water of her near drowning, and I was struck by an inspiration.
‘May I?’ I asked, reaching out carefully to her face. She nodded, and I gathered each droplet upon my fingers, using my magic to bind them together. A small drop of her blood was mixed in with the tears and seawater, and I gently extracted it into a separate creation. With these things, I forged a pendant for myself, a milky stone from the water and salt, decorated with swirls of silver and adorned by the tiniest red gem from her blood. I looked at the beautiful thing and smiled, creating a slim chain and looping it over my head to wear. It would remind me to have more care with my power.
When I looked back up at the child, still sat upon my lap, she looked at the pendant with awe. I smoothed her black, wet hair back from her face, then offered her the pendant to look upon. Still on its chain about my neck, she took it up in her tiny fingers and caressed the smooth stone and raised silver design. While she was distracted, I washed my power down her broken and sore flesh, mending it immediately. She appeared not to notice.
I allowed her to sit and fiddle with the charm I had made from her pain for a while, the peace of the moment soothing. Eventually though, I became afraid she might fall asleep, and knew the time had come for the tide to turn.
‘Time to return home, little one.’ I said more softly than I’d intended. She said nothing, only releasing the pendant and nodding once. I helped her stand, and she ran a pudgy little hand down her leg as she realised her injuries were gone. She gasped in surprise, but I was already gone. I did not want her to thank me, as it had really been my own fault to begin with.
It was only when I had moved miles from the coast that I realised she had no way out of the enclosed beach, and without thought, I turned and went back again. I chose at the time to not too closely examine my concern for her as I rushed back to the patch of sand on that rocky outcrop that I knew full well would be almost swallowed whole by now.
When I got there, however, there was no sign of the child.
The biggest problem with being fat isn’t that I hate the way I look, it’s that everyone else does. My body is treated like public property by complete strangers, who make nasty comments or shout in the street. Society sees me as a “before” photograph, and adverts try to appeal to me by highlighting what parts of my body are problems that they can help me hide. It never occurs to anyone that I’m perfectly content with my appearance.
The biggest problem with being fat isn’t that I’m unhealthy, it’s that no one believes I’m not. I can say that I eat well and exercise, and they will either smile in that knowing way or bluntly call me a liar. People hide their thinly veiled disgust behind claims of concern, and even medical professionals will not take me seriously. My BiPolar Disorder went untreated for years because a doctor thought it would stop if I lost weight.
The biggest problem with being fat isn’t that I worry about it, it’s that everyone around me seems obsessed. When I say that my biggest insecurity about the way I look is that I’m short, their suppressed urge to point out that I jiggle when I walk looks almost painful. I am treated like I’m somehow unaware of my body, like they’re telling me some dreadful secret when they point out that I’m overweight. I live here. Trust me, I know.
The biggest problem with being fat isn’t that it affects my personality, it’s that I am seen as a walking stereotype. People act like being fat is the whole sum of me as a person, and it isn’t. I am not stupid, I am fat. I am not lazy, I am fat. I am not a slob, I am fat. These things are not synonymous, and it’s high time society stopped acting like being fat is worse than being cruel or rude or shallow, because it really isn’t.
The biggest problem with being fat isn’t that I’m fat. The biggest problem is everyone else.
Dear Hesitant Newbie.
Dear First-Time Rejectee.
Dear Crushed Confidence and Wounded Belief.
Sod everyone else.
You are not a writer because of other people.
You are a writer because you love it.
You are a writer because it’s part of who you are.
You are a writer because you can’t not be.
Yes, it’s hard.
Yes, it’s much easier when people love what you do.
Sometimes what you write will not be good.
Sometimes what you write will be beautiful.
Sometimes what you write will flow like warm honey on toast.
Sometimes what you write will feel like prying your own ribs apart.
People may tell you it’s unoriginal.
People may tell you it’s glorious.
Perhaps the world needs your novel.
Perhaps the world couldn’t care less.
You may get picked up by a big publisher one day.
You may not.
But you are not here for validation.
You are not here to have your ego stroked.
You are here because You Have Something To Say.
Don’t give up.
Believe in what you’re doing.
Sod everyone else.
Battered But Not Beaten.
Author Note: I wrote this little story a few years ago as a birthday present for a very dear friend. Since I’m rather fond of it, and her, I thought it would be nice to post it up here. Please excuse the huge piles of artistic license I’ve taken with the original story; this was just for a giggle!
Millennia had passed.
The Earth had turned. Humanity had changed. No longer did they worship the Gods that resided upon Mount Olympus, finding other, kinder religions to follow. Some chose to believe in themselves instead. Others worshipped other humans, singers and performers, or the greatest receiver of all their praise, The Internet.
Those that had once been the most powerful beings in existence were now all but ignored. Their temples were in ruins, their great deeds little more than stories used to pass the time. The world no longer needed them, moving along on its own after so many eons of repetition. Still, they continued with their immortal lives, living in the past even as their powers dwindled. Hephaestus forged until the beautiful treasures piled up worthlessly, Hermes carried messages between the Gods despite how predictable they had all become, and every year Persephone would move between her mother and her husband like a never ending pendulum.
Hades, Lord of the Underworld, awoke slowly from his shallow sleep. It had been a long time coming, his dread of the ensuing morning making him want to count every moment he had left with his wife before she returned to the surface for the next six months. This would be their last day together for half a year, and it broke him every time. She was his obsession, even now. The blood in his veins, the air in his lungs and the beat of the heart that many said did not exist. It was torture to be parted from her, and the pain never relinquished its hold on him until she was back.
Already he felt pain at their upcoming separation, and trying to quell it, reached across their bed to pull her closer while he still could. His hand found only cool sheets instead of the much beloved form of Persephone, and he blinked his eyes open in confusion. She wasn’t there. He frowned. It wasn’t unusual for her to rise early, but this was their last morning before she was taken from him, and usually they would share the heated intimacy of their bed until gone noon.
Stretching out his power to try and locate her, concern began to override his annoyance when she was nowhere to be found. What he did find was Hermes waiting in his throne room. The concern was mixed with fury now, as suspicion spread like the dark shadow that clothed and moved him to where the messenger God was waiting. Hades had him by the throat before he even knew he was in the room.
‘Where is she?’ he bellowed.
‘Upstairs!’ the smaller God flapped uselessly. ‘Mount Olympus! She asked for an audience with her father, and now he wants to see you!’
Hades was gone almost before he had finished speaking, not waiting for any further explanation, his mind already turning dark and thinking the very worst. To ask for an audience with Zeus could only mean one thing, and though he had known this day would eventually come, he wasn’t ready for it yet. She was no longer a child, the near powerless Goddess he had first met as distant a memory as her shyness in their bedchamber. She was strong, and she was self-assured, and he loved her for it. It was just unfortunate that with this confidence came the obvious realisation that she was well beyond becoming her own mistress.
He had given her all the freedom he possibly could without letting her go, taught her how to use her powers and encouraged her to strike out by herself. She had blossomed into a strong, free-thinking woman who knew who she was and what she wanted, and apparently now, how to get it. He couldn’t begrudge her that, but he had thought they would have more time.
She had been asking a lot about the humans and the changes above ground lately, studying the strange weather problems they seemed to be experiencing, that they referred to as “Global Warming” and reading their holy scripture by their newest deity, Science. At first he had thought it simple curiosity – she was inquisitive by nature, after all. Now though, he realised she had been researching if the humans still relied on the seasons as much as they had in the past. The answer was a loud, resounding no, and with that came the knowledge that she could go where she pleased without having to concern herself with keeping in sync with the turning of the Earth.
She was going to leave him.
Of course she was. Why would she stay if she no longer had to? There was a strong attraction between them, the same instinctual desire that had brought them crashing together in the first place, but that was just sex. She was kind-hearted, and he didn’t doubt that she must at least be fond of him, simply because she was fond of everyone. She could not laugh as she did if she hated him, and despite the warped version of events the humans told, save for a handful of would-be deities who spent their spare time tinkering with established stories for entertainment, he had not forced her to his bed. It had been a mutual clash of bodies and desires.
What he had done, however, was to trick her into eating the pomegranate and forced her to stay in the Underworld with him. Her mother had gone to Zeus and the agreement had been reached that Persephone would move between the two of them with the changing of the season, the harbinger of both warmth and cold to the humans.
Hades knew well how she resented the arrangement, her own opinions not even being considered when the decision had been made, but she had never been openly hostile towards him for his trickery. She had shared herself willingly, and it had been enough for him. It had to be.
It was no secret that he wasn’t worthy of her, everyone spoke of poor Persephone. Even knowing that he hadn’t forced his body on her, the knowledge that he had forced his presence on her was enough for the other Gods to cluck pitifully when they saw her. Demeter didn’t help matters by insisting that he was guilty on both counts, but he had never cared much for that kind of prattle. The opinions of others didn’t concern him, but his own opinion tended to agree that he was a monster for stealing his Persephone, even for the few months he had her. He was torn between knowing she had earned her freedom and knowing how dismal his existence would become without her.
As he at last ascended to the halls of Mount Olympus, the darkness of the underworld clinging to him like smoke in the brightness of the day, he knew he could not simply let her go without a fight. He had to try and keep her. Zeus had no real power anymore, as did none of them, and Hades would use that fact for his own purpose if it came to it. His proclivity for spite and rage was often not exaggerated.
He emerged fully, and took in his brother’s troubled expression, even as Demeter made her own presence known by grabbing at her daughter and trying to pull her back. Not thinking straight and furious to see their reunion brought forward if only by a few hours, he too stepped forward, clasping a hand around Persephone’s warm wrist.
‘She is still on my time, sister,’ he growled at the stout, but short Goddess. ‘And I am already beyond my patience today.’
Demeter, to her credit, was not intimidated so easily and snapped right back. ‘Get your filthy hands off of her! How dare you?’
‘My filthy hands have touched every conceivable place, I assure you.’
The argument might have spiralled on and on from there, Demeter’s face turning a furious pink at his taunt and readying herself to spit back something of equal bile, but Persephone’s soft laughter made them both take pause. It was a dry laugh, but her eyes sparkled with a mixture of emotion that ranged between annoyance and acceptance.
Hades looked at her properly for the first time since he had entered the hall, and wished he could have simply woken as he had intended this morning, pulling her soft, pliant form to him and satisfying both of their needs. Imprinting the memory of her warmth onto his bed and his heart until they would be reunited again next autumn. She, however, was looking to her father, and when she held up her arms, neither Hades nor Demeter stopped her, but refused to relinquish their hold.
‘Do you see, father?’ she spoke softly, but with an edge Hades recognised as the ending of her patience. ‘This is my life. How can you allow it to continue, especially knowing that my powers are no longer needed in the world?’
‘How can you say such things?’ Demeter gasped, trying briefly to shake Persephone away once again, but ceasing the action when her daughter stood firm and defiant. ‘Of course your powers are needed! Without you the winter would be eternal and the humans would perish!’
‘They would do no such thing,’ the young Goddess corrected. ‘They have become clever. They can warm themselves efficiently in ways they never could before, and even if they could not, the seasons turn without my interference now. This is fact.’
‘It is not fact! It is madness!’ Demeter pointed accusingly at Hades and fumed. ‘He has done this! Put these ideas into your head, made you think… things!’
Persephone sighed so deeply he could feel the weight of it, then looked once again to Zeus, sat silent and bemused as he watched the three of them. ‘Please father, I must be allowed to speak. I was not before, and this time I insist my opinion be heard.’
‘Release her,’ Zeus ordered easily, and when neither of them budged, furrowed his thick brows. ‘Immediately.’
Hades still held on, despite his sister jumping back as though burned by the edge in Zeus’ voice. She had reason to fear him, or believed she did, where Hades did not. It was only when Persephone looked up at him, her eyes pleading, that he let her go. As she slipped from his fingers, he felt certain it was the last time he would be permitted to touch her.
As she stepped forward, away from him, he felt a great pain begin to pierce his soul, and could do little more than watch as she began to plead her case in earnest.
‘There was a need for the balance before, to keep both my mother and husband appeased, and saving the humans from the wrath of winter. Now our powers have weakened and the Earth moves on without us, and the humans are able to care for themselves.’
‘Those words are dangerous, child,’ Zeus chided, but looked at Hades as though it was somehow his fault. It probably was. He knew she had not learnt to think for herself from her mother. They had spent many a long night discussing art, philosophy and literature in great depth between love-making. If his heart had not been breaking into tiny shards of ice in his chest, he might have felt proud to see the influence of this in her now.
‘But they are true,’ she pushed, determined to make her point. ‘I made an experiment of it last year and withheld my powers from the land, but spring still came.’
If Hades was shocked that she had gone to such lengths, he did not show it as much as Demeter. She all but shrieked, the horror plain on her features.
‘You did what? You stupid, irresponsible girl! Anything could have happened!’
‘But it didn’t!’ Persephone pleaded. ‘Didn’t you hear me? The spring still came! It was late and a little disorganised, but it came none the less. That proves it!’
‘If anything all this proves is that you are still a foolish child who isn’t ready to make her own decisions!’ Demeter continued to bluster, looking to Zeus for support. Their brother, however, appeared unmoved. He turned them to Hades instead.
‘What say you of all this, brother? Did you know of her plans?’
‘Of course he did,’ Demeter fumed. ‘It was probably his idea. What cares he for the deaths of humans?’
‘I was speaking to our brother, Demeter,’ Zeus reprimanded, but with a listlessness that killed any threat it might have held. ‘But as it happens, since you first brought the winter to kill the humans and keep him too busy to touch your precious Kore, I imagine he cares a great deal.’
As Demeter clucked in in stunned shock at the very precise accusation, Zeus nodded back to Hades, urging him to speak. He had no idea what to say, impressed by Persephone’s resourcefulness but shocked almost as much as her mother that she would take such a risk.
‘I was unaware of any of this,’ he confessed carefully, looking to his wife and trying not to get swept up but the sheepish smile she gifted him with. ‘But I am certain she would have corrected her actions had it not gone as planned.’
‘Oh, of course!’ she looked quickly between him and Zeus. ‘I had set a time limit, and if spring had not come I shouldn’t have continued to try. I don’t want anyone to suffer on my account, but I had to know. I just had to.’
He was placated by that, at least, and understood her need to be free. He just wished there was some way to keep her, to do something, anything, to leave things as they were. Such actions, however, would crush the shining light of hope in her beautiful face as she looked eagerly at her father and waited for his judgement. As much as Hades needed her, he loved her more than his own flesh and could not be responsible for that. For all it would condemn him to hopelessness himself.
‘In that case,’ Zeus began, quite grandly, considering how obviously bored he had been throughout the discussion so far, ‘on the understanding that if the spring should deteriorate without you and the humans suffer, you are to return to your duties, you may go where you wish. You are no longer bound by the old agreement and may move between worlds as you see fit.’
The joy on Persephone’s face was something to be beheld, her beauty radiant with it even as her mother began to shriek incoherently, but Hades could not stay to witness it a moment longer. He had missed his chance, given it up in his love for her, and now she would remain with Demeter in the sunshine for eternity. With a stiff bow to his brother, he was gone.
Hades did not know or care how long he sat upon their bed –his bed, now- and stared into the deep oblivion that lay before him. If what Persephone claimed was indeed true, and there was no reason to doubt that it was, the dead could sort themselves now. If they could not, he found himself unable to care, having already resigned himself to taking today for rest. He had not, of course, expected to get very much rest at all when he had initially made that decision, but with Persephone gone from him forever, he knew he was still owed this time, if only to mourn.
Shadows gathered in the corners of his mind and filled the void of his heart. He felt heavy, almost mortal in his anguish and wished he had the lack of composure to scream to the stars of his pain. He did not, and continued only to stare at nothing while he keenly felt the pain of his loss.
When the door to his chamber clicked open, it took him a moment to register the intruder, and when he saw her he could almost not believe his eyes. Persephone smiled awkwardly, her small shoulders curling inwards as she stood before him.
‘I, ah… You left before I could say goodbye.’
Sorrow gave way to anger then, the agony of having her so close and flaunting her presence when he could not touch her near blinding him. He did not want to say goodbye to her, could she not see that? Was she punishing him? Taunting him? He looked away from her and clenched his fists tightly, not wanting their last meeting to be full of harsh words when they had shared so much passion and companionship through the ages.
‘Will you not miss me?’ she asked quietly, and feeling the softness of her touch upon his cheek, the rage melted. He looked to her shining eyes, glasslike with hurt and confusion. She had not done this to hurt him, of course she hadn’t. Such vindictiveness was beyond her.
Reaching out to her, slowly and cautiously enough that she could move away if she so chose, he mirrored her action, and caressed her jaw, his thumb rubbing gently her soft cheek. When she leaned into his touch, a smile playing about her mouth, he released a shuddering sigh from his aching lungs.
‘I shall miss you as no one ever could, my love. Without you there will be nothing but darkness and sorrow in my heart for as long as the Earth continues to spin meaninglessly on.’
To his surprise, but delight, she moved forwards, pressing their bodies together and insinuating herself on his lap, straddling his legs with practiced ease. Her arms wound around his neck and her delicate fingers twined in his hair as she pressed her mouth to his. He knew he was torturing himself to allow this to continue, but he wanted to savour her for as long as he could.
‘So dramatic,’ she breathed when she pulled away, that little smile all too inviting on her well kissed lips. ‘I shall be back tomorrow. I’m sure you can manage until then.’
He looked up at her, stunned into motionlessness by her words. ‘Tomorrow?’
‘Well mother did make such an awful fuss,’ she shrugged, putting her hands on her hips in pretend huffiness. ‘And you just left while she tried to summon an eternal winter, which of course failed abysmally, much to father’s amusement. I think it best she have company tonight in case she tries to do something foolish, or I would quite happily stay here and never move again.’
‘You…’ he stopped, trying to process what she was saying, his fingers gripping her thighs tightly enough that she fidgeted a bit. ‘You mean to stay with me?’
‘Well not tonight,’ she frowned back. ‘I just said mother could use the company, and I haven’t seen her since last autumn, so one night won’t kill you for all your theatrics. But yes, for the most part.’
He still could do little more than stare at her and she seemed to grow uncomfortable. The uncertainty and confusion in her expression made him realise he had worried her, but he still couldn’t seem to speak.
‘Do you not want me?’
It was his turn to pull her close, to crush her lips to his own in silent disavowal of such a thought, banishing all uncertainty from her mind. They became lost in one another, the elemental clash of their desire burning as fiercely as it had the day they met. When at last he released her, they were both panting, legs tangled and bodies burning with need.
‘Of course I want you,’ he whispered. ‘Do not ever doubt it, for without you my life is as nothing.’
He lightly ran his fingers down her back and she shivered against him, her eyes brimming with affection and relief. ‘I am glad. If I had thought for a moment that my actions might mean the loss of you, I should never forgive myself. I would gladly go back to living with my mother for half of the year if it guaranteed the other half to you. I know it was selfish, but I wanted you always.’
She kissed him once, chastely, and watched for any sign that her plan had gone awry. The idea that he could ever tire of her, ever want her gone, was ludicrous, and he was baffled that she might consider such a thing in any way viable. He cupped her face in both of his hands, looking seriously up at her and willing her to understand and believe.
‘I love you. I have always loved you, and I will continue to love you as long as even a thread of my existence is present in the universe.’
‘I love you too,’ she confessed shyly, and such happiness the words brought that Hades was certain his heart would implode from it. ‘And though the world may not need us any longer, that we still need each other is reason enough to be here. With you.’