A/N: Ups. So much for posting chapter 23 fast. I don’t even know why I keep forgetting, so sorry. I’ll try to do better from now on. Anyway, enjoy!
Taking a deep breath, Persephone sent Hermes a nervous smile.
“Ready?” she asked, and Hermes grinned at her, completely at ease – unlike Persephone.
“Ready,” he said, before opening the door to Demeter’s cottage with a somewhat overly dramatic gesture.
Demeter looked up as they entered, looking pleased to see them.
“Kore, darling! I haven’t seen you in forever!” It had been less than a week. “And Hermes! You are, of course, always welcome.”
Hermes grinned at her, walking to a nearby table and sitting down without being invited to. He seemed completely at home.
“We have some news,” he said, clearly enjoying the situation far too much.
“Indeed?” Demeter sounded just as eager, and Persephone forced down her annoyance, still not having forgiven her mother for being willing to break her daughter’s heart just because she disapproved of her husband.
“We’re together,” Hermes said. “Not officially of course, what with that little detail with Hades. So it really should stay just between us. Persephone insisted.”
Demeter smiled broadly, hurrying over the hug her daughter.
“Congratulation, darling!” she told her. “I knew there was no reason that you shouldn’t experience love just because of that dreadful situation with you know who.”
Persephone took a deep breath. They’d agreed what to say before coming over, and her line was up.
“Oh, but we’re not in love, Mother,” she said, trying to sound relaxed. “It’s really just sex.”
Demeter stared at her, opened her mouth, before closing it again. She stared some more.
“Just… just sex,” she finally repeated. “I don’t understand.”
“We’re not in love,” Persephone repeated helpfully. “We’re really just having sex. You know, for the fun of it.”
“For the… Kore, sex isn’t fun.”
“Maybe you’re doing it wrong,” Hermes quipped, and Persephone sent him a quick, warning glance.
“Well, Mother I’m really just seeing Hermes as a friend,” she told her. “But I figured that there was no reason we couldn’t help each other out every once in a while. Very casual, you know. He’ll scratch my back, and I’ll scratch his.”
“She sure will,” Hermes said. “And not just in the symbolic sense.”
Persephone felt herself blushing. Demeter’s face, however, was completely drained of all colour, and blindly the older goddess reached out until she found a chair, which she slowly sat down on.
“But… but…” she stammered, before seemingly pulling herself together. “Well, I am… happy that you were able to… find joy with someone besides that dreadful man,” she finally said. She looked to be in pain.
“Oh, but I’ve found plenty of joy with Hades,” Persephone told her, and Demeter stared at her, horrified.
“What?” she whispered.
“Well, he’s my husband,” Persephone said, callously. “Of course we’re enjoying each other. Hermes is just a little extra.”
“A little… extra,” Demeter repeated, looking like she was a few short seconds away from throwing up. “A little extra… what exactly.”
“Well, sex, of course,” Persephone said, willing herself not to blush. Blushing now could potentially ruin their ruse, which admittedly was quickly proving to be quite fun.
“But… but… both of them?”
“Why, of course! Hades is my husband.” Persephone giggled slightly. “And I can hardly have sex with Hermes, who is just a friend, and not with my own husband. And when Hades is busy, leading his kingdom and what not, Hermes usually has time. It’s actually quite practical.”
“Practical,” Demeter said, finally regaining some strength in her voice.
“Why, yes.” Persephone decided to take it a step further. “I mean, I rather thought it would be fun with both of them, but Hades refused.”
“Both of them! Kore, I forbid this!”
Persephone tilted her head slightly. “Forbid what, mother?” she said.
“This! What you’re doing. You cannot have two men! I forbid you! I forbid you from having sex with either of them! I forbid you from ever having sex again!”
“But mother,” Persephone said slowly, hardly able to believe that there had been a time, not too many months ago, where her mother’s word had had enough power over her to actually forbid anything. “You can’t do that.”
“Yes, I can! I’m your mother!”
“But you seem to forget that I’m a married woman now. Not a little girl. You cannot forbid me anything. Only my husband has any sort of right to do such a thing, and he is quite okay with this whole situation. As long as he is always the first choice, of course.”
“I’ll tell your father!” Demeter hissed.
“Tell away,” Persephone said, inwardly praying that Demeter was only bluffing. “But considering that I was only born as a result of one of his many, many affairs, I doubt that he will care much. I suppose I really am more like my father than I thought.”
“You are nothing like your father!”
“No. I am nothing like you.” Persephone hesitated, realising something. “Is that what this is about? You want me to be a perfect little copy of yourself? Hating the touch of men, and only interested in gardening? But Mother, I’m not like that. I’m my own person, and you do not get to decide what kind of person that is. Only I do.”
“I get to decide whatever I want. You are my daughter! Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood! I birthed you! That gives me every right!”
“That gives you no right! Mother, I’m no longer a little child, and it is about time that you accept this. Hades is my husband, and I enjoy his touch. Hermes is my friend and I enjoy his… company, when Hades is not around.” All of this was true, though not in the sense that Demeter thought.
Demeter stared at her. “I won’t allow this,” she whispered, and Persephone looked at her mother with sad eyes.
Though she was both angry and frustrated with Demeter, she also pitied the older goddess, who had proved so utterly incapable of dealing with change. Any change. Persephone knew now that it mattered little that Hades had taken her as his bride against her will.
Perhaps a part of Demeter even preferred it like this, because at least when it was like this no one could blame her for refusing to accept her daughter’s marriage. But Persephone now knew.
She knew that if Hades had come to her with sweet words and declarations of love, and Persephone had decided to go with him as his future queen, Demeter wouldn’t have felt any better about it. She would have still fought tooth and nail to get her daughter back, no matter how miserable it might have made the very daughter whom she claimed to protect.
Suddenly their ruse no longer seemed as amusing, though Persephone had no intention of telling Demeter the truth. It would do her mother good to realise that her continuing deceit and trickery didn’t come without consequences.
“We really only came to thank you,” Persephone told her mother. “Me and Hermes would never have begun our affair, if you hadn’t insisted that I walked Hermes some of the way home. And me and Hades would never have found joy together if you hadn’t acted the way you did.” As Persephone said the words, she realised the truth in them.
She never would have forgiven Hades for kidnapping her if her frustration and anger with her mother hadn’t practically pushed her into his arms.
And now, Persephone realised with a start, she had every reason to believe that she would have a long and happy marriage with a man who adored her.
Demeter was quiet for once. Perhaps she had realised the truth in Persephone’s words as well. Realised that it was her stubbornness and denial that had caused everything that she’d feared most.
But then again: Persephone’s mother had never really been the type for quiet self-contemplation. There was a good chance that Demeter would never take responsibility for anything going wrong in her life, but simply continue to blame somebody else, anybody else. It would be a miserable existence, being unable to accept change, but Persephone knew that she would only share in her mother’s misery if she tried to help. You couldn’t help the people who kept refusing the help you offered.
“Goodbye mother,” she finally said, walking to Hermes and lying a hand on his shoulder. Too intimate a touch between friends, and Demeter made a sour face at the sight, but she still stayed quiet. Shock perhaps. Her mother had never before been the type to think before speaking.
Hermes, of course, couldn’t resist one last taunt.
“Goodbye, darling Demeter,” he said. “I know that I can’t call you mother-in-law as Hades rightfully may, so I will merely call you darling, for that is what you are to me. If not for you I would never have met your beautiful daughter and experienced as much… pleasure as that meeting has later brought me.”
He gave a last, taunting grin, and then both he and Persephone left, leaving behind a bitter woman, full of hate and self-pity, who took despair in the realisation that her daughter was happy rather than miserable as Demeter would truthfully have preferred.