Chapter no 24

The Sun and the Star

Will didn’t move. He couldn’t have moved even if he wanted to. He was transfixed by Persephone’s beauty.‌

She raised a finger to her lips. Her eyes were the rich brown of freshly tilled soil, ready to burst into a million colours. Will couldn’t turn

away. He was mesmerized. He was also afraid.

His heart pounding fiercely, he glanced over at Nico, hoping he’d tell him what to do.

But Nico was frozen, crouched in a sneaking position, still as stone. ‘Look at me, son of Apollo.’

Her voice … Oh, gods, it was sweeter than the scent of the pomegranates. Will gulped and faced Persephone.

She brushed a strand of her dark brown hair out of her face. As she drifted forward, Will’s mind and heart clashed. He felt he should run away as fast as he could, but he was also drawn to her. She was vibrant. Shining. Alive.

She was so unlike everything else here.

‘How are you doing this?’ Will said, his voice full of awe.

‘I can do many things.’ Persephone was now just a metre from him. ‘Especially here, in my garden.’

She stepped closer until her nose nearly touched his. ‘In which you’re currently trespassing.’

Will sucked in his breath. ‘I can explain. It’s – It’s important, what we’re doing.’

‘And what is that, exactly?’

Will found it terribly hard to pull his gaze from hers. Should he tell her the truth? Lying to gods was usually a futile exercise, and in this case? Well, he and Nico had been caught red-handed in Persephone’s garden.

‘I can see the gears turning in your demigod mind, Will Solace.’ Persephone pointed to the bulging pocket on his cargo shorts. ‘I obviously know you’re stealing from my garden. The question is why.’

‘It’s a quest,’ he said. ‘We need fruit from your garden to progress to the next part.’

Persephone frowned. ‘And I assume my husband has not assigned said quest.’

‘Uhhh, no?’ Will gestured at his companion. ‘Nico could probably explain it better if you’d just free him.’

‘But I’m talking to you, son of Apollo,’ she said, annoyance crossing her face. ‘Besides, you are dating my stepson. Am I not allowed to speak with you?’

Will gulped. ‘No! I mean yes. Of course you’re allowed to!’

‘So now Will Solace is telling me what I’m allowed to do in my own garden.’

Will thought he was going to pass out. ‘I’m – I’m not –’

‘Relax, demigod.’ Persephone smiled, and suddenly the whole garden

seemed warmer. ‘Some of us still have a sense of humour, and I like to use mine from time to time.’

Will couldn’t relax, though. Persephone began to pace around him, and if he wasn’t currently in the Underworld, he would have wondered when the bright overhead lights were going to flick on. This felt like an interrogation!

‘You know,’ she continued, ‘I haven’t always treated Nico as he deserves to be treated. It was hard for me to look upon him. His very face reminded me that Hades had betrayed me and had a child with someone else.’

Persephone maintained her smile, but it did not reach her eyes. ‘We gods can be very jealous, you know.’

Will nodded, afraid to speak.

‘But over the years – and especially recently – I have had to re-examine my perception of Nico. He is … well, he is not always what he seems.

There is more to that boy than what I saw on the surface.’

Despite his galloping nerves, Will found his voice. ‘I know that,’ he said. ‘It’s been the best part of knowing him – how often he surprises you.’

‘But do you see the depths within him?’ She gazed intently into Will’s eyes. ‘Do you realize who he really is?’

‘Yes?’ he said, though he hadn’t intended for it to sound like a question. ‘I mean … He’s a very complicated person.’

Persephone raised an eyebrow. Even that small gesture sent a jolt of terror through Will.

‘But …?’ she said. ‘I sense you want to say more.’

How did she know that? Did she know he was thinking about how being with Nico wasn’t always easy?

The words tumbled from his mouth. ‘How do you do it, Persephone?’ ‘Do what?’

‘Love someone from the Underworld.’

This time, she actually looked surprised. ‘That is quite the question, son of Apollo.’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, raising his hands. ‘If you’ll just let Nico go, we’ll return the fruit and leave and –’

‘You know love is a difficult choice, right?’ His hands fell. ‘What?’

‘Oh, certainly, there are people in this world for whom love comes easily or abundantly. It is instantaneous, like it was for Narcissus.’

‘Sure,’ said Will. ‘But I –’

‘And there are, of course, those who experience no romantic feelings whatsoever.’

‘Right, but –’

‘But no matter what form love takes, no matter how much or how little you have, you must still choose to cultivate it. In friendships, in romantic relationships, in life.’

He frowned. ‘But that doesn’t really answer my question. Plus … Didn’t Hades kidnap you?’

‘Comparing your situation with mine will not be very helpful,’ she said. ‘You are right. I was brought here against my wishes. I only came to love this place – and Hades, too – after I began to appreciate the time away from my mother.’

‘Demeter,’ said Will.

‘If someone ever tries to force you into a relationship, I highly recommend running far, far away. That is not love, Will. My circumstances

were unique, and in that uniqueness I found something I did not expect. But there are aspects you may relate to.’

Persephone sat down on a carved jade bench next to the oleander bush.

She patted the space next to her. Will glanced at Nico, still frozen in the gateway. He imagined his boyfriend thinking, Oh, sure. Take your time. Have a nice chat with my stepmom. I’ll just stand here.

Then, not having much of a choice, Will joined the goddess.

‘It was an adjustment,’ Persephone said, staring out at her garden. ‘When I came to this place, I missed the sun, as I’m sure you do, too.’

‘So much,’ he said. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been this long without it.’ ‘Beyond that, though, I had to reconsider everything I believed,’ she

went on. ‘About light and dark. About life and death.’ At this, she gestured to Nico. ‘He has all those things within him, just like his father. It took me too long to see it because I was blinded by jealousy.’

‘But I already know all that,’ said Will. ‘I don’t think Nico is just one


Persephone seemed to ignore him at first. ‘A god or demigod so

surrounded by death … they seem to appreciate life more than anyone else. They understand it, even if they don’t always drift towards it.’

Her words hit him like the Grey Sisters’ taxi. ‘You think so?’ he said. ‘Because … sometimes Nico doesn’t seem like that at all.’

‘That is because you and I are creatures of the daytime. Creatures of the light. It is sometimes very hard for us to see and appreciate the darkness.’

‘Appreciate the darkness?’

Persephone rose and crossed to a large flowering tree. She plucked an illuminated pink flower with long, elliptical petals. ‘It’s beautiful, is it not?’

Will held out his hand, and she passed it to him. Once it touched his palm, the petals slowly opened, and he gasped. In the centre of the flower, there was a stone – pitch-black, so dark that it seemed like a shard of

absolute nothingness.

‘These are a special breed of night-blooming cereus, Will,’ explained Persephone. ‘I grow them because they only open in the presence of darkness.’

‘Darkness?’ His eyes widened suddenly. ‘In me?’

‘Yes, absolutely. Do you think that because you are a child of Apollo there is no darkness within you?’

‘I guess not,’ he said, examining the stone in his hand.

‘There cannot be light without darkness, nor darkness without light. You must have the contrast for both to exist.’

She helped Will stand, and he passed the stone back to her. ‘But with Nico … It’s hard, Persephone. I want the best for him, and he seems to disappear into his darkness, like he’s hiding in a place where he doesn’t want my light.’

‘Then why not offer him your darkness?’

It was a simple question, but once again Will felt like he’d been knocked flat. He stood there, slightly ashamed that he had not considered meeting

Nico on his own level before, and also frightened about what it might mean to do so.

‘I cannot tell you how to love someone, Will.’ For the first time, Persephone sounded sympathetic. ‘But as I said before: it is a difficult choice. You have to choose to continue loving someone. Feelings aren’t enough.’

‘That’s a lot to think about,’ he said sheepishly. ‘What if I’m not ready?’ ‘I can answer that with a question: Do you understand Nico?’

He gazed into Persephone’s eyes, then looked back to Nico, who was still frozen.

‘Not completely,’ said Will, turning back to Persephone. ‘I’ve never met anyone like him. But … I want to understand him.’

The goddess of springtime smiled, and Will felt like the sun was beaming down on him.

‘You and Nico will make a fine couple,’ she said. ‘As long as you keep trying to understand.’

Will dug his hand into his cargo shorts pocket and presented one of the pomegranates. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry we took this.’

‘Keep them. A gift from me for the two of you.’ She winked. ‘But don’t tell Nico I said that. Let’s just keep this little interaction between us.’

Persephone stepped behind the oleander and was gone in an instant. Will heard a rustling to his left, turned and saw Nico waving at him.

‘Psst!’ Nico hissed. ‘What is it? What are you looking at?’ He shook his head. ‘Nothing. Thought I saw something.’ ‘Then come on!’

Will hurried to Nico, his mind still reeling from what he’d experienced.

Offer him your darkness. The words unfolded inside him like cereus petals.

‘You sure you’re okay?’ Nico asked. ‘You look like you just saw a


‘I’m fine,’ Will said, and he was surprised to find that he meant it. He kissed his boyfriend on the cheek. ‘Let’s get back to Menoetes before

someone catches us.’

They climbed on their donkeys and burst into a gallop, leaving Persephone’s garden and Hades’s palace behind.

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