Thanatos couldn’t say he was lonely.
It was a part of the job description, something inherent to who he was, what he did, what was required of him every second of his time. There was a level of distance that was needed, in a way that came so easily to him he knew it was something innate, a part of who he was as death itself.
Distance was a necessity, he determined: mortals feared him more than anything else, the Olympians saw no company in him save for Ares and Hermes. Although he’d call his relationship with them more professional. They weren’t really someone he’d want to sit down and spend time with, really. He couldn’t name many people who were.
Regardless, he’d never say he was lonely. Time stretched on, passing with few gaps of conversation or company. He never stayed in one place for long, more often travelling between the Underworld and where mortals reside than anywhere else.
Thanatos was fine with that, he would say to himself.
Zagreus always made him question that, for as long as he could remember.
So long could pass without them seeing each other, besides glances or small talk in the hallway before he had to vanish once again. In between those times, he was fine. Isolation was something peaceful, even.
Zagreus would pull him aside, force his hand and keep him within the House for some time, and Thanatos would quake.
In a corner of the lounge with food and drinks that often went untouched, or hidden back in the west hall away from most gazes, or rarely through Tartarus. Anywhere Zagreus wanted; all it took was hands around Thanatos’s wrists or fingers against the inside of his elbow and he’d follow with complaints that meant nothing.
Thanatos never paid mind to time and how it passed, but he found himself keeping track of those visits more than anything or anyone else. He’d still feel the lingering pale warmth of Zag’s touch, feeling it fade away, leaving something hollow deep in his ribs.
Thanatos would always come back to him, drawn in by how his hands felt against his chilled skin.
It was long before Zagreus’s fixation with the surface, before he’d found the truth of himself just out of reach, when Thanatos realized how completely and utterly in love he was.
Really, it only made sense. Zagreus was something different, something otherworldly. He pulled Thanatos in stronger than anything he’d ever felt.
Zagreus never really belonged in the Underworld.
The deaths through the world, of wars raging and the lands freezing over, pulled him far. He didn’t see Zagreus leave. Thanatos wasn’t sure if that was for better or for worse.
He was warmer, now, Thanatos noticed.
It took time for Than to confront Zagreus, to work through the anger he felt, something of betrayal and pain. It took a while more for his heart to ache less and less with every time he helped him. Now, it ached in a different way-- a warmer way.
He was quick to notice the change.
He tried not to jump out of his own skin, his hovering figure in the hallway flaring jade-green, shivering out of view for just a moment regardless. Thanatos let out a drawn, low sigh. He barely looked over his hunched shoulder at Zagreus’s familiar outburst.
Zagreus slid around the corner, scorched lines left under his feet as he skidded into the hall. Than distantly heard Hades’ growled voice say some reprimand, but didn’t pay any mind. Zag didn’t even falter, his smile wide across his face, eyes gleaming. “Than!” He echoed, Thanatos’ heart shuddering in his chest.
“What is it?” He said it with a sigh as Zagreus just barely managed to stop in front of him, nearly barreling straight into him. Zag’s expression didn’t even lessen as he clicked his tongue, offering a half-hearted frown in his direction.
“I didn’t think I would catch you here,” he says, not the least bit out of breath after returning from his less than merciful run through the Underworld. Not the least bit perturbed, Thanatos notes as well. “I figured you’d have taken off, after in Asph--”
“I shouldn’t be sticking around, you’re right.” Thanatos interrupts, the air crackling with something cold around him. Than couldn’t help but staring over Zagreus’s head, towards the Lord of the House who sat just out of his view. Zagreus wasn’t the quietest person, that was without doubt. Thanatos was surprised that his aide of Zag’s attempts to escape still were unknown, the idea of what he was doing and how deeply he cared for Zag being known--
The fingers against his arm felt as if they burnt.
He couldn’t pull in the gasp that rushed out from between his lips, couldn’t help the jolt as heat flared over his cold skin, in the littlest, gentlest touch Thanatos had ever felt. His eyes were instantly torn down to Zag, all too aware of the fingers on his forearm, just over the metal cuff of his gauntlet.
Zagreus looked sheepish, head bowed in Than’s direction. “Sorry,” he breathed out, “I didn’t… ah, sorry Than. I didn’t think.”
“Y-you don’t often do,” Thanatos just barely managed to wheeze out between his pinched teeth. Zagreus’s touch had shifted to an open palm and Thanatos felt alight with flames, sparks seeping in through his skin, dancing along his nerves.
It had never felt quite like this before.
Zagreus laughed; he was completely oblivious, it seemed. Still, he moved a touch away from Than, who couldn’t tell whether he was grateful or already missing the contact. He hummed something, Thanatos still recovering as he rubbed a hand over the back of his neck.
“I was just,” he bit into his lip, “ah, excited. I’m glad to catch you here, Thanatos.”
He didn’t really know what to say to that, his hand around his scythe tightening. He looked away, scoffed. “I… see. And why is that, Zag?”
His laugh was full, grin so genuine Than had to catch himself in midair, nearly falling to his feet. It was a wonder how Zag could make him so scrambled without even noticing.
“Can’t I just look forward to your company, Thanatos?”
“You… perhaps you can, Zagreus.” He said, lips curled up at the corners. “I suppose I am glad to see you too.
But, seriously. What is it?” Than tilting his head to the side, obviously nodding to the hand Zagreus had been so careful to keep hidden behind his back this entire time. Than watched his eyes widen, sucking his lip in between his teeth. He couldn’t help the grin split across his lips, moving to Zag’s side. “I’m no idiot, Zag--”
Zag rushed far out of reach with a dash of flames, a sudden flourish of warm air bursting past Than. He couldn’t help but watch his movement, feel the warmth that radiated off of him, how his laurel swirled and danced through and above his hair like burning embers. He could see it in his eyes, too, that same burning flare.
Zagreus was warmer, now. He could feel the heat of him, even just a few steps away. It was like standing before a bonfire, or under the heat of the sun.
Except it oozed, roiled off his cold, icey skin and through the fabric of his flesh. Thanatos wanted to bask in it.
“It’s,” Zagreus said, licking a tongue over his lips. Thanatos failed not to stare. “A gift.”
His words felt caught in his throat, lodged between his teeth. Still, he managed with a strangled voice; “and yet you’re hiding it from me. What is this, Zagreus? I have things to do.”
He wouldn’t have, really. But as a show, Thanatos made a sweep with his scythe, letting the air around him cool and condense with power, the air shifting shades of green as --
“No!” Zag yelped, grabbing his hand. His touch made Thanatos weak. “No, okay? Here!” His fingers locked around his wrist, dragging his free hand towards him with a yank. Zag shoved a massive glass bottle of ambrosia into his open palm, looking up at Thanatos’s shocked expression.
“I got you this.” What panic Than had thought he heard was gone from his voice, making him question if it was even there in the first place. He was too caught up on how Zagreus held his hand, curling his fingers around the glass. It was warm, all of it; both the ambrosia and Zagreus himself felt so impossibly hot against his skin.
He was at a loss for words, quick to try and say as much. “Zagreus, this isn’t… I don’t--”
“But there’s strings attached to this one, Than.”
His smile was lopsided, mismatched eyes darting over Than’s face rapidly. “I have a selfish request. This one isn’t for free, you see. In fact, I have this new trade agreement I’ve been considering employing in these gift exchanges.”
Than looked to him, down to the bottle in his hands, and then back to him. He could tell by Zag’s smug look that the confusion and annoyance was clearly painted across his expression. “What… are you talking about? I don’t know if you can call this a ‘gift’ anymore if you’re going to impose some… fee.”
He scoffed, rolling his eyes as if he wasn’t possibly maybe trying to swindle Thanatos. “You’re thinking too much. My only request is…”
He stared at Than, face just the slightest bit red. “We go to the lounge or, ah, my room. And share this between us? If you’re free, that is.”
Than met his gaze. He wondered, then, if the heat in his eyes was the reason for why his heart beat harsh against the cold stone of his ribs, how his skin crawled with something warm and both unfamiliar and comforting. He was all too aware of everything Zagreus was, standing here in this moment.
He fought through the steam bubbling up through his lungs, managing a smile. “Well, why didn’t you ask earlier?”
At first he wondered if it was Zagreus’s powers; however, he quickly realized that ‘Zagreus, god of making Thanatos flustered and all kinds of uncomfortably warm’ didn’t sound right.
And that it was simply another way to deny this, an old way of burying his own feelings of which he thought he’d gotten over long ago.
Zagreus was more than a friend to him. He knew that. He’d realized that long ago, in the in between when he wasn’t with him.
It was different, now. Thanatos felt like he was realizing himself all over again.
Or, maybe, it was Zagreus.
He was different, now.
Thanatos kept an eye on him as much as he could. He never spent so much time between the surface and the House before; he’d never had a reason to, simply appearing where he pleased. But now, he was more than familiar with the gnarled, crumbling structures of Tartarus that strike upwards into the air like broken bones. The roiling lava of Asphodel moved of its own accord, blistering and bubbling hands breaking up through the heavy, hot air. Elysium was the worst: a sweet taste permeated the air, oozing into his lungs and his pores, feeling and tasting almost too tantalizing.
He hated all of it-- but watching Zagreus gave him reason.
Thanatos realized early on, when his slow trailing from afar was more out of unfair resentment than worry, that Zagreus didn’t exactly need his help. Not always. He was skilled, fast, quick to adapt and overcome. Each time Than managed to catch him with a weapon he hadn’t seen the last time his work didn’t capture his full attention, Zagreus always seemed to move like it was an extension of himself, as if it had been a part of his very bones his entire life. He could cut down and pierce and bash all shades in seconds, trails of flames under his feet and ablaze in his eyes.
Thanatos would say he was beautiful. But he always was.
More so when he wasn’t in danger.
Frankly, Zagreus could use all the help in the world, both above it and below. He hadn’t seen the sky yet, hadn’t stood under the stars. The Temple of Styx still felt out of reach, just beyond the clawing tips of his bloody fingers. Thanatos hated that he couldn’t help as much as he wanted.
This game he introduced, of rushed words and his scythe drawn, the floor cracking open in dazed purple darkness beneath the shades, it was nothing. It was insubstantial. Thanatos wasn’t helping Zagreus, wasn’t offering as much as he could.
Zagreus was breathing heavily, this time. The lush green grass was glowing, burnt black embers in some places. Splattered red, too. Thanatos watched from a too-far distance as Zag stood on uneven footing. Elysium was always harshest on him. There was something ironic to be found in that, Than was sure, but he didn’t have the heart to look for it.
Zagreus’s hair was matted and damp, sticking up and out and to his skin. His laurel flared with each uneven breath, sparking and shuddering with flames. Than watched him drag a hand over his forehead, smearing crimson and, with a harsh flick of his wrist, splattering blood and sweat over the half-crumbled statue just beside him. He sucked in a harsh breath. Thanatos almost wanted to ask how he could handle it, the sickly sweet scent that oozed through the air all around them. Zagreus groaned in a way that made Thanatos bite hard into the skin of his cheek.
“You won this time.” Than’s voice was low, level, even in a way that was too calculated. Still, he kept his back straight and his eyes firm even with the distance behind them. With a jade flare and twist of the light between his fingers, Thanatos offered a Centaur’s heart. Just as he did last time. “Don’t expect me to go easy on you again.”
Zagreus trembled a step forward. The air, always smelling harshly candies and honey, seemed to burn. The air warmed, heated, caramelizing with the scent of burnt sugars instead. Than tried not to visibly inhale so deeply.
Zagreus sighed out, Than’s jaw clenching. He went to say more, break this strange arrangement of theirs--
He laughed, lifted his head back, red blood colouring some of his teeth pink. His eyes burned, flaring, scorching at something deep in the cold confines of Thanatos’s bones.
His smile was bittersweet. Thanatos hated it, how beautiful he was, even now.
“Thank you,” he said with a drawn sigh. He hummed something as he reached out, fingers licking like flames against Than’s icy skin as he caught his wrist. He willed himself not to look away from Zag’s eyes, the warmth of him almost making him worry for charred burns across his skin. Almost.
The Centaur heart gave way under his touch. Than watched life breathed into him, watched how Zag’s posture straightened, his breathing evened out, the fire in him grow warmer and brighter. It was so much hotter, too; the air felt like it was just next to boiling, heat condensing over Than’s skin, melting the ice of his bones. Zagreus didn’t notice how all consuming he was. Zagreus was going to burn him to nothing but ash, consume him entirely.
It lessened, just the slightest bit, when Zag’s hand felt from Thanatos’s. He sucked in a breath, teeth worrying the line of his bottom lip. Zag looked around, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Anxious to rush his way upwards yet again.
“Good luck.” Thanatos hummed out, going to make his leave, flexing his powers and letting it surround him, cutting himself off from Zagreus’s body heat.
“Thank you!” He repeated, practically yelling it, making Thanatos jump and, as embarrassing as it was, lose his grip. He met his gaze once again, saw the tight furrow of his brow. He looked… frustrated, now.
Thanatos waited a moment, studied the lines of his face, watched how his eyes flashed. His jaw clenched, lips parted like he was going to say something else, then snapping his mouth shut. Than wanted to smooth the harsh lines of his frown, trace his fingers over Zag’s face to make it go away.
Instead, he smiled as best he could. Nothing as bright or genuine as Zag’s, no. But the air still rose like steam as Zag's face flushed and met his eyes.
“I’ll… “ He hesitated, chewed on the words, clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, “I’ll see you around, Zagreus.”
He flickered out of this existence and back into a desolate area on the surface, somewhere that didn’t matter or mean anything now. He mulled over the tone he’d just nearly missed, scattered as he vanished in thin air. He pieced the words of Zag’s strangled ‘thank you, Thanatos’ and held them in his hands.
He was cold now. In how Zagreus burned so much brighter lately, his absence left a freezing tension over his flesh.
He breathed in, deep, feeling it bite in his lungs.
Thanatos was selfish. He didn’t appear in the Underworld, during his doomed attempts to escape, to help him. He wasn’t really helping Zag, anymore, not like he should.
It was for himself. Thanatos just wanted to see him, to know he was alright. That he could keep going.
Hypnos tends to tell Thanatos a lot. Or, more than he should when it concerns Zagreus's latest exploits.
"He did what," Than growled, ice cold crackling air around him as he hovered high over his brother. Hypnos, as always, was unaffected. He just yawned, fingers mindlessly rusting through the vibrant quill pen. "C'mon, Than. Open your ears! I said he perished in Tartarus. For the first time in…" He paused, blinked slow, squinting at his scroll. Thanatos just barely glimpsed at messy writing. "About… 78.5 escape attempts! I'd say that's quite a feat in the opposite direction."
He snorted and went to write something down, not even flinching as a clawed gauntlet grabs at his pen, metal talons digging into it. Hypnos gave out a low whine as Than snapped the quill pen in half. "Aw, Than! That was my favourite pen." He pouted. "Hades said he wouldn't give me anymore if I lost this one."
"I'll get you another." He spat out quickly, leaning back and staring up and down the hall. For once, Hades wasn't seated at his desk. Orpheus was paying no mind, Cerberus dozing off. Only the shades that milled past paid them any mind, although more interested in getting a glimpse at Death himself.
He exhaled a chilled breath, turning back to tower over Hypnos, who was too busy mourning his pen to pay any mind. "What do you mean, Hypnos? Where is Zagreus? What happened? Did he head out again?"
Hypnos clicked his tongue, putting his pout away to look at Than lazily. "Wow Than! Both violent and impatient today or tonight, huh? I already told you: Zag died barely five feet into Tartarus, stumbled through here and to his room without a word!"
Than snarled, going to snap something at him, but Hypnos looked down at his scroll and tapped his chin. "I've, ah, been keeping track of when he leaves, though…" For once, Hypnos seems sort of anxious, or as close to it as he can get; fingers listlessing taping at his broken quill, teeth digging into the flesh of his cheek, occasionally, slowly glancing up to look towards Hades's desk.
"You see," he yawned out, "I'm not technically supposed to. But, ah, with him dying so much and all! It got easier to tell." Hypnos looked past Thanatos, making him pivot harshly to track his gaze.
"I noticed around… attempt number 42 or so?" Hypnos said it lowly, gaze intent on the Pool. "But I think the River Styx starts missing him when he isn't out there, struggling not to die and eventually ending up floating here! Funny that, huh?"
Thanatos wondered, maybe for the first time in his entire existence, whether Hypnos wasn't actually as much of an idiot as he seemed. He supposed he'd see a lot, know a lot, come to understand secrets within the confines of this House that went unnoticed. The Pool of Styx was apparently one such secret. It looked no stranger than Than had ever seen it; crimson blood that never was entirely still, lapping along the stairs.
Thanatos had never considered it could even come to miss Zagreus-- or that how many times Zag had ended up slain, beaten and butchered would bring to life something within Styx.
It hollowed out Than's bones, the thought of it.
Hypnos caught his gaze, now looking more bored than anything else. Still, he answered Than's question before it was asked: "He's still in his room then, probably."
He instantly skulked away, not responding to Hypnos's 'bye Thanatos!' shouted back towards him.
Zagreus's room was something familiar, something he could see perfectly when he closed his eyes. And yet stepping inside made his chest ache. Something of it, the air or the decor or the memories; it pulled bubbles up through his lungs and his throat.
Maybe it was the owner of the room.
It took a moment, a pause of breath and a deep inhale. His eyes caught on the clutter first, scrolls piled in corners forever unread. Clothing on the ground, under his desk. The dusty curtains hanging from the dark ceiling and leaving shadows painted across the posters on the walls.
He looked to Zagreus's bed, the pillows like clouds and rustled blue comforter that cascaded like water to the floor. Thanatos clenched his jaw, biting down on his cheek to try and crush the heat roiling up his throat, painting his face.
Than nearly missed the muted red movement through the coiling fabrics.
“Zagreus?” He exhaled his name, watching the duvet sluggishly react. He saw a shock of black hair, mismatched eyes blinking at him out of rhythm. Something so simple buried its way into his heart.
He huffed out a breath, making an unnecessary show of rolling his eyes and scowling as he drifted over Zagreus’s latest carpet bought from the contractor. Eyes watched him and his every movement, narrowed at him. Thanatos halted right by his bedside, met his eyes and… he could nearly swear Zagreus was glaring at him.
“… I thought you were preoccupied,” Zag said, something between a whine and a growl. His eyes narrowed more as Than frowned down at him, head tilted to the side deeply. “I… was? Zagreus, are you alright? Hypnos told me that you--”
Than was nearly smacked clear in the face as Zag flailed his arms out of the fabric contraption he had twisted himself into, groaning loudly only to smother the noise with his hands over his entire face. “Oh Gods, it was an accident okay!” He wailed, using vivid hand motions that were consistently coming dangerously close to Thanatos. “I didn’t think Hypnos could see that much but then I roll out of the Pool and he wouldn’t stop grinning at me and--”
Thanatos snatched Zag’s hand right out of the air, interlocking their fingers with ease. He gave a moment to appreciate the wide-eyed stare Zagreus leveled at him before yanking him upright, pulling a yell from between his teeth. Me miscalculated, at this point; he hadn’t realized just how tangled up Zagreus was, how he’d spun and coiled himself between all his cold sheets and blankets.
All the covers came with him, Zag unable to balance himself on his knees. Than moved quick to duck down, catching Zag before he fell hard to the floor. “Zag,” he breathed out in close proximity, a hand cradling just over his chest. The sudden flare of heat was so palpable even through the blankets, Thanatos’s felt as if he was standing in front of a bonfire.
“You alright there?” Than said, perhaps louder than needed in order to keep his words heard over the pounding of his heart. He clenched his jaw a moment, wetted his lips now dried by the heat. He met Zag’s eyes to find them staring.
“Zagreus,” he ground out, “Hypnos told me you died. In Tartarus. For the first time in… a while. Are you alright?” He blinked, once, twice, as if it was difficult to process what Than was saying. He only sighed, grabbing and the horribly knotted sheets and tearing the blankets from around Zag, shoving him back to sitting on his bed properly.
He found the loss of contact a little too startling.
“I’m…” He paused, dragging the silence a little too long for Than’s liking. “Fine. Really.” He didn’t sound or look convincing; fingers picking away at the sparse loose threads of his comforter, frown still deepset in his brow.
“You’ve always been a horrible liar,” he breathed out, pinching the bridge of his nose. He hesitated a heated moment before kneeling on the edge of the bed, hand reaching out to the edge of the duvet he was grasping at. Picking it from Zag’s hands without protest, Thanatos threw the covers off him. “Tell me what’s wrong. Really.”
Zag looked as if considering scowling in response, only to meet Than’s stone stare and seemingly think better of it. Instead, he groaned, using the space left between them to throw his feet over the side of the bed.
There’s little more to learn when immortality comes in to play. Less still, being the avatar of Death. Thanatos has lived a thousand lives and he will live thousands more. He could nearly say he’s seen it all, everything from the mortal perils of the surface to the lowest plains of the Underworld and anything scurrying in between.
He knew all about himself, who he was, what he wanted.
And yet Zagreus licked his lips, looked up at him through his eyelashes, and he suddenly, intensely wanted to learn what his lips tasted like.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” Zag whispered, nodding his head towards the door, “out there, I mean.”
He didn’t really know what to make of that, or how his tone made him clench his jaw or any of this. “...Zagreus.” He said, trying not to sound just so stern or monotone for once. “I… don’t understand. I’ve not always come to help you, before. And what does this have to do with your defeat?”
“Thanatos, listen, it’s…” He said, humming the words, “I guess I’ve… come to enjoy your appearances. A lot. I won’t lie, those challenges of yours really manage to brighten the gloom of nearly dying at every turn.” He grinned. The way his lips curled around the smile and lifted with the humour in his eyes made Than cover his own mouth, willing his heart to beat slower.
“It’s just that it’s, ah, been… I’d say ten attempts since I’ve last seen you.” He said. Than watched every movement, every flicker of emotion as it eased over his face.
He tended to count the days that passed when he was on the surface. Watching the lamenting sky as the sun and moon danced apart from each other. Thanatos found the chill of the surface, even with it’s winds and fresh open air and flora, so much colder than the Underworld. Or, at least, how it felt when he was with Zagreus.
He counted the days that passed when he was away from home-- away from Zagreus. He’d never considered that Zag could possibly do the same.
Zag shrugged, a lazy grin sweeping across his expression as he straightened his back. “It’s nothing, really, Than. I…” He looked away a moment, before sighing and standing up with a huffed stretch of his arms over his head. “It’s just. Always good to see you, I suppose.”
He nudged towards the back door, looking more sure and stubborn, self-assured than he did before. “Well!” He practically bellowed, “I should get back to it, Than. I’m, ah, sure you have more pressing things to attend to as well. But… really. You know I always look forward to your sudden appearances.”
“Duly noted.” Thanatos nodded, freezing when he saw Zag give him a final smile before turning away. “Ah, Zag, wait!” He halted with one foot out the door, pivoting on so suddenly it nearly gave Thanatos whiplash. “Yes, Than? What’s up?”
“You didn’t tell me,” he said, “what exactly happened in Tartarus.”
Zagreus gulped very visibly. “I… fell.”
“Are we-- this isn’t a euphemism, right? I know you died?”
“Oh Gods, Than!” Zagreus groaned, pouting as he dragged his hands down his face. “I tripped over a rock and practically smashed my face into the waiting fist of a wretched thug! You happy now?”
“Are you ser--”
“If you tell anyone,” Zag hissed, pointing an accusing finger at Than as he tried to slink out the door backwards. He felt with his other hand, barely missing the doorframe. “And I mean anyone. I will… be… angry. Very angry. Do you hear me, Thanatos?”
Than scoffed, rolling his eyes. Any semblance of a clever retort kept slipping through his fingers, pushed out of his mind by the laugh bubbling up his throat. “I-I won’t, Zagreus. I swear on it.”
Than stared straight at him, now, eyes intent. He wondered about the starry-eyed expression on Zagreus’s face but bit his tongue. “And… I’ll try and. Cut into my schedule more to, ah, attend to this arrangement of ours.” He sucked in a breath through his teeth. The way Zagreus’s whole expression shifted and how he looked at him and how the air in the room seemed to bubble with warmth making something in turn light up in Than’s bones.
“I…” He stopped, groaned out and wished Zag would take his glare seriously for once. “I enjoy fighting beside you, as well, Zag. despite how you’ve made me go against rules, damn you.”
“I didn’t make you do anything.”
Than chuckled, whatever deeper retort Zag was going to resort to getting caught in his throat. “You did, Zagreus. You did.”
He’s learnt to trace every touch to his memory, every interaction between them. How Zagreus seems to emit a steady warmth, lulling and comforting. His breath is like steam, eyes always burning with something. Flames lick up into the air from his laurel, cinders left in his every path. Zagreus leaves a mark on everything, everyone around him.
Thanatos wonders how no one else seems just as keen: he sees Achilles respond to a comforting hand on his shoulder without checking that Zagreus didn’t leave scorched fingerprints; or when Zag walks up behind Meg and shocks her with a hand to her back and she only cusses at him for the surprise and not the warmth of him. No one else seems so dragged in, drawn in by him. Not in the way Thanatos is.
He’s aware of just how cold he is.
Death isn’t warm. There’s no comfort in his hands, nobody heat to lean into. It’s repelling, the sheer cold of his skin. It goes beyond his powers; monotone, stern, closed-off.
And selfish, he’s realized.
Zagreus’s touch is seared into his flesh. The contours of his mind wrap around memories of him. He feels warmth in his chest, unusual and strange, flare to life with the smallest smile.
Thanatos wants more. All. everything he can have or be allowed to have.
It’s selfish, truly. To seek Zag out during his strife with the Underworld, only to help little. How he had to vanish so often, so quickly, so quietly. Than knew his silence, dragged on pauses and nothingness he found comfort in, was something Zagreus didn’t comprehend himself.
Zagreus was leaving. He had a drive, purpose, something to rush forward to. And yet here Thanatos was, realizing time and time again that he wished to pull him back just a step more, to steal his time away for himself.
He wanted everything Zagreus was. Every touch, every word, every grin.
He wants to discover if Zagreus’s lips feel as warm as his smile.
Time and time again, he’d tell himself he was content as he is now.
“You’ve been appearing more.”
Thanatos stopped, the centaur heart already loosened from his grasp. Nearly seconds from vanishing again, from claiming he had a job to return to only to shirk his duties and watch Zagreus at work. Instead, he hesitated. “What are you getting at, Zagreus?”
He’d been hurt before Thanatos had appeared. As was often the case; the denizens of the Underworld weren’t in any way kind. Even as the centaur heart’s power oozed under his skin and mended his wounds to a point, red was still dripping down his left arm, from a gash that wasn’t all there anymore. His teeth were faded pinks, his lip cut. He watched how it stretched as he smiled, then winced and offered a slightly pained grin.
Yet, he smiled. Than couldn’t say he understood, not truly, how he could smile even now. But he did, and the air grew warm.
“I just noticed,” Zag hummed, “that you’ve been appearing more. Helping-- ah, challenging me, I mean. I… appreciate it, Thanatos.” He chuckled, a hand going to the back of his head.
Than scoffed, rolling his eyes. “I simply have… some more spare time, as of late.” He quieted, watched a moment as Zagreus groaned, putting the spear leaning against a stone pillar as he sat down on the hot rocky floor of Asphodel. “…that wasn’t an invitation to laze about, Zag.”
He looked up at him through his hair, lilting his head to the side. “I didn’t take it as one. I’m simply preparing to continue. Nothing more.”
“Nothing more,” he mocked with a snort, arms crossed. “I’ll leave you to your preparations the--”
Lava flooded his veins, rushing through his body. Thanatos leveled a scowl down at Zag, wondering if the heat crawling across his face was Zag’s fault, too. “What did you say?”
He licked his lips; Than watched the motion too intently. “I think. You heard me.” He couldn’t seem to quite meet his gaze, staring over fuming pools of lava and looking to the blood dried under his nails.
“I… did.” He watched him, not completely seeing him. The metal fingers of his gauntlet scratched against one another as he clenched his fist.
Zagreus jumped out of his skin as Thanatos moved to sit beside him, slowly as if he’d bolt at any minute. Zag was tense at his side, like they were doing something horrible here. Than decided not to dwell on that, letting Zag’s presence invade every crevice of his skull.
This part of the Underworld was always steaming, boiling over with heat. The rock under his was warm, but nowhere near in the same way as Zag was beside him. That heat didn’t make his blood simmer, his chest ache, his bones melt like metal.
It didn’t compare.
When Zag leaned fully into him, the tension leaving his shoulders in wake of some sort of comfort Than struggled to consider, Thanatos sucked in a breath harshly. Zag did the opposite; a sigh of relief, Than realized.
“I’m cold,” Than blurted out, no thought behind the words beyond that Zag must find it uncomfortable. He dug his teeth into his cheek, cursing himself; surely, now Zag was going to leave, admit to it and lean away--
“Gods, you are, Than.” He said. Than’s brain melted as his head fell on his shoulder. “It’s so nice. I swear, I always overheat in Asphodel. That’s the real danger of this place, Than.”
He could’ve sworn he’d combust, burst into flames and ash and stars. He was burning from the inside out, his ribs engulfed in an inferno.
“Are.. you sure?” He said now, his mouth overstepping his rapant thoughts. “I’m not exactly as… warm and comforting as you are, Zag--”
He twisted around, contorting away from Than’s side just a moment until he was hovering in front of him. Than stopped breathing; Zag was close, hands on either side of Than’s hips to hold him up as he leaned over him, inches from his face.
“What are you saying?” Zag breathed out, his breath like steam across Than’s face. He opened his mouth, closed it again clenched his teeth tight. He wondered if Zagreus could feel it, the way his heart was pounding.
A grin slid across Zag’s face, from one corner of his lip to the other. “What did you say?”
His heart was pinched between his teeth-- Zag knew exactly what he was doing.
Thanatos let out a low sigh, trying to calm his heart with a slow inhale. With a hand put to his chest, Zag made to move back, only stopped as Than bunched the fabric of his chiton. “Don’t,” Than breathed out lowly. Zag listened, kept close.
“I… said.” He bit his lip, noticing how Zag watched the action. “You’re… warm, Zagreus. Impossibly so. I feel your touch for days after, did you know that?” He blurted out, the words quick now that they’ve escaped his mind. “You light up the room. I swear it feels like you leave marks on my skin and frankly I wouldn’t mind. Everything about you is warmth and I--”
A hand seared over his mouth, smothering the distressed and annoyed groan that welled up his throat. His fingers cinched around Zag’s wrist, about to pull himself free and ask what was wrong with him.
But the way he suddenly laughed, so overjoyed and content, Than froze in his spot.
His eyes were golden, looking at him with pure delight behind them. Whatever pain he felt in his split lip was forgotten, his smile as wide as Than had ever seen it. Every place that they touch burned, so giddy in the heat of it.
“Thanatos…” He sighed out, keeping his voice low like it was a secret. He leaned in just that slightest bit more. “You know, I thought it was just me.”
Than couldn’t say anything, caught under Zag’s palm. He couldn’t possibly get his lips to work around whatever thoughts were raging in his skull. Especially as Zag smoothed his fingers over Than’s shoulder, along his collarbone.
“You’re… cold.” He said with a slight wince, “in the best way, I mean. You’re… relief? Respite? Like… you let me breathe, Thanatos.”
Thanatos couldn’t take it anymore. He ripped Zagreus’s hand off him and captured his lips.
Zagreus’s lips seared in the best ways.