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it'll have to drown me before it can breathe easy

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Death approaches, Zagreus thinks, and can’t stop himself from laughing.

Death himself seems unamused. “Zagreus,” says Thanatos, emerging from the shadows, and oh, full names. He’s testy today, then. “Do you know why I gave you that butterfly?”

“Well, I thought it was a token of your affections. Or maybe just an indictment of my fashion sense.” He’s slumped over by one of the statues in Elysium, bleeding rather steadily. It was Alecto this time, all the way downstairs, dispatched without too much trouble. She’s probably jealous she doesn’t get to see him now, covered all over in red.

His mind is wandering. It always seems to do that when he’s about to die. He’s tried to ask about it, but Thanatos never likes talking about things like that.

He crouches beside Zagreus. The scythe casts a long shadow. He sets it down so that he can take Zagreus’s chin in his hand, turning his face from side to side, a very clinical inspection. Zagreus is bleeding from a cut above his eye, and the same blow left him dizzy and not quite there, like he might dissipate at any moment. “I gave it to you so you would have an incentive to be careful.”

Thanatos’s hand is probably the only thing keeping Zagreus together, from floating away completely. It feels like that, at least. “Ah, Than. Have you ever known me to be careful?”

“No. But it would certainly be nice.” Thanatos lets him go. He grimaces, running his hand down Zagreus’s chest. He’s bleeding there, too. “Zagreus. This is a mortal wound.”

Yes, he knew that. Zagreus and mortal wounds have gotten quite cozy recently. “So it’s not just a social call this time, then?”

“I don’t know if anything is ever just a social call with you.”

“I’m not very good at them,” agrees Zagreus. “Social calls. Talking. Meg is always telling me—well.” He bites the inside of his cheek.

Thanatos raises an eyebrow. “You can talk about Meg.”

“How am I supposed to know that?” He raises a hand to rub at his face. Thanatos grabs him by the wrist before he can. Ah, right. All the blood. “She and I aren’t—not anymore, not really, but sometimes I think—this is one of the things I’m not good at.”

“You could always try asking,” says Thanatos, squeezing his wrist once before releasing it. “Or listening to what I tell you.”

“Right,” says Zagreus, closing his eyes. “It would be much easier, wouldn’t it? If I just listened to you. To both of you.” Then he would know where he stood.

“You’ve never been any good at doing things the easy way, either.” Thanatos plucks the butterfly from Zagreus’s cloak, and wipes it off on his own before replacing it with careful fingers.

“You’ll get blood on you,” Zagreus says, unnecessarily and too late. Thanatos levels him with a very flat look.

“You think I mind a little blood?”

“I’ve been told mine is overly bright.”

“No,” says Thanatos. He looks down at his hands, stained red. “I don’t think so.” He settles down next to Zagreus, their shoulders touching.

Zagreus leans into him. “Do you really have time to waste sightseeing with me in Elysium?”

“Of course not.” Thanatos tilts Zagreus’s chin again, inspecting his eyes. Can he tell from looking at him how long Zagreus has left? “I’m doing my job.”

In Zagreus’s experience, Thanatos never has to wait long for anyone to die. He always arrives just on time. Still, he doesn’t complain. He turns his face into Thanatos’s shoulder, closing his eyes. The scent of Elysium can get old after too long, sickly sweet and cloying. Thanatos smells nice. Like moss and gravedirt. Like he’s real.

“Sorry,” Zagreus mumbles, breathing in. “That I can’t be careful.” He tries to open his eyes again, but can’t quite manage it.

“It doesn’t matter.” Zagreus would tell Thanatos not to lie, but he can’t figure out how to open his mouth. It’s not usually this slow. Maybe it’s because Thanatos is here. Death, brother of Sleep. An unwarlike way to go. “I’ll always be here to bring you back.”

The Styx takes him them; and Thanatos, too.

-

For once Zagreus guessed right. Thank the gods it isn’t Tisiphone this time.

“You know,” says Zagreus brightly, tugging at his ear, “Than’s keepsake works better when I don’t get hurt. Yours, on the other hand…”

“You’re going to get hurt, Zag.” The way Meg twirls her whip isn’t actually meant to be threatening, which of course makes it much worse. “That’s inevitable, if you don’t stop this.”

“Well, I’m not.”

“Then you should be prepared.” She nods to the earring. “Are you complaining?”

“Not at all! It’s very stylish.” It grows warm, whenever he’s hurt enough for it to react, to make him stronger. A localized sort of ache, like the way he felt when Meg pierced his ear while Than watched them both curiously, a very long time ago. It’s nice. A more comforting kind of pain than the snap of the bone hydra’s teeth, certainly.

Meg stalks closer. Zagreus hefts Varatha, but she just nudges it out of the way with her whip, stepping into his space like it’s nothing. She takes his chin in her hand, just like Than did the last time around. He was more gentle about it, though. Meg turns his head sharply to the side. Zagreus swallows, and thinks about his bones cracking, and tries his best to stand very, very still.

When Meg lets him go, he nearly staggers forward. “It looks nice on you,” she says simply, and lunges for him.

He’s off kilter for the entire fight. Meg doesn’t touch him, not like that, not anymore. Maybe that was the point. He makes good use of the earring, he’s certainly bleeding badly enough for it. And then he gets caught in Meg’s whip one too many times. It sends him crashing to the ground, and he doesn’t get up.

“Ow,” he says. His ear burns. Meg scoffs. He can hear the ringing sound of metal on stone as she walks towards him. He reaches out for Varatha, calling it to his hand. The way Meg steps on his wrist then is almost gentle, for her. It still hurts, and hurts worse when he tries to twist away.

“I really don’t understand,” she says. “You don’t have to do this. Any of this. You think you’re so special? No one escapes the House.”

He grins up at her. “When you always greet me so nicely when I leave, how can I resist?”

Meg grinds her foot down. Zagreus groans.

“Let it go, Zagreus. It will hurt less.”

It’s not the dying this time that makes him honest. Just the pain. The best and worst thing about Meg is that she always knows how to make it hurt. “Is that why it’s over between us, Meg? You think it’s easier to just run away? The less painful thing?”

“You don’t know anything, do you.” She takes her foot off his wrist and presses it very lightly against his throat instead. Zagreus closes his eyes, and reminds himself to breathe while he still can. Varatha is useless in his grip; he thinks his wrist is probably broken.

The bell sounds.

“Hello, Megaera.”

She puts her weight down; Zagreus chokes. “Come to collect him?”

Thanatos is striking in the dim light of Tartarus. Dimmer, now, as Zagreus’s vision fades. “If you’re done playing with your food.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Well, at least this time he dies laughing. When he greets Hypnos, his throat still aches.

-

“At the risk of repeating myself,” says Zagreus, “Than, what exactly are we doing, you and I?”

He only made it as far as Asphodel this time. It’s a terrible place to die. He still feels brittle all over from the gorgon turning him to stone; singed from taking a few too many tumbles into the Phlegethon. He’d won the fight, barely, and stood to go on to the next chamber, and found that his legs wouldn’t hold him.

“Right now? I’m wondering why you keep bothering with this.” Thanatos had been waiting ahead to help him, apparently. Instead he found Zagreus half dead, sweating in the heat, wondering if he would die of thirst like mortals do. Could his father make that possible here?

“No, I really don’t think that’s it.” Thanatos’s hand is gentle in his hair, at least, his legs comfortable under Zagreus’s head. He’ll probably be embarrassed about this later, having his head cradled in Thanatos’s lap like a child. That’s another thing he’s come to realize; it’s hard to be embarrassed about anything when you’re dying. “You could have just sent me back when you found me, you know. But instead you’re—whatever this is.” Comforting me.

“Maybe I’m just being selfish,” says Thanatos. Then, quieter, “Maybe I like watching you die.”

“Do you?”

Thanatos’s eyes almost glow sometimes. Surrounded by the ash of Asphodel, the effect is magnified. “It’s...comforting. Watching the light fade. Knowing that you’ll be somewhere I can find you.”

“Aw, Than,” says Zagreus, his eyes slipping closed. “How sweet. I’m glad my bullheaded insistence on bloodshed at least brings someone comfort.”

“Sorry. I’m not very good at this either.” He brushes his thumb against Zagreus’s cheek. “Is that what you want?”

“What?” He feels a little cold now. That’s probably bad.

“For me to send you back.”

“For you to kill me.”

Thanatos leans a little closer, so that his shadow blocks out the harsh light of Asphodel. “Yes.”

Zagreus thinks of Megaera’s heel pressed to his throat. He’s died plenty, plenty, plenty of ways, and there are worse ways to go than to the hand of someone that cares. How many times has he been cast back into his father’s house? None of the shades even know who he is. Meg did; Than does. “That sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it?”

“You’re very strange,” says Thanatos, smiling. He cups Zagreus’s cheek, watching him intently. “Do you have a preference?”

“For how to die? I can put up with almost anything by now.”

“That’s not what I asked.” His thumb strokes just under Zagreus’s jaw, the kind of touch that can be a caress or a threat.

“You’re the expert.”

His thumb digs in, just a little. “Zag.”

Zagreus grins up at him, hoping it’s not too bloody. Or maybe that’s fine, maybe Than likes that. “You have really nice hands,” he says. “Meg thinks so too.”

“You’ve been talking about me?”

“Isn’t that what you two do when you’re drinking together in the lounge?”

Thanatos makes a noncommittal noise, fitting his hand against Zagreus’s throat. It feels nice. Zagreus’s pulse had started to slow, but it picks up again. He wonders if Than can feel it. “Does it hurt, after?” he asks. “You say I’m the expert, Zag, but I’ve never died.”

“Sometimes. Mortal’s bodies remember things better than ours, I think.”

Thanatos’s other hand cradles the back of his head. He’s very close, now. When did he get so close? “Well,” he says, “let’s see if yours remembers.” It’s a light kiss; Zagreus barely has time to feel it before Thanatos twists his hands. He’s broken his neck a few times. It’s never been so gentle.

-

Meg again this time. Zagreus is always glad to see her, especially when last time he was here he was shredded to pieces by Alecto’s blades.

“I know Thanatos has been helping you,” she says. “Just because you’ve got him wrapped around your finger doesn’t mean I’m going to let you off easy. Some of us don’t let personal attachments get in the way of our work.”

“Oh? So you’re attached?” He doesn’t mention that while someone’s definitely wrapped around someone’s finger, he’s not so sure it’s Thanatos.

Meg doesn’t answer. She’s always been better than him at not taking the bait.

He keeps his distance this time; Coronacht helps. Too bad that what it takes to get past her is to stay as far away as he can. Zagreus hardly sleeps anymore, but when he does, he finds his body does remember: all the ways Meg has killed him, the whip wrapped around his ankle, her heel against his throat. Thanatos’s hands cradling the back of his head, dragging him gently down.

It’s almost lonely in the house. They don’t touch him then.

Still, Coronacht seeks hearts as true as ever, with a little help from Aphrodite; Meg stumbles, weak, and Zagreus lets off one last shot. The arrow stays there, quivering, Meg pierced through the chest. Her wing stretches out, fluttering, but she can’t keep her balance.

Zagreus rushes forward; Meg snarls when he catches her. Still, he lowers her down gently.

“Just get out of here already,” she snaps. “You’re wasting time.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Meg, but the one thing all of us have an abundance of is time.” An overabundance, maybe. He brushes away some of the hair stuck to her sweaty cheek.

Meg reaches up, her nails sharp against the back of his neck. “This is why you’ll never get out,” she says. “Not for real. You let your stupid heart drag you down.”

“And what should I do instead, Meg? Put it away and pretend it doesn’t matter?”

“You have to choose. You don’t get to have everything you want.”

“Why not? I’m a god, aren’t I?”

Meg laughs, then, and coughs, and wraps her hand around the shaft of the arrow and yanks it out.

“Hey!”

She tosses it aside. “Idiot.” She pulls him down by the neck. It’s a little like dying, the way Meg kisses him: sudden and bloody and biting, consuming the entire world.

“I see I’m a little early.”

“Oh—” Zagreus doesn’t get far. He tries to sit back, but Meg digs her fingers in. He’s not really interested in having his neck broken again right this second, so Zagreus goes where she puts him.

She relents eventually. Zagreus isn’t the one bleeding out, and he still feels a little dizzy. “Um, hi,” he says, looking up to meet Thanatos’s eyes.

Zagreus knows what it feels like to burn, very literally. It’s not his favorite way to go. This is worse than that by far, and better, too. Thanatos’s look is piercing. An arrow to the heart.

“Death waits for no one,” says Thanatos, in that way he has, where he laughs without laughing.

“Might as well get it over with.” Meg’s eyes have gone glassy. She pats Zagreus’s cheek, hard enough that he might call it a slap, if he didn’t know what the real thing feels like. “Give ‘em hell. Your father’s going to be pissed enough at me as it is.”

“I’m, uh. Not sure I’m capable of doing anything else.” Thanatos scoops her up, deftly avoiding taking a wing to the face.

“You’re really just going to leave me here?” Zagreus asks plaintively. He doesn’t really want to run all the way through the maze of the underworld right now. He’s a little more interested in what he and Meg were just doing, in the way Thanatos was watching them.

“I’m sure Megaera and I have a lot to talk about,” says Thanatos, primly, and vanishes before Zagreus can stop gaping. He sighs, and collapses back onto the cool stones of Tartarus.

Eventually he gets up. If he doesn’t give it his all this time, Meg really will kill him again, and she won’t be nice about it.

-

Things are strange, now, unbalanced and undecided. Maybe Zagreus should have expected that to happen; he’s the one who knocked the House of Hades out of equilibrium by trying to leave. Things were simple before. He and Meg were over, and he and Thanatos weren’t anything.

Neither of those things are true anymore. But Zagreus doesn’t want to ask. It’s something he should already know, isn’t it? Like the work his father wanted him to do. Like how to be his son. He should know what to say when Meg and Thanatos corner him and force him to actually sit down with them on the recliner in his bedroom, after having one of their whispered conversations in the lounge that Meg’s glare keeps him from eavesdropping on.

“Come on,” says Meg. “You’ve never been any good at this, Zagreus, we all know that.”

“Well, thanks.” Zagreus flops down, belligerent. He hates being forced to stay in one place, and they know it. But Meg doesn’t move his head from her lap, and Thanatos doesn’t push his feet out of his, even as his cloak starts to smoke. “So, how was it, Meg? Seems to me you don’t often get Thanatos’s sort of death.”

“Too slow,” says Meg. “Next time just gut me, alright?”

“As you like.” Zagreus closes his eyes. Meg isn’t about to start playing with his hair the way Thanatos does, but she’s tapping out a quiet rhythm against his collarbone. Maybe taking a rest once in a while isn’t so bad. “I’m a fan, personally. Being washed away by the Styx gets a little old, though.”

“Glad to be appreciated,” says Thanatos. He has his hand wrapped around Zagreus’s ankle. It’s all very...Zagreus really doesn’t know. He wishes he did. He suddenly can’t stand it, then, lying down, staying still. He sits up, settling between them instead.

“What about you?” Meg asks. “How’s death treating you? How many times has it been, now, and you still haven’t given up?”

If Zagreus didn’t know any better, he’d think that was admiration in her voice instead of disgust. He slumps against Thanatos, thinking about it. “It’s calm,” he says. “Like the moment before you fall asleep, except you weren’t going to sleep. Like—all the fight goes out of you at once.”

“And that’s a good thing?” asks Meg.

“Sometimes.”

Meg and Thanatos share a glance over his head. They have a way of understanding each other with just a look that always makes Zagreus ache; it’s never that easy for him, not with either of them.

“What?” asks Zagreus.

“Tell you next time I see you out there,” says Thanatos, and vanishes out from under him. Zagreus flails, and nearly tumbles to the ground; he’s only saved by Meg grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and righting him.

“I really wish he wouldn’t do that.”

“He gets nervous,” says Meg. “You understand, I’m sure.”

“Not a problem for you, I take it.”

“Not at all.” Meg leans in close. Zagreus lets his eyes fall half-lidded, and waits, as Meg leans across him to gather up her whip where she left it coiled. “I have work,” she says, and stands. “Try not to cause too much trouble without us.”

Zagreus groans, and she laughs. Maybe it’s not so bad, to live in something without a name.

-

It’s always fun when Thanatos comes and fights with him. Strange, sometimes, with things still pulled taut between them, but Than has always been prickly. Zagreus is an old hand at dealing with it.

Zagreus wins this time, one Boneshaker more than Thanatos. He never asks where Thanatos gets the centaur hearts he always has on hand. Maybe Charon. It’s a nice feeling every time he takes one, the way it makes him feel more alive, more himself.

He looks up, expecting Thanatos to be hovering there still, if he hasn’t disappeared already. But he’s come down to the earth, sitting on the edge of the Lethe, dipping his feet in.

Zagreus collapses beside him, leaning back on his hands. “Trying to forget something?”

“You know it doesn’t work on us.” Thanatos draws one of his knees up, balancing his elbow on it as he looks at Zagreus sidelong.

Zagreus bears his scrutiny. “If I have butterfly guts on my face, you have to tell me.”

Thanatos just raises an eyebrow at him.

“So is this a social call, then? Not that I’m complaining, it’s always nice to talk with you, but you’re usually in a bit more of a hurry.”

Thanatos shrugs. “Maybe your lack of work ethic is rubbing off on me,” he says. Then, “What you told Meg...was that really the truth, Zag? ‘Like falling asleep’? A little trite, if you ask me.”

“Well, we both know I’m not a poet,” says Zagreus. “You won’t be getting any great treatises on death from me. Oh, let’s see. ‘Taken up by the subtle wine-dark sea, blood-warm and quick’, is that better?

“You really aren’t a poet.”

“That’s what Orpheus is for.” Than still looks so serious, so Zagreus relents. “It’s hard to describe. I don’t—it’s not a problem. I mean, it’s not ideal, but it’s really not so bad. I’m always glad to see you.”

Thanatos looks into the river. “So I’m why you can’t be careful?”

“No, Than. That’s all me. Look. What’s this really about?”

“I don’t know what it feels like,” says Thanatos, frowning. “Maybe I’m just curious.”

Death has become such a constant companion to Zagreus lately that it’s hard to imagine. But after all, death incarnate has no reason to cast himself back into the Styx. “Does it worry you? That you don’t know what happens to me?”

“You’re an easy person to worry about, Zag.”

He’s never wanted to be. And yet he doesn’t mind it, the way Thanatos and Meg’s eyes always follow him. Like they’re waiting to catch him if he falls.

“Would you like to?”

Thanatos barks out a laugh. “What, die? Isn’t that a little reckless?”

“Of course. That’s what you like about me, isn’t it?”

A smile ghosts across Thanatos’s face. “Among other things,” he agrees. “But...I don’t really want to fight you. You and Megaera—it’s not like that, with us. Is it?”

“No, not really. I can’t imagine you actually raising a blade against me. No offense.”

“No,” says Thanatos, not meeting Zagreus’s eyes. “Neither can I. Maybe it would be easier if I could.”

They’re back there again, in the spaces of the things they don’t talk about.

“Than,” says Zagreus. “I really am sorry. That I didn’t tell you I was leaving.”

“But not sorry for trying to leave?”

“No,” he says. “No. I won’t lie to you. This—I have to do this. But I’d rather do it with your help.”

Thanatos turns to him. His gaze sometimes feels like a touch, as solid as a palm against Zagreus’s cheek. “It’s alright,” he says. “I understand, now. And it’s not as though you could outrun me, even if you tried. As long as you don’t mind that.”

“I don’t.”

Thanatos grins at him then, one of his rare smiles, as bright as the flame of an oil-lamp and just as delicate. He lays down, in a motion that’s only graceful because it’s him. “Well, go ahead,” he says. “I won’t fight.”

Zagreus kneels beside him, feeling strangely unsure. His hands are never unsteady around a blade; it was the first thing Achilles taught him. Hold your weapon with intention. Treat it carefully. Stygius is comfortable in his grip, and old friend, and Than is comfortable too, when Zagreus presses a hand to his chest. Utterly relaxed even as he puts a sword to his throat.

He takes a deep breath. Takes another. Watches the way Thanatos is watching him. It makes his throat ache.

“Sorry,” he says, shuddering, and he lowers Stygius to the ground. “Sorry, Than, I really don’t think I can.”

“I’m death itself.” Thanatos’s eyes are still so warm. “I promise you can’t hurt me.”

“Still. It’s—there’s something Achilles said, once. About who I am. I just don’t think I can. It’s not in my nature.”

“Life and death, huh?” asks Thanatos. “I thought it might be so.” He closes his eyes, unconcerned. “Yet you deal plenty of death out here.”

“Fine. Then maybe it’s just you.” He touches Thanatos’s cheek then, feeling the way the skin moves when he smiles. It’s nice. It’s really nice. He could absolutely get used to this. “You can always ask Meg. She’s pretty good at killing her friends.”

“Friends?” Thanatos opens his eyes. “You might be surprised, Zag, at how differently Megaera treats you to everyone else,” he says. “But you’re right. I’m sure she could help.”

“Well, nothing for it,” says Zagreus. “She’s going to be so pissed about this.” He calls her forth; King Theseus has no idea how easy he’s going to get off this time, not having to deal with her.

Meg swoops down, skidding to a stop on her heels. “I don’t see anything that needs to be blasted to pieces,” she says, but she doesn’t sound surprised. She doesn’t even raise an eyebrow at them, which seems unfair. It’s not every day Zagreus has a romantic—whatever this is—sprawled in the grass of Elysium.

“Just calling in a favor,” says Thanatos. They share another one of those looks. It’s unfair, Zagreus thinks, that he can be gossipped about without either of them even saying a word.

“If you two are quite done—”

“You’re the one who called me,” says Meg. She drops to her knees beside them both, and snorts. “Having trouble with follow-through, Zag?”

He puts his face in his hands. “This was a bad idea.” He can even hear Thanatos laughing at him.

“Nice to know that I’m special,” Meg says. There’s an edge to her voice, balanced carefully, a blade waiting to strike. “No one else you’d rather kill, Zag?”

“I’m not sure there’s a right answer to that.”

“No,” Meg agrees. “And you,” she says, turning to Thanatos. “I am not going to kill you.”

“Not your type?” asks Thanatos.

“I’m a Fury. We only kill people who earn it.”

“Shouldn’t that be ‘deserve’?” asks Zagreus.

“No.” Meg tilts her head, and picks up Stygius. It looks odd in her hand, like it doesn’t belong, and yet it fits anyway, comfortable in her grip. Zagreus kind of likes it. “But I’ll help you out, if that’s what you want.”

“I—sure. Alright.”

She nudges Zagreus, who is feeling suddenly and inexplicably clumsy, until he’s straddling Thanatos’s thighs. Meg puts the blade in his hand, adjusting his grip for him like he’s still a student. It doesn’t make his hands any more steady, and neither does Meg pressing against his back, her hands still wrapped around his. He can feel her everywhere. He lets her heartbeat anchor him.

“Ready?” she asks, in his ear, which is not fair. She’s doing it on purpose, he knows it. The point of Stygius is balanced against Thanatos’s chest, and he’s breathing more steadily than Zagreus is. Calmer than the waters of the Styx. Zagreus wonders if he even can die, or if he’ll just bleed and bleed and bleed under them.

“Shouldn’t you be asking him that?”

“No,” they both say at once, and Zagreus feels—he can’t name it, not yet, not like this. But it’s nice. How unsteady can he be, with Than under him and Meg at his back? How much can be undecided, even if they can’t say it yet?

He meets Thanatos’s eyes. He looks happy, there, waiting for the cut, in such an uncomplicated way. Thanatos is never uncomplicated, and very rarely happy.

Zagreus takes in a deep, shuddering breath, and nods.

Meg grips his hands harder, and leans forward. Thanatos is silent, when Stygius pierces his skin. Zagreus is the one who gasps, his hands all at once shaking. But Meg holds him tight. She keeps him balanced.

Than tips his head back, his eyeslashes fluttering. Zagreus keeps going, driving the blade deep. Stygius can pierce the earth of Elysium itself. Meg releases him, and he shivers, falling forward, his hands still wrapped around Stygius’s hilt. He tucked his face into Thanatos’s neck, not sure if he can look at him just yet.

“Ow,” says Thanatos dryly against his ear, and then he starts to laugh again, a short, choked off sound.

Zagreus breathes him in, and sits up. He can't help but touch him, to feel that he's still alive, even if not for long. Thanatos presses a hand to the wound, looking at his own blood as though he’s never seen it before.

“Well?” asks Meg. “As exciting as you imagined?”

“I’ll let you know.” Thanatos’s voice is quiet, his eyes slipping closed. “This is nothing like falling asleep.”

“I await your verdict.” Zagreus brushes the hair from his eyes. “You’ll die faster if I take the sword out. I think. Do any of us actually need blood?”

“That’s fine,” says Thanatos, his voice wavering a little. He turns his face into Zagreus’s hand. “It’s nice. But stay with me, alright?”

“Of course.” He looks to Meg. She doesn’t seem like she’s planning on going anywhere, either, her hand balanced on her fist.

“Sure,” she says companionably. “I’ll babysit.” Quick as the strike of her whip, she leans in, and presses her mouth to Zagreus’s cheek.

Zagreus shakes his head. He curls up beside Thanatos, palm pressed beside the blade, feeling the stuttering way his chest rises and falls. He can see what Thanatos meant. It is comforting. Nothing is ever fully settled, even in the House of Hades. There is always something more waiting to break. But death is a constant. Meg with her whip, always there to send him back or die trying, and Thanatos ready to take him. Death, at least, never changes; death you can rely upon to take you where you mean to go. To find you when no one else will. To catch you when you run.

“See you on the other side, Zag.”

“Yeah,” says Zagreus. “I’ll be waiting.”