As long as there is life, there is death, and Thanatos always has work to do. The gods on Olympus wage their wars, and it is of course the mortals that suffer for it. The clash of spears, the spilling of blood on earth: this is Ares’ domain, not his. But it is not only soldiers that are taken by the red tide of war, and few deaths are heroic or glorious. There are those whose homes are razed by passing armies, whose farms are turned into battlefields, whose cities are only the backdrop for a squabble between gods. He goes from battlefield to battlefield, sending souls down to the underworld. Mortals speak in whispers of his mercilessness, his pitilessness. There is always work for him to do.
This is why it takes a summons from Lord Hades himself to learn of the turmoil at the House. The call comes as he is in the midst of escorting two souls to the underworld: an old couple, together even in death. He hands them off to Charon, and steps through the fabric of space and time into the dark depths of Hades. He appears among the lingering shades and marble columns of the hall only to find himself in the middle of a confrontation between Megaera and the Lord of the House.
“... I won’t let it happen again”, Megaera is saying, standing before the throne, her back perfectly straight. “I was caught off guard, that’s all. He has the power of the Olympians—”
“Do not speak of them in this house!” Hades says, his voice booming through the hall. “The Olympians and I divided our domains long ago. They would not risk my anger by sending one of their own to fight his way into the underworld.”
“Of course, my Lord.”
‘We’ll see if your sisters fare better than you.” Lord Hades turns his attention away from her, a clear dismissal. Megaera nods stiffly. Her shoulders are drawn taut as a bowstring as she turns to leave.
“Thanatos,” Hades says. “As you’ve heard, we have an unwelcome visitor in the house. A godling or other, determined to fight his way into the underworld. I’m sure Megaera can explain.”
“I will deal with him, my lord,” Thanatos says. He wonders what godling could fight his way past the first of the Furies. He supposes he’ll find out soon enough.
“Go and be quick about it. We don’t need him stirring up any more trouble here,” Hades orders, already back to flipping through his parchmentwork.
News of their strange new visitor seems to have spread throughout the house. As Thanatos walks through the hall, he overhears whispers of him fighting past the heroes in Elysium, the countless shades of Asphodel and, of course, the fury Megaera herself.
He finds her sitting in the corner of the lounge, clenching her whip with one sharp-nailed hand and staring into the polished granite of the table with an intensity that leaves a good ten-foot berth around her.
Her head snaps up when Thanatos approaches. “Come to gloat over me?” Her voice is as sharp as ice.
“No, that was uncalled for. I know I failed,” she says, softening. “Perhaps you’ll have better luck with him. I've never dealt with those from the surface.”
“Tell me about him. Who would try to fight his way into the underworld?”
“He’s a minor god,” she scoffs, her eyebrows arched in perfect disdain. “Says he’s here for his mother.”
Thanatos frowns. “Another Orpheus on our hands?”
Megaera shrugs. “He says she’s a goddess. That she’s down here, in the House.”
“That’s impossible.” The only goddess in these halls is Nyx herself, and none of Thanatos’s siblings would need to fight their way into Hades.
“You think I haven’t tried telling him that? A fool, to keep fighting his way into the underworld, but a stubborn one.” She shakes her head. “I grew complacent. It won’t happen again.”
It takes a minute for Thanatos to find their visitor among the multitude of shades in the underworld. It’s not as hard as expected; he can feel the swathe he cuts through the wretches of Tartarus. He pinpoints him to a room near the gate to Asphodel and appears beside the crumpling columns behind him. The toll of bells announces his appearance, a stillness in the air. Their visitor whirls around, raising his sword as he takes him in.
Thanatos is aware of the figure he cuts: his hood pulled over his head, the unblinking scythe. Death only comes for mortals, of course, but even other gods tend to shy away from him. But though his eyes narrow in recognition, this god does not seem afraid; he only gazes up at Thanatos, a stubborn set to his jaw.
He’s … not what Thanatos expected. He had imagined something along the lines of Theseus or Hercules himself, the sort of godling who would be arrogant enough to try to fight his way into the depths of Hades. This one is shorter than Thanatos, even if he joined him on the ground, where he stands barefoot on the stone tiles. His dark hair is messy and crowned with laurels. There’s nothing to mark him as obviously divine. Nothing except his eyes, which are startling green: the green of life, of the surface. There is something familiar about them, a memory Thanatos cannot quite grasp. He is ill-suited here, in the labyrinthian mazes miles below the world of the living.
“You should not be here, godling. No one comes to the realm of the dead on their own accord.” Thanatos says, tightening his grip on the hilt of his scythe, an obvious threat.
This only makes him set his jaw harder. “I’m here for my mother. I know Hades took her. I won’t let you keep her down here.”
Who is he, to think he can make such an accusation against the master of the house? “There are no other gods in these halls. You’re mistaken, godling. Go home.”
He frowns. “You’re lying. I know she’s here. I will find her, whatever you say.”
Thanatos can feel the call of souls on the surface. There will be work to catch up to, after this.
“Fine. If you wish to die so badly, I’ll gladly oblige.” He lifts his scythe.
The godling is fast. Faster than expected, for someone who seems no more than a half-mortal descendent of a minor goddess. He wields his sword with evident experience, and his footsteps are light on the worn cobblestones. But Thanatos is death himself.
His blood spills bright red against the grey stone, seeping between cracks and dripping down Thanatos’s blade. Thanatos wonders if he’ll have to escort his soul — but no, he is not under his domain. There is enough godly blood in him, it seems, that he would never have had to see the underworld had he not chosen to walk into it himself. It explains how he had managed to get past Megaera, at least. He wonders how many times he had thrown himself against her whip before Thanatos had to be called in. It doesn’t matter; he has a job and it doesn't involve putting down foolish godlings. Hopefully, this will be the last time he’ll be needed down here.
It isn’t, of course. The godling seems to be set on his quest, though he finds deaths at many hands other than Thanatos’s. He falls to the shades in Elysium, to the Hydra, to Megaera and her sisters. But he comes back, again and again. His tenacity would be impressive if it weren’t infuriating: a god from the surface, thinking he could just wander into the underworld, ransacking and looting at will. He’s managed to get halfway through Tartarus this time before Thanatos is sent after him. Alecto had stalked angrily out of the pool, muttering about redbloods .
“Go home, godling,” Thanatos says, already hefting his scythe.
“My name’s Zagreus . And I told you already, I can’t. Not until I find my mother.” His repeated deaths have left no apparent mark on him, have inspired no hesitation as he faces off against Thanatos.
He’s faster this time, but not fast enough. He manages a lucky strike: a thin slash across Thanatos’s ribs. But Thanatos has already lifted his scythe before he can strike again, and he crumples to the ground. His blood is as red as the river that it drips into.
Thanatos presses his fingers into his own wound, where golden ichor drips sluggishly out of the slash on his chest. A mistake, to have let him get that close. He’ll have to be more careful next time.
It becomes a routine. In the House of Hades, the days are marked not by Helios’s journey across the sky, but the newest attempt by their visitor in his hopeless quest through the underworld.
He can see Megaera’s building frustration each time she steps out of the pool, though her sisters don’t seem to be doing much better. The godling’s quick, and he’s improving fast: his footwork surer, his strikes stronger. Thanatos knows what his master says, that Olympus has no desire to incur his wrath, but where could his strength come from, if not the gods on their mountain? The swiftness of his dash, the deft deflection of the wretches’ blows, the currents of cold wind that ruffle Thanatos’s cloak the next time they meet.
The godling is strong, but Thanatos is death , and their visitor has shown that he can die easily enough. So far, he has never made it through Tartarus, past Thanatos and the arc of his scythe.
He seems to have accepted it as routine as well. Thanatos is used to the fear that follows in his wake, the dread terror he inspires in those he fights. But despite all the times the godling has faced him by now, his determination only seems to strengthen.
“You know, Thanatos,” he says, the fifth time they meet. “Hermes has spoken of you. Your dedication to the job is impressive.”
“Flattery won’t make me go any easier on you, godling.”
“Oh, I certainly wouldn’t expect it to. The underworld is different from what I was expecting, is all. The way it all runs … it’s very orderly. Not as many screaming souls as expected.”
Thanatos doesn’t bother responding, simply raises his scythe.
“Well I hope I’m not keeping you from your duties,” the godling says, after Thanatos runs him through. There’s blood staining his teeth. “I’ll see you next time, Thanatos.”
There is nothing admirable about being a stubborn fool, Thanatos thinks. If this godling wants to die so badly, then Death will oblige. He brings down his scythe and watches him bleed out again and again. He has reaped thousands of souls. This one will be no different.
Perhaps it’s complacency that gets him in the end.
It’s been nearly a dozen times that they’ve faced each other in the endless mazes of Tartarus. The Styx rushes in the distance and the grasping hands of the damned reach hopelessly towards them.
Zagreus is in better shape than Thanatos has seen him before, seemingly unmarked by his journey through the underworld. A charm hangs from the clasp of his cloak. An innocuous-looking acorn, but Thanatos can sense the power in it; it brings to mind the rustling of leaves, the solid, steadfast strength of an oak. A gift, presumably, from one of the spirits dwelling in this place. Unexpected, considering all that Zagreus has struck down on his journey here; Thanatos had not expected him to show mercy.
“I know you won’t acknowledge it, but I know she’s here,” he says as Thanatos alights in font of him. “My grandmother calls her Kore, but … I know that wasn’t what she called herself. I remember her eyes were green, like mine.”
His eyes, the distinct shade of green, reminiscent of verdant gardens in sunlight that hurts Thanatos’s eyes. There’s a memory there that he cannot quite grasp. But this is not the time.
“It doesn’t matter, Zagreus. Nothing makes it out of these halls, and you will not make your way in.”
Zagreus only grins. “I knew you remembered my name. Shall we?”
Perhaps it’s because his mind is still caught on that line. Kore, no, that wasn’t what they called her. Perhaps he was caught off guard by the speed of Zagreus’s movements. He’s definitely grown stronger. Perhaps … (Thanatos does not think about the way his smile had crinkled the corners of his eyes, the red flush of exertion on his skin.)
However it happens, it ends like this: he falls to his knees, Zagreus’ blade in his chest. As his vision begins to swim, turning golden and indistinct, he can only stare into his eyes. He doesn’t find the expected triumph, the gloating, the arrogant remark. Zagreus seems almost apologetic, mouthing something that Thanatos is too gone to grasp. His eyes really are a familiar shade of green, he thinks, as Thanatos uses the last of his strength to shift himself out of the searing heat, into the cool embrace of the Styx.
Death is … unpleasant. For all that he has dealt out, Thanatos has never experienced it before. He drags himself out of the river, grimacing. His body is unscarred and whole, but he can still feel the phantom pain of the sword sliding between his ribs.
Perhaps he should have expected it, been more on his guard. Zagreus had grown strong and skilled at predicting Thanatos’s attacks. He had defeated Megaera, after all, and she had prided herself on her martial skills in a way that Thanatos never had.
The Fury in question stands at the end of the hall, wringing out her hair. She glances at him for a moment, brows furrowed in what might possibly be sympathy, before turning away.
The only other witnesses to his failure are a scattering of shades, and his brother who is, of course, dozing. He startles awake as Thanatos passes him, blearily muttering a greeting before he seems to recognize who he’s talking to.
“Thanatos! Hey! What are you …” he glances down at his list. “Oh! Stabbed, huh? Sorry to hear about that.”
Thanatos ignores him; he hardly has time for Hypnos’s antics. Lord Hades has finally glanced up from his parchmentwork and turned his expectant gaze on him. He keeps his steps steady as he makes his way to the front of the hall.
“I’m sorry, Lord Hades,” he says, standing before him. “Zagre—the godling—was stronger than I —”
“What did you say?” Hades interrupts. He rises from his seat with a clang of metal, glowering at Thanatos under the shadow of his brows.
Thanatos suppresses his instinctive urge to step back. Hades is not known for his clemency towards those who fail him. But he meets his eyes steadily, his face impassive. “He struck me down in— “
“His name , boy. What did you call him?” Hades’s voice booms through the hall. Several shades decide that their business here wasn’t that urgent, after all.
“Zagreus, my lord.”
He watches as, wordlessly, Lord Hades grabs her spear, and heads towards the gates. His footsteps are thunderous, echoing through the hall. The shades press themselves to the walls as he passes them.
The suspicions that Thanatos had been harbouring about who, exactly, Zagreus had come to seek suddenly become a lot more reasonable. He had been young then, and spent little time in the house, but of course he remembers Lord Hades’s bride. Queen Persephone, with her golden hair and green eyes, every part of her reminiscent of the budding shoots of spring, fields of wildflowers and the warm, too-bright rays of the sun. She had always looked a little lost in the darkness of the underworld, diminished, somehow, and out of place. Then she was gone, and Lord Hades had decreed that none of them would speak of her again.
He somehow doubts that any of this knowledge will cause Lord Hades to show any mercy to Zagreus. He doesn’t envy him, facing the wrath of a god that once slew the Titans.
The gates of the House close with a resounding crash.
Thanatos, of course, does not witness the confrontation. He joins Megaera in the lounge, where groups of shades are huddled together, already coming up with stories to explain what they’ve witnessed.
“So, he got you too, finally?” Megaera says, appraising him as he sits down across from her.
Thanatos nods. “A mistake. One that I won’t make again.”
Megaera snorts. “He’d truly be a fool to come back, after this. Lord Hades himself heading after him? I’ve never seen that before.”
“Maybe not too surprising, considering …” He breaks off. Megaera’s loyalty to the House is indisputable. The first fury, flayer of liars and oathbreakers, and they had all sworn an oath about this particular subject. She meets his eyes steadily.
“Figured it out, haven’t you? Zagreus doesn’t know what he’s getting into.”
In the distance, there’s the sound of columns falling, the clanging of blades. The dishes in the kitchen rattle as the ground shudders under their feet.
“He’s a glutton for punishment, isn’t he?” Megaera murmurs.
“Maybe he’ll finally learn his lesson. He’s interrupted my work enough times.” If Thanatos feels a twinge of loss as he says this, it’s only because of the sting of his failure, the regret that he won’t have the opportunity to do better the next time.
“Perhaps,” Megaera says, but she looks as convinced as he does.
It’s not long before the gates are thrown back open, the hall immediately falling into silence, and Lord Hades strides in, cloakless, ichor running from a wound across his arm. The tip of his spear is stained a rich, dark red. He sets it down and sits at his desk, resuming his parchmentwork as if nothing has happened. No one asks any questions, least of all Thanatos.
He says a farewell to Megaera and heads to the surface. He has work to catch up to.
Except he’s hardly escorted the first of the souls to Charon before he senses the familiar presence cutting his way across Elysium. Is it filial loyalty that drives him, he wonders, or is life on Olympus so awful that this is preferred? The grass shifts under him as he appears in the green meadows where sure enough, Zagreus stands.
“You’re back,” Thanatos says, and the roughness of his voice is only from the exertion of shifting himself through the planes of reality.
“Than! I didn’t expect to see you up here,” Zagreus says, looking up at him in surprise. “Eager for a rematch?”
“I didn’t expect you to return. Surely you aren’t so foolish as to face him again?”
“Lord Hades? Well, we had a lovely little chat. He had some choice words for me, before he ran me through with that spear of his. But he also said some things about my mother. She really isn’t here anymore? She just … left?”
“I’ve told you that dozens of times. Why are you still here?”
“Well, I’ve got to find out where she is, haven’t I?”
Thanatos will not be distracted this time. He has failed Lord Hades once; he will not do it again. Zagreus seems set on this impossible task, to throw himself against Lord Hades’s spear until … what? He gets answers that no one can give him? Thanatos will put an end, at least, to this attempt. He keeps his eyes on the shining edge of his blade, instead of meeting Zagreus’s overly earnest gaze.
He grips his scythe. “Not this time, Zagreus.”
Thanatos does not hesitate this time, and he will feel no sympathy as he watches Zagreus fall. His blood seems even brighter against the green meadows of Elysium. He watches the rushing waters of the Styx rise to encompass his body, and when they fall there is nothing left but a patch of red-stained grass. Thanatos stares at it for a long moment before shifting away. He has a job to do.
“I just wanted you to know, Than,” Zagreus begins, the next time Thanatos tracks him down. They’re in Asphodel, and even Thanatos can barely stand it. Beads of sweat form on Zagreus’s forehead. Thanatos keeps his gaze on them, so he doesn’t have to acknowledge the paths they trace down the cords of his neck, the dip of his collarbone. “I really have nothing against you. I know you’re just doing your job, so no hard feelings here.”
Thanatos blinks at him. “I hardly care what you think about me.”
“Well, I wouldn’t expect you to, but I realize it’s been quite a lot of destruction I’ve been causing around here, so …” He smiles sheepishly as he reaches into his cloak.
Thanatos can only stare—and is it apprehension, that’s causing the roiling in his gut, butterflies beating frantic wings, or something entirely different?— as Zagreus pulls out a rounded bottle of golden nectar, holding it before him like an offering, a gift.
“I know you don’t get much of this in the underworld, so I thought you might enjoy some. You’ve been awfully hard at work here and— “
“You know the reason that there isn’t any nectar here is because it’s banned, ” Thanatos interrupts, finally snapping himself out of his shock.
“I know. Meg said the same thing,” he says. Of course he would be like this with her as well. He doubts she’s been nearly as accepting of it.
“Are you trying to bribe me out of killing you? You know it won’t work.”
“Of course not! I wouldn’t expect any less from you.”
He looks expectantly at Thanatos, his arm still outstretched. The flush on his cheeks seems excessive, even in this heat. Thanatos wonders wildly if this is some sort of joke. A mockery, somehow, of Thanatos's failures to stop him, of his station in the underworld. But, despite all the times they’ve killed each other, Thanatos finds himself believing Zagreus when he says no hard feelings.
He’ll dispose of it later, he thinks, reaching forward to snatch the bottle from Zagreus. Their hands don’t meet, but he can feel the warmth radiating off him. He tucks it quickly under his cloak.
Zagreus picks up his sword and nods.
He knows that he won’t win this time. Zagreus smoothly dodges his strikes, and the killing blow is decisive and swift.
“No hard feelings, right?” Zagreus says, panting. “I can bring more nectar next time.”
As he drags himself out of the river, Thanatos feels the smooth neck of the bottle tucked under his cloak.
Zagreus keeps returning, and Lord Hades is always at the gates to greet him. The House rings with the sounds of distant fighting, a cacophony of clashing blades and crumbling stone. Thanatos drags himself out of the river and into the lounge. Zagreus and Hades have their regular meetings, and he and Megaera have theirs, each time they find themselves taken by the river.
She frowns at him as he sits down across from her. He realizes, too late, that he’s still holding onto the last bottle that Zagreus gave him. He had apparently been serious about his promise to bring more nectar, and Thanatos, against all his good sense, had continued to take them.
“Contraband, Than? On you, of all people?” Megaera says, and something on his face must give him away, because she gives him a long look. “Ah, it’s from him, isn’t it?”
“You know how he is,” he says, wary.
Megaera scoffs, but her tone is light. “I’m all too aware. Let’s dispose of it then, before anyone catches you with it.”
She reaches out, snatching the bottle from him before he can react. She signals a nearby (terrified) shade to bring them cups and pours him a generous helping.
“Cheers,” she says. “To our unfortunate benefactor.”
The nectar is smooth and honey-sweet, melting on his tongue like the snow in spring.
By the time they’re halfway through, they’ve given up on cups, and are passing the bottle back and forth.
“I’ll admit, he’s grown on me,” Megaera says, taking a swig. “He’s not as arrogant or careless as I first thought. And I’d almost enjoy our little fights, if he weren’t a threat to the House, if every failure didn’t lead to this .”
As if to punctuate her point, the cups rattle on the table as something heavy crashes to the ground outside.
Thanatos snatches the bottle back. It’s empty, and he stares into the dregs. “Do you think he could actually win?”
“I don’t know, but they’re as stubborn as each other. Lord Hades won’t give him what he’s looking for, but he’ll keep fighting, the fool.”
“A fool,” Thanatos says, and thinks about green eyes and red blood and a smile like sunlight breaking through leaves.
Zagreus has hardly arrived at any of their meetings unscathed, but this time he’s barely standing, leaning heavily on his sword as he turns towards Thanatos. There are numerous bruises on his chest, as if something very large and very angry rammed straight into him. One hand is clutched against his side, and Thanatos can see blood dripping from between his fingers.
“I suppose it’d be too much to hope that you’d go easy on me,” he says, with a harsh laugh, then winces, face twisting in pain.
“No,” Thanatos says. You know I can’t.
“No, I suppose not, I’m sorry. Brought you another bottle of nectar as well, but I don’t think it managed to survive the encounter with the … chariot-thing.” He sticks his sword into the grass and pats his chest. “Unless …”
He digs around in his cloak for a moment, and triumphantly brings out an unscathed bottle, a wry smile on his face.
“Huh. Look at that. If only my ribs were that resilient.”
Thanatos takes it before he keels over without the support of his sword. Zagreus leaves behind a bloody handprint on the neck of the bottle as he lets go.
Thanatos closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Come on Zagreus. I’ll make it quick.”
“Hey, maybe I’ll get lucky.” His smile is belied by his wince as he leans down to pick up his sword.
Thanatos will not fail in his duties, no matter what he thinks as he watches Zagreus struggle to stand up straight. He has killed him dozens of times before. Why should this be any different?
It’s quick at least. Zagreus is on the verge of death already. He stumbles, and Thanatos brings down his scythe. A clean strike. He wouldn't have felt anything.
“You should be more careful next time,” he mutters. Zagreus stares up at him with unseeing eyes as the crimson waters swell around him.
Thanatos finally does what he should have done long ago: he talks to his mother. He finds her, as always, in the corner of the hall, under the shadow of the columns, the darkness surrounding her like a cloak. If Nyx is surprised to learn that lord Hades's long-lost-wife’s long-lost son is battling his way into the underworld in search of her, she doesn’t show it. Perhaps Lord Hades had discussed it with her already. Perhaps this is just another of the things she just knows .
“Lady Persephone, yes. She was the Queen of the House, a long time ago. There are many things I cannot say; I am bound under the same oaths as you, but I will try my best to answer. What do you wish to know, my son?”
“Did she come here ... willingly?” Thanatos asks.
Nyx looks away with the soft whisper of fabric, “It is more complicated than that, my child. I know she did not look on Lord Hades … unfavourably, if that will reassure you.”
It’s hardly an answer, and he tells her so.
She sighs, “I know what Lord Hades is doing may seem unreasonable, and I cannot say I approve entirely of his methods, but there are webs of secrets here, of power, and he is doing his best to ensure we do not become trapped in them.”
“Do you truly believe he’ll give you the answers you seek? Even if you defeat him, he’s as stubborn as you are.” Thanatos says, and how many times has it been, since he first watched Zagreus’s blood drip down the stones in Tartarus?
“What choice do I have? My mother … she’s all I have, and she left me on Olympus. I need to know why .” And there’s a tone in his voice Thanatos hasn’t heard before. From others, but not from him.
Thanatos is death. Most mortals he escorts are those that know that their time has come, but there are always those who refuse. Those who beg and plead. Heartbroken sons and mothers and wives who promise him anything for another moment with their loved ones. The mortals call him iron-hearted because those pleas have never stirred him. Death does not make exceptions.
That certainly will not change now.
“Mother, you and the queen were close, weren’t you? Did she talk much about him? About her son?”
Nyx sighs, and the stars that surround her blink in and out of existence. It is a mortal trait to fear the dark, as it is to fear death; Nyx has only ever brought Thanatos wisdom and comfort, and he finds himself in need of it, as of late. “Yes, she did. I know how it must seem to him, to you, but she loved him, and she missed him very much.”
“But she couldn’t see him, even after she left this place. Do you know where she went?”
She smiles sadly. “As I said, Thanatos, there are many things I cannot talk about. Promises and secrets that are not mine to tell. Perhaps Zagreus will be able to pry them out of Lord Hades.” But even she looks doubtful.
Of course, he tries to explain to the mortals that death is only a change in scenery, that it is only time and space that separates them from their sons and mothers and husbands; eventually he will come for them as well, and in Hades they will have all the time they desire. He does not give in to their pleas because their fear is born of ignorance of what awaits them, and though comfort is not his strength, and the mortals rarely listen, he tries, nevertheless.
Of course, everything has changed with Zagreus. Their endless deaths and revivals, the bottles of nectar he presses into his hands, the stories he tells him, sometimes, about his endless, idle life on Olympus, of Demeter’s icy rage, Zeus’s newest indiscretion, the few, precious memories he has of his mother.
Lord Hades steps into the hall, and each time he looks a little more frustrated, a little more wounded, ichor running from wounds on his chest. Drops of crimson spill from his spear onto the spotless tiles of the House.
There is an idea forming in his mind. It’s traitorous and foolish and he cannot stop thinking about it, though he tries. He pushes himself into his work. There are always mortals dying, after all. It hardly matters if he misses some of Zagreus’s visits; Thanatos rarely manages to stop him, anymore.
It’s only proximity, he thinks. Spend enough time repeatedly killing someone and they start growing on you, like mold, or something like that. He’ll leave Zagreus to his business of spending eternity throwing himself at the gates of the underworld.
But he finds himself coming back, anyway, when he senses that familiar presence. He appears in the green fields of Elysium, in the boiling plains of Asphodel, in the depths of Tartarus. Zagreus gives him more nectar than he knows what to do with. He sits with Megaera and they share bottles of it and listen to the foundations of the House shake.
And every time, he starts to think.
Something needs to change, and it seems Thanatos is the only who sees it. It’s his duty to the realm, he tells himself. Lord Hades and Zagreus are both stubborn to a fault, and either they will be at each other’s throats for eternity, or, one day, Zagreus will best the lord of the underworld. And where would they be then?
It’s in all their best interests, he tells himself, to ensure the stability of the underworld. He’s only doing his job.
(It’s for the realm. It has to be for the realm. It has nothing to do with the expression Zagreus wears when he brings up his few memories of his mother, nothing to do with the apologetic smile he gives Thanatos each time he brings his sword to his chest or his neck or his gut. It has nothing to do with that because if Thanatos goes through with this, Zagreus will leave and never come back. He’ll go back to the surface, in the blinding sunlight where he belongs, not a shadow among the dead, and surely Thanatos is not so stupid as to commit treason for something like that .)
He’s not sure how much of this sentiment he manages to express to his mother, only that she stares at him for a long time after he finishes his speech.
“Oh my child,” she says, finally. “I did not expect you to come to me with this request. I have told you that there are things you do not know, consequences that you cannot expect.”
She breaks off, looking away, towards the gates that Lord Hades has stepped through dozens of times by now. “But perhaps you are right. There are too many secrets in this house, and Lord Hades is stubborn. I trust your judgment on the matter, my son. Perhaps this is what it will take for things to be set right.”
She motions for him to lean in. The shadows surround him like a shroud, shielding their conspiracy as she whispers into his ear.
“ Beyond the frozen overlook …”
He finds his brother setting up his wares by the river. Thanatos takes in the carefully arranged trinkets, the pomegranates, the vessels of still-beating centaur hearts.
“What is this, Charon? Have you been helping him?” He says, though he's not exactly in a position to judge. He ignores his brother’s indignant response and closes his eyes for a moment, two.
“Look, that’s not what I’m here about. I know you and that god, Hermes, are often in contact. And I know you two gossip—don’t look at me like that—I have a message, and I’m sure he can make it reach the right ears. So won't say anything about your shop, and you won’t speak of this, alright?”
Charon laughs, low and rumbling like the river behind him.
“It’s a deal.”
Thanatos gives the message to his brother, and he does not look back. It’s too late to regret any of this, now.