As long as there are mortals, there is Thanatos, and Death always has work to do. Demeter’s anger has turned the fertile earth into a barren waste. He is always busier in winter, when the olive branches shed their leaves and frost spreads across fields, crystalizing the surface of ponds. Disease and cold and famine: he is well familiar with their effects. But eventually the season ends, and the first shoots of spring creep from the thawing earth. But the goddess of the harvest can be as harsh as she is generous, and this winter has lasted for a long, long time. It has been a busy season for death.
Thanatos has heard rumours of what has driven Demeter’s grief. The name Kore passed around in hushed tones like a secret, a taboo. He thinks about that anger, the bitter frost, being turned towards the underworld. Except, of course, that this fear will not come to pass. He has given Zagreus the key to finding her, his mother, Demeter’s long-lost daughter, given him a name and directions to a hidden garden on the surface. He has given him the reason for never coming back here , and there will be no more godlings from Olympus at the gates of the Underworld, no bright presence in the dim rooms of Tartarus, no red blood being spilled in the molten islands of Asphodel.
Hades turns back to his parchmentwork, satisfied that he must have finally convinced Zagreus to give up. He must not know him at all, to think that he would ever leave without getting what he wanted.
Thanatos goes back to work. He shifts up to the surface where the sun is too bright and burns his eyes, and escorts the once-living into the depths of his master’s domain. He takes the souls of the old and the young, accepting and angry. They all cower under his scythe. None of them smile or fight back or hand him blood-covered bottles of nectar. It would be ridiculous, he thinks, for him to miss dying . It would be ridiculous to think that there was anything for him to miss. He was doing his job, and now it is done. (Except his actions were hardly part of his job . Except each time he shifts up to the surface, he finds himself wondering if Zagreus has found what he wanted. Except—)
He finds himself coming back to the House, though there is no reason for it anymore. He stands before the railing at the end of the west hall and stares into the Styx, the blood-red waters, their embrace far too familiar by now. It isn’t long before he hears footsteps approaching him, the clink of metal on marble floors.
“You did something, didn’t you,” Megaera says. It isn’t a question. “He hasn’t been back, and neither have you. He would have never given up without getting what he wanted.”
What can Thanatos say? He won’t lie to Megaera, but he won’t make her complicit in his betrayal. He stares into the vast maze of Tartarus in the distance and perhaps his silence is answer enough. He feels her gaze boring into his back.
“Never mind. I don’t want to know. I never thought you’d be so foolish, Thanatos. Of all the people—he really got under your skin, didn’t he?”
“He has a way of doing that.”
He hears the shift of fabric beside him as Megaera joins him, leaning against the railing. “That he does,” she laughs, soft and humourless. “I suppose it’s for the best that it’s all over. Best that we get back to our duties. He’s caused enough strife in this House.”
Thanatos nods. The Styx laps gently at its banks, blood-red waters staining the dark stone.
“You know, I almost miss having my assignments fight back.” She shakes her head. “What a pair we make. Come on Than, spar with me?”
He turns to her in surprise. It’s not something they’ve done for a long time, not since they gained their respective positions in the house. Thanatos should have no time for this.
“Alright,” he says instead.
Fighting Megaera is nothing like fighting Zagreus. She’s strong where he’s swift, unyielding where he dodged around Thanatos’s blows. They dance back and forth in the training grounds, trading whip blows with swings of his scythe.
“You’ve improved,” Megaera says, lunging at him with a twist of her whip. “That’s one thing he’s been good for.”
She must catch something in his expression, a hesitation, and she scoffs, shaking her head. “You’re smart, Than, and you’ve always served the house well. Forget about this. It’s not worth it.”
If she sounds like she’s trying to convince herself as much as him, neither of them will acknowledge it. He raises his scythe again. The fight ends with her whip wrapped around his throat, her grin as sharp as a knife. He finds himself smiling back.
“Let’s do that again sometime.” She holds out a hand to help him up. He takes it.
He tries, truly, to put it all out of his mind. Passing from battlefield to deathbed to the depths of Hades is tiring, even with all his abilities, and he embraces the work, allowing the physical effort of it to clear his mind. Gods do not forget , but his life is long, and this will be nothing more than a brief interlude: a poor decision, a lapse of judgement. (Does he regret it? Would it be better or worse if he did?)
If, sometimes, while on the surface, he thinks about how easy it would be to just shift the distance to a small grove by the rushing river Styx and see—it doesn’t matter. He won’t. He doesn’t.
A bottle of nectar sits in his rarely-touched chambers. He can’t find it in himself to dispose of it.
Time has little meaning in the underworld, days and nights blurring into long stretches of identical darkness. Though Thanatos spends brief flashes of time on the surface, his own existence is infinite and immutable, and he has never thought to pay much attention to the way mortals count the hours. So it could be after days or weeks or months when he feels a jolt in his mind, a disturbance in the vague awareness he always has of the shades in the underworld. It’s achingly familiar, standing out against the muted presence of the dead like a cold breeze through still halls, like drops of red blood against green fields. But—it can’t be. If it is, it means he failed. All of this was for nothing, and nothing has changed. But that doesn’t account for the lightness in his chest, something aching and hopeful rising up inside him.
He’s in Elysium before the thoughts can even finish running through his mind. He finds himself alighting in a clearing, the false light of Ixion illuminating scattered vases and silent statues, crowds of spirits that scatter from him like ripples in a still pond. From behind the gate, he can hear the cheering of crowds, indistinct chanting. And then they open, and the figure steps through.
It’s him. Of course it is. Thanatos had known before he left the House, the same, instinctual way he senses the dead, the way he knows where his own arm is. Still, seeing him again is like being dropped into the Styx, cold river-water rushing over him as he takes him in: the familiar stubborn set of his jaw, the green of his eyes, the sword in his grasp. All of it is achingly familiar, real and present in a way that each of Thanatos’s well-worn memories could never match. There’s nothing noticeably different, nothing changed in his absence. Perhaps nothing has changed, and Thanatos’s message never even reached him. Perhaps that was for the best. Perhaps this has all been a mistake.
Zagreus looks up in surprise at his presence. Thanatos never bothered to catch Zagreus this early, before. They’re still nearly at the surface. But if nothing has changed, Thanatos can simply pretend—
“You didn’t find her?” is what comes out of his mouth instead.
“Who? My mother?” Thanatos sees the realization dawning on his face, the questions rising. “Wait, how did you—”
Thanatos should have stuck to his job, like he has done for the entirety of his endless life. Because when he doesn’t, things like this will happen. Foolish, to think he had a solution to this mess.
He turns, ready to disappear, to shift somewhere, anywhere, away from here—
“Wait, no!” A warm hand grips him, burning around his arm like a brand. He twists around, bringing him face to face with Zagreus, who’s far closer than he was a second ago, close enough that Thanatos can see the faint scattering of freckles on his skin, the unfamiliar constellations they trace.
“I found her. She’s … wonderful. We talked and she told me a lot of things about this place. Your master. The Olympians. She said I couldn’t stay because I would bring them to her.” His eyes are bright with determination as he stares at Thanatos. He is still far too close. “But there has to be another way. A solution to all this. I know your mother Nyx, the goddess of night, resides in these halls. I need to speak with her. There has to be another way.”
Another way . It was ridiculous, enviable, the way he stumbled across obstacle after obstacle and kept going. The way he never stopped to think that there were things he couldn’t have, problems he couldn’t fix.
Thanatos’s place in the world has always been clear and delineated: he has his job, his duties, his home. But then Zagreus had crashed through the gates of the underworld, and nothing has been clear or simple since. What is it about him that has changed everything, that has made him consider impossible, foolish things?
He can imagine Megaera shaking her head at him right now.
He realizes he’s been silent for too long, staring at Zagreus’s hand around his arm. Zagreus seems to come to the same realization, stumbling back as if he’s the one who has been burned, a faint red flush rising over his cheekbones
“Right. Time to fight to the death again?” He smiles, though it lacks his usual enthusiasm.
What can Thanatos say? He’s never been good at words. The reasonable thing would be to raise his scythe, as he has done dozens of times. Thousands, for the thousands of souls he has taken. But he has already done so many foolish things. What is one more? If he wants to talk to Nyx, he thinks, he’ll have to make it through Lord Hades first.
The butterfly flutters weakly against his fingers as he unpins it from his cloak. Its wings scatter light in glittering shards as Thanatos reaches forward, sliding the pin through thick fabric, clasping it in place over Zagreus’s chest. For a moment all he can feel is the rapid beat of Zagreus’s heart, as delicate as the flapping of the butterfly’s wings. He tears away his hand.
“This isn't from me, okay? If you speak a word about this to anyone … ”
Thanatos is gone before he has to process the look on Zagreus’s face.
Thanatos does not return to the House for a long time. He stays on the surface for as long as he can stand, in the brilliant light of day. When he finally descends, it long after the storm that is Zagreus has passed through and the dust has settled. He hears of what happens from whispering shades, from Megaera, who had taken in his reappearance in the lounge with a knowing look, sparing a pointed glance at the empty space on Thanatos’s cloak.
This is what he hears, afterwards: that Lord Hades headed out of the hall as always, helmet on and spear in hand. They fought as they had always fought, the sounds of battle hardly even registering anymore to the inhabitants of the house. But when the gates burst open again it was a stranger from Olympus who walked in, trailing red drops of blood, determination written on his features, the shades scattering away from him in terror.
Nyx greeted him, Megaera tells Thanatos. She had risen from the river to see them in deep conversation, and it was not long before Lord Hades himself emerged, the Styx’s blood-red waters dripping down him, physically unharmed but his rage strong enough to be palpable. And yet—
“I don’t know what happened between them, how he managed to persuade even Lord Hades himself,” Megaera says. “But I think the result is obvious enough.”
It is, and Thanatos can only marvel at the sheer force of Zagreus’s will, because there, by Lord Hades’s side, stands the Queen.
Seeing mother and son together, the resemblance is obvious. The Queen is as radiant as Thanatos remembers, with none of the lingering sadness that she bore her first time in the House, and she looks at her son and husband with obvious adoration. Hades looks … not exactly happy , but less severe than Thanatos has ever seen him.
“Not exactly what you expected, was it, when he first showed up?” Megaera says,
Of course not. Zagreus had somehow managed to upturn the entire underworld in between his dozens of deaths. A seismic shift, left in his wake. Thanatos can only wonder what he will do next. Is this what he wanted, to be the prince of the underworld alongside his mother, to leave the sun-bright halls of Olympus for the depths of Hades? Surely Zagreus, fleet-footed, restless Zagreus, who seems loathe to even stand still, would not be content here. (Is it dread or hope that Thanatos feels, at the thought that he might stay?)
Regardless of what Thanatos thinks of Zagreus’s presence, he is genuinely glad to see the Queen return. He had been young the first time she left, but he remembers that she would smile at him, perhaps a little sadly, whenever he found himself in her presence, and that she brought the scent of the surface into the halls, though he didn’t recognize it then—spring rain and blossoming flowers. He remembers the way the silences weighed heavier in the house, afterwards. She looks happier now, the lines around her eyes crinkling when she smiles.
“Lady Persephone,” he greets. “It is an honour to have you back in the house. If there is anything I can do for you, I am at your service.”
She smiles at him brightly, and the resemblance to her son is obvious. “Thanatos, no need for formalities. It’s good to see you again! You’ve certainly grown.”
“It’s good to see you as well, my Queen,” he says.
“Yes, it’s nice to be back. You’ve met my son already, I’ve heard.” She laughs softly at whatever expression he must be making. “Oh, I’m aware of what your job was, and I don’t fault you for it. Things have worked out, haven’t they?
“ I'm glad they have.”
“I am as well. Zagreus has talked about you, you know. It seems that you’ve grown into a fine young man.”
“He … has?” He says, caught on the first part of her statement, thrown out so casually.
Persephone laughs. “He has, though I…”
She trails off, looking past him. Thanatos stands very still.
“Oh, but there he is. I believe he’s been wanting to talk to you.”
For a moment, he contemplates feigning an emergency and simply vanishing from the room. It’s not that he’s been avoiding Zagreus. Not actively , at least. He’s been busy, and with everything settled he has little reason to stick around anymore.
And … where do they stand with each other, after all that had passed? Thanatos had risked his job for this, for him. He could tell himself that it was for the realm, and things have certainly worked out for it. But he knows, has always known, that it had never really been about that. He doesn’t want to examine what that means. He doesn’t want Zagreus to examine what that means. It had been easier before, when Zagreus’s appearances were routine, temporary. When Thanatos was waiting for the day he wouldn’t come back. It had been reassuring, in a way. What use was there in acknowledging what he felt, when he knew it would have to end, one way or another?
But if Zagreus has decided to stay, Thanatos can’t avoid him forever. He sighs and turns around.
“Oh hey, Mother, Than! It’s good to see the two of you,” Zagreus says, walking up to him. He’s dressed in new clothes, deep reds and blacks. There’s something different about him, beyond in the clothing, the flame-red leaves wreathing his dark hair. He’s whole and unharmed, Thanatos realizes, not a scratch or bruise on him. What does it say about their relationship, that Thanatos had grown so used to seeing him on the verge of death, that to see him like this is a shock?
“Zagreus,” he says, his voice carefully modulated.
“Glad to see you here. Meg told me that you’re around sometimes, but I suppose I haven’t been able to catch you.”
“I’ve been busy,” he says.
“Yeah, I suppose your work never ends, does it? Does that mean you won’t have time to be chasing me down again?”
Zagreus opens his mouth to reply, but is interrupted by a quiet cough. Thanatos snaps his gazep back to Persephone, who he had quite forgotten was standing there. “Well it’s good to see you, my son. I’ll be in the garden if you need me. I’ll let you two catch up, alright?”
Zagreus flushes as he turns back to Thanatos, and he gets the distinct impression that he isn’t the only one who forgot.
“Oh, you haven’t heard? Lord Hades—my, uh, stepfather —has put me in charge of testing the underworld’s security. Says they’ve really had to step up the defenses since I’ve been breaking in, that it’s good practice.” He laughs, “I think he just wants to get me back for last time.”
O f course, he thinks, with dangerously familiar exasperation, Zagreus would take a job involving endless, repeated deaths. It takes a moment for the greater implication to sink in. “So you’re … actually staying?”
“Yeah. My mother says she’s happy here, and this way I have an excuse to see her—we’ll have to sort things out with the Olympians, one day, but she wants to stay, and so do I. It’s not so bad down here.”
“You prefer this to Olympus?” he responds. He can’t keep the doubt out of his voice, can’t help resist reminding Zagreus of what he is giving up.
“Well, the view is nicer up there, I suppose. But you get used to it after a while,” he says. “I never had much to do. It’s nice, having a purpose. Seeing my mother. And I like the company here.”
“Right that’s … good. That everything’s settled, I mean.”
“It is. Thank you, Than.” He smiles and pulls a bottle. “Here, for old time’s sake. I’ll be seeing you around, yeah?”
“Yes,” Thanatos says, and vanishes in a flash of green light.
Zagreus stays. The house is livelier than Thanatos ever remembers it being. He had known, intellectually, that it was not a welcoming place, the halls cold and dark, the conversations hushed, the decorations falling into disrepair. But he had never minded, never really noticed, until it began to change. The gardens of the house bloom lush and verdant under Persephone’s care. Zagreus puts the fruits of his ransacking to productive, if inexplicable, use, and now when Thanatos and Megaera drink together, it is with plush carpeting underfoot, the fireplace burning cheerily beside them. Though he’s rarely in the house, the signs of Zagreus’s presence are everywhere, in the new drapery, in the baffling amount of rugs, in the flowers placed in the corner that Thanatos has seen his mother gently examine. The shades whisper about him, Cerberus whines in his absence, and Dusa seems absolutely starstruck . It’s part vindicating and part exasperating to learn that Zagreus has ingratiated himself with the other residents of the house as easily as with him. His friendliness should be baffling, considering all he has suffered in his quest to reach this place, but Thanatos cannot find it surprising at all.
He finds Thanatos still, regaling him with stories about his newest adventures in the underworld, handing him more bottles of nectar. Thanatos doesn’t ask where Zagreus manages to get them. He doesn’t ask why Zagreus is still doing this, giving him gifts, asking him about the underworld, about himself. He doesn’t know what he wants the answer to be.
He joins Megaera in the lounge after an assignment, stepping past the newly refurbished tables, an intricately woven rug plush under his feet. She wordlessly pushes a bottle of nectar towards him. it’s already half-empty.
“We should probably talk about him. Zagreus.”
Thanatos would rather talk about any other subject, but he slowly sinks into his seat. “What about him?”
“I think he’s been showing … interest in me,” she says, looking at him carefully, the question unsaid but evident. He could pretend otherwise, could try to tell himself otherwise, but he knows what she’s asking him. He wonders how obvious it had been, from the moment he dragged himself out of the river.
He takes a drink from the bottle. He's hardly surprised. Megaera is formidable and beautiful. Thanatos has heard the way Zagreus talks to her, seen his expression when she’s brought up. Mortals care deeply about this sort of thing— wars have been raged out of jealousy, after all, and Megaera is the fury who punishes infidelity.But they are gods, and Thanatos has never particularly cared about mortal customs. If this will make Megaera happy, then he’s glad. “If you’re wondering if that will be a problem between us, of course not.”
“Good,” she says, looking away. “It’s a terrible idea, anyway.”
“You may have gotten reassigned, but it’s still my job to kill him, Than. I can’t let him compromise that.”
“I don’t think anyone could. Not that I think he’d try in the first place.”
She spends a long moment staring into the fire, before a soft laugh escapes her. “Maybe you’re right. Strange, to think that after all this, that it could work out somehow. Though don’t think this doesn’t mean Zagreus doesn’t—you should hear the way he talks about you. ”
He doesn’t know what to say to that, doesn’t know what expression he’s making, but Megaera gives him a look. “Don’t you know? I know what I said before, but things have changed, especially between the two of you. There’s no reason to deny yourself.”
Thanatos remembers the first time he went to the surface. Everything had been so bright and loud . The sun had seared his eyes, and the mortals had been just as overwhelming, with all their fears and hopes and needs.
Being with Zagreus is a little like standing in direct sunlight, all his wants and desires laid out bare in the day, his longing so obvious, threatening to spill out between his teeth. But it’s also easy and familiar in a way that being with others rarely is for him. Zagreus has never from him more than he can give, never begrudges his silences or disappearances, never faulted him for doing his job. It scares him, what he inspires in Thanatos. He wants to do ridiculous things for him, risk all he’s worked for.
He knows what this is, has known for far longer than he’s let himself admit. Somewhere between the sword blows and the blood and bottles of nectar, Thanatos had stumbled straight off a precipice, unawares. And now he finds himself thinking about green eyes and clever smiles as he sits in a quiet corner of Tartarus and breathes in the stale air. Aphrodite has a sense of humour, he thinks.
Megaera’s words ring through his head. She meant well but … Thanatos is not Zagreus. He can accept that there are things he cannot have. What do he and Zagreus share, anyway, besides a couple dozen deaths at each other’s hands? It’s hardly a basis for any relationship. Zagreus is friendly to everyone. If Thanatos had risked his job because of a few bottles of nectar, the smiles that accompanied them (his boundless determination, his surprising kindness)—as long as Zagreus doesn’t acknowledge it, neither will he. Things have already turned out better than he could have hoped, and he will not be the one to ruin it.
He senses a familiar presence cutting through Elysium. Zagreus is eager to get to work, apparently. It’s not Thanatos’s job anymore to care what he does. But he finds that he cannot stay away.
Finding Zagreus is hardly difficult, even with the time that has passed. His presence is bright against the spirits of the warriors he cuts down. Thanatos appears among the swaying grasses of Elysium, his arrival heralded by the toll of bells. Zagreus is in the midst of battle with a group of exalted, barely dodging their spears and swords, but he whirls around at the sound, blinking as he takes in Thanatos’s appearance.
“Than?” he says, breathing hard. “Isn’t this a little unfair? I thought you weren’t going to—”
Thanatos raises his scythe, and the shade that was about to stab him in the back vanishes. (Leaving himself open like that, it’s a miracle that he made it this far.)
“Watch your back, Zagreus.”
Zagreus blinks at him for a moment, frozen in anticipation for a blow that never came, then bursts into a grin. It’s as bright as the sun. Thanatos can’t meet his gaze. “Thanks, Than.”
“Come on, let’s see how quickly you can clear out these wretches.”
He turns, weaving his scythe around him as he strikes the fallen warriors down once again. He is aware of Zagreus’s movements behind him, the familiar way he dodges and strikes, can picture the flash of his blade. It doesn’t take long before the room is clear, falling into sudden silence.
Zagreus turns towards him, pressing a hand against a shallow cut on his arm. Thanatos should have been quicker, caught the shade who had wielded the sword.
“Thank you, Thanatos. I’m glad you showed up,” he says.
“I was in the area,” he says, though it’s far too late to maintain any sort of plausible deniability.
“Wait, before you go—“ Zagreus says, taking a step towards him. He smiles and pulls a bottle out, and it’s not the familiar shape and colour, instead something deeper and richer. Ambrosia.
“Picked this up along the way,” he says, “And I wanted to thank you properly. For everything.”
“You don’t need to do this,” he says, a little desperately. Friendly conversations and nectar are one thing. They’re coworkers now, after all. But this—
“Of course not, but I want to,” he says, smiling at Thanatos, as if the explanation should be obvious. He’s reminded of the first gift, long ago. So much has changed since then, but Zagreus hasn’t lost his ability to throw him off guard.
“ Why ? Is this—do you think you owe me?” The words come out in a rush, harsher than he means to . “I don’t want—" to hope, to think that you could mean something by this.
“What? No!” Zagreus says. “Like I said, I want to do this. I know we didn’t start out on the best foot but … I’m glad to have met you, Thanatos. I want to get to know you better when we’re not repeatedly trying to kill each other.
“Are you … not okay with this? I can stop, if you’d rather—“
“No. I—it’s fine.” He grabs the bottle, their hands brushing as he closes his palm around its neck. He snatches it away.
Zagreus looks at him for a long moment, hesitant in a way Thanatos has rarely seen him. “I want to be clear. I like you, Than. I’ve liked you since I first met you in Tartarus, as unlikely as that might sound. I thought I’d done a better job of showing my affection for you. If you don’t feel the same way—”
The words take a moment to sink in. Affection , Zagreus says, with that look as if Thanatos would fault him for it. He’s still wearing the pin, Thanatos notes, absurdly. The delicate butterfly he gave him because—
“Why do you think I did what I did, Zagreus?” He says. He wants to laugh. All this time, each of them presuming—” I thought you knew. Of course I—do I need to spell it out …?”
“Oh. oh .” A smile breaks across his face, delicate and hopeful. “Okay. I—I’m glad, Thanatos.”
He takes a step towards Thanatos, until they’re face-to-face, mere inches between them. He can see the flecks of brown and gold in the green of his eyes, the freckles on the bridge of his nose. Zagreus reaches up, fingers brushing the short hairs at the back of Thanatos’s head.
“Is this alright?” he says, softly, his gaze flickering down, his lashes dark against his skin. Thanatos is already leaning down to meet him.
His lips are soft, his calloused hands warm. When they break apart, there’s a faint flush on Zagreus’ cheeks. He’s grinning, his hand sliding down so his thumb brushes along Thanatos’s jaw.
“You know, I’ve been thinking of doing that since the sixth time you killed me? You were always so professional .”
And what can Thanatos do in response except to curl in his fingers into the soft fabric of his tunic, and pull him closer so he can kiss him again?
When Zagreus calls him, it’s not with his usual urgency, but Thanatos appears before him anyway. Instead of the dark halls of the underworld, he finds himself in a moonlit garden. His mother’s sky stretches overhead, the constellations blinking slowly. He turns to see Zagreus lazily lounging on the bank of the river, his sword carelessly tossed to the side. He smiles up at Thanatos, the pale moonlight highlighting the gleam of his eyes, the curve of his cheek.
“Hey, Than. Hope you don’t mind me calling for you like this, but you’ve been so busy lately and, well, I thought you could use a break. And I wanted to see you.”
“I don’t mind,” he says. He might have once been annoyed, he thinks, to have been dragged away from his work like this, but he wouldn’t have come if he didn’t want to. And … he’s missed Zagreus, as well.
“Good. stay with me a while?”
He nods and places his scythe carefully against a tree and settles down on the grass, close enough so that their legs brush.
“Look,” Zagreus says, pointing up at the stars, tracing some distant constellation. The moonlight catches the curve of his cheek, his eyelashes. “There’s Heracles.”
“He’s not exactly what the stories make him out to be,” he says.
“You’ve met him? I guess even the greatest of heroes end up in the underworld one day.” He turns back to Thanatos. “You know, my mother told me that when I was born, they weren’t sure if I would be immortal at all. I can’t imagine living a life like that—a single mistake, and … well, that’s it. I don’t even know how many times I’ve died.”
“Perhaps it would have taught you to be less reckless,” he says. “Mortals tend to have a stronger sense of self-preservation.”
“Perhaps,” he says, a wry smile on his face. “But then I would only have met you once, wouldn’t I? Aren’t you glad I got the chance to repeatedly ransack this place, and somehow wear you down by dying endlessly at your hands?”
His tone is light-hearted but— “Of course I’m glad. I think it’s been the best thing to happen to this place.” He glances up at the sky, finding the constellation Zagreus had been tracing. “To me, as well.”
When he looks down, Zagreus is frozen, staring at him, his cheeks turning pink. He opens his mouth, closes it again, and Thanatos finds himself with a lapful of god as Zagreus hauls him into a kiss.
“I love you,” he says breathlessly, as they part.
The stars twinkle above them, Hercules making his way across the sky, and the dead shudder below. In the distance, the mountain of the gods rises into the sky. But in this moment, nothing exists except the two of them, the grassy banks of the river. For this moment, Thanatos lets himself have this.