Zagreus has a plan. It’s not a new plan. It may not even be a good plan. But it is the plan that first got him on Than and Meg’s good sides--and others, of course, but...he doesn’t do with others what he does with them.
No, just King fucking Theseus, says a snide voice in his head. And now, what? The bull, too? He’s hardly going to bend you over right here in return for letting you pass, he’s not Theseus, what are you thinking, this is a terrible plan--
But the doors are already opening, and the little round bottle is already stuck to his warm, sweaty hand, and he’s already committed. Zagreus approaches the bull with what he hopes is a normal smile.
“Asterius! I...haven’t seen you here in a while. How...how have you been?”
“Short one. I have missed our encounters, but the arena is busy of late. Moreso than ever before, in my time here.”
“More challengers…? Have I started a trend, perhaps?”
“Perhaps. But we dispatch them with ease…thus far, none have your strength and quickness.”
“I’m flattered to hear it.” Zagreus manages to keep his voice steady, but his heart is hammering. There’s not going to be a better time than this. He produces the bottle, holding it reverently aloft between them. “Er, before we get started--could I perhaps offer you this? I realize you must have no end of this stuff up here, and Ambrosia as well, but…”
Zagreus feels his grin falter. “Erm--could you think of it as congratulations for every match you’ve won against m--”
“No. I do not battle for prizes, short one. If you wish something of me, make it known, now. My axe grows impatient.”
“It’s just...I’m used to beginning these things with pleasantries, you see, I’m not sure how to proceed without--”
“You and the king did not exchange such pleasantries,” says Asterius, his tone utterly unreadable.
“Um.” Anxiously, Zagreus searches his face for some twitch or tell, but it’s like looking for emotion in a stone wall. “...Excuse me, sir, I’m not sure I--”
“When you said these things. You referred to bedding others. Or did I misunderstand.”
“You…” Zagreus pockets the nectar at last, feeling like a fool. “You knew? I--I’m sorry, I did suspect the two of you were...involved, but I never communicated… He didn’t seem concerned about…”
“Nor should he be,” says Asterius steadily. His tone reminds Zagreus suddenly and strangely of Meg, when they spoke of his feelings for Than. “He and I, the bond we share...it is not so easily disrupted by matters of the flesh. You are our common rival. The form your rivalry with him takes...it matters not.”
Zagreus shouldn’t say it. He shouldn’t. But if he’s proven anything to himself since he first began his escape attempts, it’s that “should” has regrettably little hold on him. And besides, the opening is too good.
“Your common rival...I suppose that means the two of you...share me.”
The implied proposition hangs in the air, its veneer of subtlety tarnishing in the silence. Zagreus has never met anyone who can exude silence like the bull of Elysium. It seems to expand, filling the room, turning the air heavy and thoughtful. He’d thought he was sweaty before; it’s nothing compared to this.
“I…” he starts, but-- What are you going to say? “I” what? “I was joking”? “I haven’t actually been thinking about the two of you having your way with me ever since Theseus first brought you up, but if I had been it would be his fault”?
Asterius takes a step closer. Zagreus should ready Coronacht, anticipate an attack. Instead he’s paralyzed by the sudden, all-over-again realization of how big the bull is. Zagreus has somehow gotten used to being charged by a ton of muscle with horns, and yet his stomach flips at the thought of being lifted in those massive arms. He’d be like a doll in those arms...
“I...do not require this of you,” says Asterius. “Our rivalry fulfills me as it is.”
“Ah,” says Zagreus, snapping back to reality with a devastating rush of embarrassment. “That’s… I--I see. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable...I wouldn’t want--”
A hand lands on his shoulder, engulfing it. Gods help me, thinks Zagreus. “Short one. Peace. Just because I do not require it does not mean...I am uninterested.”
“That...doesn’t sound particularly enthusiastic,” says Zagreus. “I mean--I don’t mean to sound ungrateful at all, it’s just…”
“I could show you my enthusiasm here and now,” says Asterius, and the bass of his voice shakes in Zagreus’ chest like distant thunder.
“Gods,” says Zagreus, his knees going weak. “I-- If you--”
“But…” Asterius returns to his usual stoic mien, leaving Zagreus feeling as though a dangling treat has been snatched away. “You spoke of us ‘sharing’...I doubt the king would voice his approval.”
Oh, come on. “He doesn’t approve of himself having me, but he hasn’t let that stop him!”
Asterius snorts, withdrawing his hand. “Nevertheless.”
“So, what, you won’t even consider it unless Theseus says out loud he wants me in bed with the both of you?” Zagreus scoffs. “You know what he’s like!”
“I know what both of you are like. Did you not proposition me in order to torment him?”
“I--” Zagreus pauses, feeling uncomfortably transparent. Had he expected Asterius to simply not notice? Assumed, on some level, that he wasn’t perceptive enough? He swallows. “That...wasn’t my main reason for asking. I wouldn’t have approached you if I didn’t want--but-- You’re right. It was callous of me. I’m sorry, Asterius. I...I promise you nothing but honesty from now on.”
“...Although I’m not sure I can say the same for Theseus.”
Asterius’ face crinkles in displeasure; Zagreus curses his stupid mouth. “Enough. Come, short one. I’ll forgive all...if you do battle with me as usual.”
Right. Fighting. He can focus on fighting. He definitely isn’t thinking about that voice that thrummed in his bones and the hand larger than his head…
He forgets to dodge and takes the first blow point-blank. This sets the tone for everything to follow.
Ten minutes later, Zagreus staggers, half-dead, into the arena. He thinks, bitterly, that he must look the very picture of Theseus’ mental image: a wild, blood-stained creature from Tartarus, intruding on lovely clean Elysium. And to add salt to that particular wound, he’s certainly not living up to Asterius’ estimation of him…
Between the bright light and the blood in his eyes, he hears them before he sees them.
“...need not concerned, king.”
“Pah!! Ludicrous, to speak to a man of a matter concerning him, and tell him not to be concerned!”
“You are not listening to me.”
“I shall listen! Tell me all that transpired and I shall listen!”
Dread drags at Zagreus’ gut. Please don’t let this be about me.
“Ask him yourself,” says Asterius. Damn it.
Zagreus offers them an inane, half-hearted smile and wave. “...Miss me, gentlemen?”
Theseus whips around, incandescent with fury, and charges straight at him.
Alright, well, that’s new. On instinct, Zagreus gets off two shots, which of course skip ineffectually off of the shield. And before he can dash away he’s crushed between cold metal and a crumbling pillar. A sizeable chunk of rubble bounces off of his skull, as though to punctuate just how terribly he’s doing. Zagreus grimaces, winded, glaring through black starbursts. Gods, fine! Just kill me, already!
The issue being that at this proximity, a killing blow with the spear is an awkward proposition at best. Hadn’t Achilles told him that, again and again? Keep your distance, lad. The spear’s greatest advantage is its length. And Theseus knows that, if past battles are any indication, so not only is this an anomaly, it’s stupid.
“Asterius has informed me of your actions! Slippery, duplicitous snake!!”
...Like most of his encounters with Theseus, lately. Finally, Zagreus’ lungs agree to take in air again. “Hhhhhwait--wait--”
“You beg for lenience in a battle? Ha, coward! And coward again, for your private advances on Asterius! Come and try it now! Try! Beg for his attentions!”
“I’m confused,” Zagreus wheezes, “are you--do you want me to--ow!”
A blurry, horned face appears over Theseus’ shoulder. “King, this is not our customary strategy! What are you--”
“He has perverted you at last, Asterius!” says Theseus, in the loudest whisper Zagreus has heard in his life. “He would have us both--lavishing our bodies upon him here, for all to see!”
Zagreus actually drops Coronacht on the ground. Behind Theseus, Asterius goes very still. Shades in the stands murmur. With any luck, they didn’t hear a thing, but Zagreus wouldn’t count on it; that whisper had echoes.
It seems Theseus is waiting for a response. Zagreus gasps the only one that comes to mind. “What is happening. ”
“You heard me, hellspawn.”
Theseus’ face is a hand-width from his, close enough to kiss; their heavy breaths mingle in the cool air. By all rights, between the blood loss and head injury and fatigue, Zagreus should not be turned on right now. Is he losing his mind? Is this what going mad feels like? “Look, I’ll admit I may have had...some designs on Asterius, but I didn’t mean--”
“Oh, you know very well what you meant by it!”
Zagreus summons the loftiest, most princely voice he can; it comes out as a rude death rattle. “Oh--yes? If my hhhmotivations are so clear to you--I’d love to hhhhhear--more about them!”
“Do not pretend, daemon, that you have not turned your lewd and unbecoming gaze on the both of us now!” says Theseus, his voice rising to a half-horrified, half-rapturous crescendo. “That you would not have us fill you a dozen times over!”
“Blood and darkness, ” says Zagreus weakly. A blinding flash of steel makes him blink, draws his eye past Theseus. The great axe rises high overhead, all deadly weight and razor edge, and at this point, all Zagreus can think is, Finally.
“Short one. Enter by the side door when next you arrive.”
“What?” says Zagreus.
“What?” says Theseus.
And then the axe comes down in a sweeping arc that cuts through the both of them, and Zagreus is swallowed whole by the Styx.
“I sense that you are displeased with me,” says Theseus.
Asterius gives him a look that is unreadable aside from the intensity of its sternness. Theseus quails.
“I...have displeased you,” he tries again.
Again, silence; heavy, stilling everything around them. Oh, this is unbearable .
“Because I did not tell you the truth of my...my encounters with...?”
“Truly, I would have!” Theseus hears a note of pleading creep into his voice; well, so be it, he will plead! “But I had thought of it as irrelevant to us, to you and me! An extension of my competition with the daemon, a further means to prove my superiority--”
“As had I,” says Asterius at last. Theseus sags with relief, then immediately tenses again, suspicious.
“...And yet you are displeased with me.”
“I am displeased with both of you.”
“With the daemon, certainly!”
“With both of you.”
“Then by all means, tell me why and I shall do everything within my power to rectify it!” Theseus begs. “We need not wait for him! What improvement can his presence possibly make?”
A huge, long-lashed eye rolls in his direction. “...The scenes you described in the arena. You would not count such things as improvements?”
Theseus flushes, protests queueing in his throat--but with that eye on him, his mouth refuses to speak them. Fearing his silence will betray something, he essays a weak “Hah…!” and turns quickly away, folding his arms. Blasted hellspawn…!
As though summoned, a shadow appears at the distant entrance. Theseus watches it trot closer, feet flashing fire-gold in the cool shadows. “Asterius, sir!” Eyes like hellish gems pierce Theseus, unclouded now by blood and fatigue. “...King.”
Theseus sniffs, averting his gaze. “Fiend.”
“Are we going to pick up where we left off? You seemed to be enjoying yourself--”
Asterius clears his throat, cutting the daemon off--and rightfully so. Someone must put an end to this indecency before they are all swept away in its riptide, and who better than Asterius? Stolid, dependable, dear Asterius. Theseus waits expectantly for his friend to put their enemy in his place.
“...I would take you both to bed.”
Theseus opens his mouth to object...and closes it again, flushing.
There were stipulations. Asterius asked them both to behave as he tells them (understandable, that he would doubt the daemon’s ability to follow orders). It was also made very clear that he was happy simply to call it off and fight as usual, and that should they wish for a halt, they need only say so. The daemon was all for it, of course. With Theseus alone, he makes it all so difficult--the resistance, the push-and-pull, the conquering.
Clearly, this is different.
“Short one,” says Asterius, as they enter Theseus’ quarters. “The door.”
The daemon closes it with an eager obedience that Theseus finds abjectly shocking. Before he can comment on it, however, Asterius scoops him up and casts him bodily onto the bed. Theseus finds himself spread-eagled across the magnificent covers, his mind suddenly alive, his body burning. Asterius is in an uncommon mood, today or tonight.
The bull looms over him, reaches out to run a hand from his collarbone to his hip. “Theseus.”
“Asterius,” Theseus manages, arching into the sensation. Whatever’s happening, he can’t help but be in favor of it.
“Er,” says the daemon. Theseus had forgotten his presence for a blissful moment; the single syllable galls intolerably.
Asterius gestures to a bedside hassock. “Short one. Sit.”
“Now, Friend Asterius,” Theseus tries, “I recognize the power of his sexual wiles, and his...uses, but I worry for his influence on y--”
“He could never alter our bond, unless you allow it,” says Asterius. “We discussed this.”
The bull bows over him, nuzzles at the crook of his neck. “My life here in Elysium...I would not have it without you. And without you, I would not want it.”
Theseus’ breath leaves him. “Ah--”
“You will show him,” says the voice in his ear, so low even the daemon should not be able to hear. “That when we are joined, he cannot distract you.”
“Yes,” Theseus breathes.
And then, even lower. “You will show him how well you please me.”
“Asterius--” Theseus gasps, his body shuddering entirely. The daemon can surely see his arousal, even from where he’s sitting, and Theseus finds he wants him to, suddenly. He will make it known; no one can give Asterius what he can.
Distantly, he hears a polite, almost demure cough--knows it must come from their infernal watcher, but barely believes it. It’s preposterous, the difference in how he addresses the two of them.
“Asterius, sir-- May I--”
Asterius pauses in undoing Theseus’ belt to glance aside, to the daemon. The hand hovering uncertainly over his groin.
“...No,” says the bull after a moment, and Theseus feels a thrill of righteous delight.
“Indeed, fiend! We are not the subjects of some-- erotic pottery, to be ogled for your pleasure and--oh--!”
Asterius rips through Theseus’ clothes like cobwebs, and the king moans, playfully sulky. “Asterius, this is my favorite one!”
Asterius’ voice is gentle, but utterly devoid of remorse. “Cloth. Easily replaced.”
“Were you so impatient to see me?” Theseus stretches luxuriously, exposed and gleaming in the dull light, and Asterius rubs a finger under his jaw as though rewarding a favored pet.
The finger trails down Theseus’ throat, his chest, his stomach. Zagreus’ eyes follow the movement as though magnetized. Again, Theseus presses up into his touch, straining for more, opening his thighs invitingly as Asterius’ hand settles between them. His hips move in great, sensuous rolls against the bull’s broad palm, ecstatic gasps pealing from his lips. He’s making a meal of it, a show. Zagreus hates him, but more than that, he hates that it’s working.
Asterius withdraws for a moment, and Theseus immediately makes a shockingly pitiful noise, spreading his legs wider. Zagreus hears the faint pop of a bottle uncorking, watches, entranced, as Asterius spills oil over his fingers.
Theseus twists with theatrical desperation, flinging a hand over his face. “Ah! such cruelty--!”
“...I am cruel?”
“Only in--withholding yourself from me! How can I help but despise you when you leave my body so lonely…?”
The bull frowns. “You despise me?”
“Asterius, no -- C-curse my poetic flair--”
“I don’t mean to torment you.” Asterius slides one shining hand under Theseus’ hips, patiently massaging, the corded muscles of his forearm flexing. The king twitches, catching his lower lip between his teeth for a moment.
“No! Ah-- I contradict myself, I-- Torment me, Asterius--”
“Here you are honest,” Asterius murmurs. Zagreus watches Theseus’ toes curl as one heavy finger enters him. One knuckle, then another.
“You d-draw it from me--I cannot help myself…”
“And yet, in the arena…”
“In the arena…? Asterius--his behavior--ah--I could not allow it--”
Asterius’ free hand closes on Theseus’ face, dragging it gently but inexorably over to look at Zagreus. “His behavior.”
“Yes, Asterius,” Theseus pants, his voice muffled by the bull's grip, his face slack and flushed. He locks eyes with Zagreus for just a moment before he’s pulled back.
“You speak as though he forced you to act. As if you were helpless.” Asterius adds another finger, mercilessly patient.
“Nhaa--aah--! He is--worthless--a-a nothing-god, and yet--the insolence, the audacity, aahhh--!”
“And what of me, king?” Asterius rumbles. “I was there also. I am here also.”
The words seem to resound to every opulent corner of the room. Theseus' eyes go wide, and he gasps as though he’s been stabbed in the heart. “Oh--I--no… I did not think--”
“You did not.” Asterius is pushing faster now--whether to punish Theseus or encourage him, Zagreus can’t tell. He feels light-headed; his cock aches; he’s already making a mess of his breeches. This is stupid, he thinks, as though thinking it will change anything. No one’s even touched him. He hasn’t touched him--as much as he’s dying to. He wants to beg, wants Asterius to turn those dark eyes to him, beckon him in. Be good, Meg always says. You can be a good little man, can’t you, Zagreus?
I can be good, he thinks, desperately. Please let me be good.
Theseus seems to be following a similar train of thought. “Asterius--Asterius, allow me to make amends, allow my body to apologize--”
The bull lows a reprimand. “King...not with your body. In words. You will not disregard the sanctity of our battles again?”
“No, Asterius!” Theseus groans, the picture of exquisite agony. “I commit myself to the duty, I swear it! I shall prove it to you, please, permit me--”
“You need not prove it this way.”
“I want to, I need you, please-- Sheathe yourself in me, I beg you, impale me, own me, I am yours, let me show you--”
Zagreus stares, open-mouthed. Not once has he ever imagined King Theseus babbling such things. To think this is the man who once begged him with such reluctance and fury, and only then because he couldn’t stand to back down from a wager--gods.
“And you, short one?”
“I--what?” says Zagreus, dazed. “I--should I--do you also want me to--”
Asterius’ eyes flick down, and Zagreus realizes he’s shoved a hand between his legs without realizing. He yanks it back, his ears burning.
“Will you provoke him again, at the risk of our treasured rivalry?”
“Oh--no,” says Zagreus hurriedly. “N-no, sir. Er.” Gods.
“Then wait,” says Asterius, “and watch my king.”
There’s something about the way he says my king; not just the king I serve but the king who belongs to me. Pride and possessiveness all rolled into one. Zagreus can hardly blame Theseus for squirming pleasurably at the sound of it. His eyes dart to Zagreus, but he seems to catch himself and staunchly returns his gaze to Asterius. It’s astonishing to watch.
What’s even more astonishing is Asterius’ size.
Zagreus remembers, faintly, Theseus’ boasts about his own “girth”. He wonders how the man can have any ego whatsoever on that count, if he takes that on a regular basis. Or perhaps it’s the taking that gives him such ego...watching Asterius slide into him with such ease, Zagreus can hardly blame him.
Asterius is heavy, even propped up on his elbows. Theseus can feel him everywhere--hide and breath and crushing weight, and the pulsing heat stretching him wide, inch by inch. All of it familiar and exhilarating, both at once. Asterius moans aloud, deep in his chest; with their bodies flush together, Theseus feels his voice as a heavy reverberation. It fills his body, dizzies him like wine. Better than wine.
“Short one... Do you think him beautiful?”
Theseus lets his head loll to one side, mouth ajar, eyes seeking their watcher's face. In any other context, it would rankle terribly to be seen like this; the daemon would smirk and mock and invite punishment. But here, under Asterius’ watchful gaze, he’s like a leashed dog.
“Yes,” says the daemon, visibly trembling for release.
“Could you do as he does now?”
The daemon swallows, his eyes lowering to Theseus’ loins and the monster buried within him. “...No, sir.”
Asterius eases gently further inside his king; Theseus mewls, the noise pressed out of him in flutters. “Do you envy him?”
“Gods, yes,” the daemon sighs. “Asterius, please, can I--”
“Not yet,” Asterius lows, and the fiend whimpers aloud, all envy and wanting. Theseus revels in it, can’t resist the urge to boast of his privileged position.
“Are you-- hnh!--quite c-consumed with j--aah--jealousy, daemon?”
“You...must have dreamt of this for yourself-- ngh! ”
Asterius pulls out all at once, the sensation leaving Theseus breathless for a moment. He’s still reeling from it when Asterius grasps his torso and, with careful ease, flips him over onto his front. He tries to get up on all fours, then groans as Asterius presses him back down, face-first into the cushions.
“Blood and darkness,” says the daemon, sounding choked. Privately, perhaps for the first time, Theseus agrees with him. He would never provoke Asterius intentionally, of course not, but--this…
“Remember your promise, king,” says Asterius, and pushes inside him again. Theseus claws at the blankets, his delighted moan half-smothered by silk. His mind blurs. He’s forgotten about the show, about begging; he has all he wants, after all. The bull overtakes him, body and mind. His hair is falling in his eyes, and he knows on some level that he must look utterly, wonderfully debauched--wonders headily if Asterius takes pleasure in the sight. Prays to any listening god that he does.
“Our rival...has been waiting...long enough,” Asterius pants. Somewhere in the distance, the daemon groans. “King...would you...give him...your mouth?”
Theseus tries to summon some reluctance, some protest, but--it’s Asterius.
“Nnnh--fffor you--” he pants. Asterius hums his approval, and the pride from that more than makes up for the demeaning task at hand.
“Come, short one.”
Zagreus doesn’t know whether Asterius intended the double meaning, and frankly he doesn’t care. “It won’t take much,” he says stupidly, rising on wobbly legs. “I’m…er...”
“You’ve...endured...well,” says Asterius. He seems, at last, to be losing focus. “ Nh... proven your worth…”
“Thank you,” Zagreus murmurs fervently, taking a seat by Theseus’ head. He takes a moment to marvel at the graceful, muscled arch of the king’s back, the jolts running down it with every powerful thrust. His open, drooling mouth…
“‘Sterius,” Theseus slurs, “‘m...done well--too--?”
Asterius slows for a moment. “King...perfect as always.”
He strokes the length of Theseus’ back in a by-now familiar gesture, eliciting an emphatic, shivering cry of pleasure. Sweating with anticipation, Zagreus reaches down his trousers. “He’s never going to let me do this again.”
“Likely not.” Asterius’ heavy head tips back, his breath coming faster. “Seize your chance, as you-- nhhh --as you would--in battle--”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” says Zagreus, shimmying down on the bed. Gingerly, he angles his cock down to Theseus’ open mouth. “Come on, king…it’ll--it’ll take two seconds...I’ll never be able to make fun--aah!!”
He had expected to have to do much more persuading, but once again Theseus surprises him by charging in head-on. Zagreus yelps, biting at the inside of his cheek even as he scrambles to push deeper into soft, wet heat. And even now, moments from climax, he still envies Theseus, dammit, he wants--lavishing our bodies upon him--fill you a dozen times over--
Despite his talk of two seconds, he’d still been hoping to savor the moment a little longer. Instead he comes with a jerk and a plaintive yelp, one hand finding desperate purchase in gleaming blonde locks. Theseus swallows him uncomplainingly, almost professionally, his face pressed flush to Zagreus’ belly, his blue eyes glossy and vacant. Zagreus pulls away, gasping, as the last erratic ripples of pleasure fade, wondering if this is all some fever dream or teasing vision from Aphrodite. His hand is still resting limply on Theseus’ hair and, in a fit of bemused curiosity, he runs his fingers through it. It’s irritatingly soft and silky. Probably not a dream.
Theseus moans--whether in annoyance or pleasure or both, Zagreus can’t tell. What he does know is that in any other circumstances, the king would absolutely not permit this.
Zagreus finds his gaze drawn upwards, to Asterius. “...He really loves you.”
To his faint surprise, the bull doesn’t answer. His eyes are focused unwaveringly on Theseus, attuned to the king's every quiver and whine. He's a man, not a monster--Zagreus knows this--but there's some subtle savagery in his motions, a primal wanting in the way he pulls Theseus up to bite at his shoulder. Zagreus realizes, suddenly, that Theseus already came, sees the evidence of it spilled across the blankets. He remembers the way Asterius called him perfect, the noise Theseus made…gods, Asterius had only touched his back-- But then, Zagreus might well have reacted the same way, in his place...
It’s starting to dawn on him that he’s going to be thinking about this encounter privately for a long time. Zagreus considers, studiously, that he probably ought to commit it to memory as much as possible. So he makes himself comfortable, and watches intently as Asterius fucks Theseus senseless. He's never seen anything like it; the bull is a force of nature, relentless as a river, unstoppable as an earthquake. It’s magnificent--even moreso, the sight of him shuddering in silent, open-mouthed ecstasy before he falls back, chest heaving. Theseus stays where he is for a long moment, twitching and whimpering, still leaking down his thighs. Even now, utterly ruined, there’s that mindless, over-confident grin on his face... It’s almost impressive.
Eventually, though, the king rouses himself and crawls up to lie on top of the bull, making a sticky, sweaty, well-fucked pile. Asterius welcomes him in, bends his neck to whisper in Theseus' ear. It makes Zagreus suddenly miss Than and Meg, in a way that he never seems to in the aftermath of his ill-advised trysts with Theseus alone.
“I...should go,” he says, awkwardly. “I--this was incredible, thank you--”
“No,” says Asterius, sleepily satisfied. He extends an arm, dewy eyes finding Zagreus by his feet. “Come. In the arena, you take your prize of ambrosia. Here...you rest a while. You did well, short one.” He caresses Theseus’ rumpled hair with one affectionate hand. “...Both of you, very well. I thank you.”
Zagreus hesitates for a moment, but--surely it would be rude to refuse, and...when will he get the chance again?
Cautiously, he makes his way over Asterius’ legs and takes his place next to the bull, nestled against his side. Asterius pulls him closer with a contented sigh. “Well done,” he says again, and Zagreus feels a familiar glow in his chest at the words. He’ll admit it: this isn’t so bad. Even with Theseus so nearby. Sharing Asterius’ warmth, listening to the deep, steady rush of breath, he could almost...drift…
He opens his eyes to find Theseus staring intently down at him.
“Silence, fiend!” hisses the king. “Can you not see that Asterius is yet slumbering?”
As though in agreement, a soft, snuffling snore rises from above them. Theseus rises gently in time with Asterius’ breath, and spares the bull a glance filled with unbelievable tenderness--before snapping back to Zagreus with a glare that could melt bronze.
“This shall change nothing betwixt us.”
“Happy to hear there’s still a betwixt us to betwixt,” says Zagreus, matching Theseus’ volume and spite in equal measure. “Your begging was something to hear, king. Is that what you want from me? I’m not sure I can measure up.”
He’d meant it as a jibe, but Theseus actually preens a little. “Well, you are a rough, uncouth thing--no wonder such eloquence would surprise you…”
“Such eloquence, hah. I’ll remind you I’ve also heard you beg me.” He puts on a soft, mock-desperate tone, raising his voice by an octave. “Do it, damn you! Oh! Do it, filth, please--!”
“Why, you!” Theseus starts, forgetting to whisper--and both of them freeze as Asterius stirs. There’s a moment of tense, nervous silence, during which neither of them dare even to breathe. Then, at last, the bull grumbles in his sleep and folds a massive arm over Theseus’ back. Theseus relaxes, shooting Zagreus a smug, superior glance. You wish this were you.
“I suppose that’s my cue to leave,” Zagreus murmurs, raising an eyebrow. “You two enjoy your--”
Zagreus pauses, staring. The king scowls back, visibly uncomfortable, somehow giving the impression of a wild animal that might bolt at any sudden movement.
“...That sounded like it took a lot of effort,” says Zagreus carefully.
“Well, it’s only-- I don’t-- Asterius--requested that you... ugh--! ”
“I would stay...but I’m on the job.” Zagreus gestures to his discarded shield by way of explanation. “Fighting Lord Hades later, you know.”
Theseus snorts, clearly relieved to be on firm footing once more. “Hmph! Lies upon lies. Do as you please, then, filth. It is no concern of mine.”
Zagreus pauses, torn between annoyance and the peculiar urge to reward Theseus for going against his ridiculous nature. The second impulse wins by a hair, if only because Zagreus can see it paying off pleasurably in the future. He bows down and presses an exaggeratedly deferential kiss to Theseus’ closest hand. “Thank you for the offer, though...sir.”
Then he sees the look of pompous glee on Theseus’ face, and immediately regrets everything.
“Why, monster …”
“Don’t get used to it,” Zagreus mutters, sliding off the bed.
“I believe I shall bring you to heel yet!”
“You’ll kneel to me again, and gladly,” purrs Theseus. He turns onto his side, legs splayed, and oh, gods, already? “You could kneel to me now , I’m sure you are salivating for it--”
“Terribly sorry, I have rats to kill. And to be clear, I find that preferable.”
“You are addicted to subjugation, fiend!” Theseus stage-whispers, disgustingly pleased with himself. “You delight in debasing yourself for me, and you will return to do it again!”
Zagreus rolls his eyes as he leaves, but can’t bring himself to disagree.
He told Asterius he’d be honest, after all.
The audience roars. The air is crisp and clean. Zagreus rolls his shoulders, considering the challenge before him in all its golden glory.
“...You’re both looking extra shiny today.”
Theseus cackles from his perch on the Macedonian. “Flattery will avail you nothing, hellspawn! Now, Asterius...as we practiced!”
“Very good, king. Short one?”
“Prepare to die, sir,” says Zagreus cheerfully, and reloads Exagryph with an echoing rattle. The crowd cheers. It’s hard to tell, from here, but Zagreus could swear Asterius is smiling.
The fight is on.