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A Love That Lingers

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0.

It is black, even when he opens his eyes.

Late.

Late-late-late.

Late.

He tries to go, but there are chains and he cannot. Pain flares hot and brilliant and when it fades it is only black-black-black again, only the vague flares of ache in stiff muscles that have not moved in too long. He tries to move again; there is no space. He digs his fingers deep into flesh he can reach, but he cannot manage to tear through bone.

Latelatelatelatelate.

He squeezes his eyes shut, in case this time it manages to silence that call, that steady tick of threads not yet cut, of souls not yet free.

It does not.

He is late.

 

 

Ares

i.

One of Ares’ fondest memories is the first time he ever saw Thanatos draw his sword. Nyx’s son was still coming into himself then, still new to his duties as a harvester of souls. Hair long and drifting with starlight—perfectly impractical, though the young god had made an attempt to tie it back from his face.

There had been a Ker eager to take a soul Thanatos had come to collect; Thanatos drew his blade, and the results were spectacular.

Not skill; oh no. Not grace or poise, not surety of purpose. Ares has seen all of those, many times, and while they can be admirable, it is not what makes the memory so sweet.

Thanatos’ fight with the Ker had been nasty and full of all the exquisite viciousness of a beast defending its young, leaving Thanatos covered in blood and feather and the Ker quite wingless indeed. It took longer than it should have—Thanatos was not skilled with a blade, and he’d left her on the ground as he limped to retrieve his scythe and return to his work.

Ares has seen many, many wars, and even more fights, and he has never once witnessed a single soul able to compare to Death’s intensity when forced to take up his sword. Ares has considered wars only for the joy of seeing Thanatos defend souls from the Keres many, many times.

He does not, because he understands fighting is what Thanatos does last, and he quite likes Nyx’s son.

 

 

ii.

Ares likes pain, both dealing and receiving it; it taps into an emotion not too far from euphoria. It is not the joy of most of his family. Unsurprisingly, his fondest memory of Thanatos is of how willing the god is to endure it in pursuit of his harvest.

The Keres, by then, had realized they needed to be wary of Thanatos. They had also realized he was even worse against many of them than he was against only one.

Ares had very nearly not noticed the fight at all; back then, Thanatos had fought less and though interesting when he did, he very much picked his battles. He had certainly never gone after the Keres as a group intentionally, content it seemed to only fight them when they were alone.

It was the dozens of shrieks, the sound of bone crunching and twisting, that drew Ares attention. Thanatos, feet planted on the ground and sword in hand, darkness twisting up around him and facing down the flock of Keres—half of which had been broken by their own shadows.

Thanatos, picking a fight.

The other half of the flock had descended on him in a frenzy, intent on vengeance. It took very little time before he fell; it took longer before the Keres were sated by the blood of a god enough to leave.

Ares did not know Thanatos, and while it was interesting he had picked a fight, it was also a very, very stupid fight to pick. Ares might occasionally lean towards impulsive, but stupid was very much not his preference.

Thanatos eventually pulled himself back to his feet, clothes torn, covered in blood from wounds so newly healed there were scars yet. The young god huffed that his hair had been torn from its ties, long white locks drifting much the way Nyx’s did. He looked up, saw the sky free of Keres, then stepped light into the air, sheathing his sword. He pulled his scythe from shadow and with a singularly efficient sweep, freed every soul on the battlefield.

Thanatos’ smile was vicious and proud as purple butterflies took shape and flocked to him, and Ares realized there had actually been a point to the provocation.

What could the Keres truly do to a god, if the god were willing to endure pain?

Thanatos noticed Ares finally, smile vanishing and suddenly seeming the awkward young god he yet was.

“You saw all that, then?” he asked.

“It was quite a sight,” Ares said.

Thanatos frowned, silence going sharp. The kind that promised sharper words, quite the opposite of the effect Ares had intended.

“That was not meant as an offense,” Ares added. “I only have never witnessed a god allowing themselves to be torn apart in order to save a few souls.”

“Oh.” Thanatos looked away, held out a hand for a soul to land on. The souls seemed quite smitten with him—they landed on his hand, his hair, his shoulders, crawled along the top of his scythe. “I couldn’t think of another way to get them to go away. I’m surprised it worked so well.”

“You likely would not need to, if you knew how to fight,” Ares said.

Thanatos barked a laugh, singular.

“Who would teach me?” he asked. “Lord Hades? I can’t imagine that going well.”

“I would,” Ares said.

 

 

iii.

Even with lessons, Thanatos’ skill in battle was never very good—but it did not matter, ultimately, as he came into himself, learned his domain properly, and learned how to use it to better defend himself and the souls he was meant to gather.

Ares, naturally, taught him to fight the only way that might suit him—by cheating. If sometimes that meant wrapping his fist in Thanatos' too long hair to force his head back, if sometimes that meant they would end pressed too close, well—there has always been an innate sensuality to sparring that is not so different from other passions. It is why Ares has always gotten on so well with Aphrodite.

Thanatos was still a young god, still unsure of what he even wanted of the world, and Ares might take any who please him—except Thanatos was uniquely spectacular, irreplaceable. Ares had no plans to ruin what promised to be a long running partnership on the battlefield for a singular night. Even if Aphrodite certainly seemed to think he should.

He pretended not to notice blown out pupils or flushed cheeks, and gave Thanatos the grace to collect himself.

“If your hair were shorter, you would not be so vulnerable,” Ares commented.

“Maybe you should cut it for me,” Thanatos said.

Ares looked up quickly, but Thanatos had already turned away, tying his hair back up, and his voice did not betray if it were dry humour or sincerity. Likely it was both; Ares chuckled.

“You should save that honor for someone else, dove,” Ares said, and enjoyed, for a moment, the flush that ran down the back of Thanatos’ bare neck, across his shoulders.

But he did not push past that.

Thanatos was still a young god; there was time plenty to let him decide what he wanted without adrenaline clouding his mind.

 

 

iv.

Thanatos finishes growing; the lessons stop. Their relationship, such as it ever was, turns towards a working one. Ares enjoys each time Thanatos fights the Keres, his cornered animal viciousness, his intensity, and how he actually fights instead of simply offering himself up a sacrifice.

Ares still, very rarely, indulges in calling him dove, after his very fine white hair and preference for peace. An invitation.

Sometimes Ares wonders if he might ever manage a tenth of Thanatos’ fury at the Keres for trying to harm his crop. Little can compare to the fervor of those defending their domain. War is not a domain that requires defending the way souls do, and Ares has nothing he particularly desires to defend. It is, he thinks, quite likely he will live all his days not knowing that particular fury.

A pity.

 

 

v.

There is a battle, as there always are, and there are souls littering the battlefield. Keres hover above, wary, waiting to see if Thanatos will arrive before they risk descending.

Thanatos is often late—it is not only battles he attends, and Ares has learned, over the aeons, that Thanatos has settled on a very complex set of guidelines for whom he finds unacceptable to gather late, and those he will let linger a little. As loathe as Death is to allow the Keres to feast, sometimes it is unavoidable. Plagues particularly promise good feasting for the sisters; Thanatos prioritizes the sick above all.

It is only odd. There are no plagues that Ares knows of, no calamities, no famines. It is, other than this small skirmish, quite peaceful in the mortal world, and has been for several months now.

It is why Ares goaded the mortals into a battle in the first place.

He waits until well after the fighting has ended, one side defeated. He waits until the sun goes down—when tired, Thanatos seems to find the sun more irritating than usual. He waits until the sun has begun to rise again.

Thanatos does not arrive.

Ares considers bodies caught between life and death, then rises. He makes his way to a farm, then another, then another, looking. He goes between villages, between cities.

There are no plagues, there are no calamities, and there is no death.

Eventually, he finds a child, sick and clearly dying. Ares is not one for comfort, but the child’s coughs are wracking things, lungs half filled with fluid, and, as it would likely please Thanatos, Ares pushes the child towards unconsciousness.

He waits.

The child does not die and does not get better, only drifts between the two. Waiting. Ares knows when a mortal should die; he has seen them do it often enough. This child should not yet live.

Thanatos does not arrive.

Ares rises and heads to Olympus, the familiar flare of fury taking root in the back of his head.

 

 

vi.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” Zeus says.

Not for the first time and certainly not the last, Ares considers what it would take to kill his mother's husband.

“Fine,” Ares repeats, voice flat.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s one soul, how tricky could it be.”

“It is Sisyphus,” Ares says, knowing it will not matter. “You should have sent Hermes.”

He wants, very much, to run Zeus through. He knows, from experience, it will not end how he wants.

“Nonsense, Hermes is family.”

Very distantly, Ares realizes he has never been quite so furious in all his very long life. It is so much brighter than his usual red anger, sun white hot. He wonders if this is what Apollo feels like; it would explain much about him.

“Give me the key,” Ares says, voice still so flat.

It’s quite interesting, in a distant way. He usually shouts when he is angry.

“Let’s not mention this, yes?” his mother's husband says, and surrenders the only other extant key to chains meant for gods and titans and souls. “You’re likely only worrying overmuch.”

Ares does not dignify that with a response.

 

 

vii.

Thanatos is stupidly, painfully honest. It is delightfully refreshing, particularly after Ares must deal with his family, and it makes him the worst possible choice to deal with King Sisyphus in all of creation.

It has been peaceful in the mortal world for months now—no plagues, no calamities, no famines.

Ares does not look for Thanatos directly; he would not find him that way. He looks for his sword, instead—Ares knows it well, how it loves its owner, how it makes itself a tool in his hands, how its purple eye assesses and how its voice rings. He knows the way it pulls at existence, a tear in the world, and that most who pick it up do not live to tell of it.

He knows it will not be far from Thanatos, and it will know where he is.

Thanatos, first.

Then he will deal with the white hot fury that is eating him alive.

He finds the blade with the scythe, leaned against the wall in King Sisyphus’ hall. Surrendered without struggle; but of course. Thanatos is stupidly honest, and does not deal with the living.

Ares takes the sword in hand, and then the scythe as well. He is less familiar with it, but it’s rage is easy to understand. Thanatos will need it.

“Where is he?” he asks the sword, and he gets dark and chain and a sense of claustrophobia so intense that it almost—almost—drowns out the rage.

It is night in the hall, quiet. Ares begins to hunt; the sword is insistent Thanatos is here.

It isn’t until the third pass through that Ares realizes there is a chest in plain view, large, that his eyes have kept sliding off, and the rage goes from hot to cold and crystalline so quickly he takes in a single sharp breath.

Who would suspect?

He sets the scythe down, the sword. He will not damage Thanatos’ tools. He pulls out one of his own daggers, uses the butt to smash once, twice, then throws the lock away.

Thanatos is inside, wrapped in the chains that were meant for Sisyphus, still. There is blood, old and dried, fresh and wet—Ares can smell it.

Animals often try to chew their own limbs off to escape a trap.

Ares hauls him out; the motion wakes Thanatos. Thanatos hisses, flinching back from the dim moonlight spilling into the hall as his eyes open, and he begins to struggle.

Stops as Ares covers his eyes, presses a dry kiss to his temple.

“I am sorry I did not realize sooner,” he says. “Hold still a little longer, dove.”

“Ares?” Thanatos voice is barely a whisper, creaks with disuse. “Ares, I’m late, I have to go, late, late—”

“I know,” Ares says, undoing the locks as quickly as he can, untwisting chain that is loathe to let go its prize. “I know.”

As soon as the last of it is off, Thanatos is scrambling away, hands grasping his scythe and vanishing in darkness and dull green.

He leaves his sword.

“What do you say,” Ares says, picking it up, feeling it twist from tool to weapon in his hand, feeling a fury nearly a match to his own greet him, “we have a little fun?”

 

 

viii.

He does deliver Sisyphus to the Temple of Styx.

Eventually.

 

 

ix.

The mortals remember it as the most tragic autumn in a century, a wave of death that sweeps seemingly without end as Thanatos finally reaps his harvest.

It is a poor time for war; Ares entertains himself on Olympus and makes pointed comments about how odd it is that so many mortals are dying all at once in Zeus' hearing.

 

 

x.

Ares is a god of war, in all of its many facets. How it starts, how it goes, how it ends. The god of everything that follows in its wake. Most only consider the ransacking of cities, the pillaging of the earth.

But there is more that follows war than spoils. There is the gathering of the dead and the exchange of captives, the treaties and the negotiations, the wounds and the grief and all the trauma that runs deeper than any scar.

It was months before Ares noticed Death's absence.

Thanatos has long since caught up in his harvest, and yet he still drives himself at a pace that promises ruin. He does not miss any battles at all now; he does not rest. He throws himself into fights with the Keres with so little regard for surviving them that Ares has very nearly lost count of how many times they have torn him apart. The rare times Ares can manage to reach him before he leaves, Thanatos will not meet his eyes.

Ares roams until he finds an old soldier near death and waits. The soldier dies; Thanatos appears, and in the space between Thanatos collecting the soul and vanishing, Ares grabs his wrist where scars that should have long since healed still shine in the light.

Thanatos freezes, breath gone short.

“Let me go,” Thanatos says; face turned away, hiding behind the drift of his hair.

“Shame does not suit you.”

Thanatos stays silent.

“There is nothing shameful in losing a fight,” Ares says. He reaches up, smooths the spill of hair behind Thanatos’ ear, pulls his hand away careful to not tug the strands that have curled around his fingers. Ares would kill Sisyphus and burn his kingdom to the ground again, if he could; Thanatos’ eyes are firmly closed, the tiniest tremble beneath Ares’ hand. “You know that.”

“What if I did not fight at all?” Thanatos whispers. “What if—” He stops. “I am late.”

He does not wait for Ares to let go; he vanishes, shadow filling the void he leaves behind.

Ares stares at the empty space, mood black. Furious with Zeus for sending Thanatos to Sisyphus. Furious with Sisyphus for so subverting the intensity that Ares loves in Thanatos. Furious with himself for ever giving Thanatos the impression he would judge him for failing to fight.

Thanatos draws his blade to defend others, not himself; of course Thanatos would not have fought Sisyphus. Ares should have realized sooner.

He wants to start a war; it would only allow Thanatos to further crucify himself, so he cannot.

He settles for razing a forest to the ground, instead.

 

 

xi.

Ares is no god of healing; he would not take a person’s scars from them in any case. Scars are symbols of history, symbols of what has been survived.

Thanatos will survive this.

That does not mean he will allow Thanatos to continue to ruin himself. There is little point in denying that he loves Nyx’s son, in his own way; Ares has never been one to flee his emotions.

And, in his own way, he plans how he might mend what Sisyphus warped.

Bribing Hermes is the easy part; Hermes is as greedy and given to mischief as any raven, and his love of Thanatos' elder brother pushes him the rest of the way.

The difficult part is finding Thanatos again. Ares only desires long enough to make his proposal; it would, as ever, be Thanatos’ choice if he would fight.

He hopes he does. He has always hoped Thanatos might defend himself, one day.

It would be spectacular to witness. Humbling. It is likely greedy for Ares to hope that Thanatos might agree to Ares’ proposal, too greedy by far, but Hermes is not the only one given to greed in their family.

At least they sometimes manage to put their greed to good works.

 

 

 

Thanatos

i.

The first soul Thanatos ever fetched he did without any tools at all. He was still a small god then; he still barely knew what he was doing. He still barely had a shape to call his own.

Small, not young.

The Olympians never understood the distinction, but the Olympians did not descend from Mother. And, if Thanatos is honest, he had felt young—he had never been to the surface before, never experienced the sun and the wind and the overwhelming noise of the living.

The need to find the soul was more overwhelming. An instinct he could not smother, and when he found it he had stared in wonder—he had never seen anything so beautiful before.

He had no tools and no idea what to do, but the viciousness in his breast most certainly did.

He ripped it out by the roots; the soul went ragged, began to fade. This was not right, he could tell, and he panicked, fled to the Underworld with it clutched to his chest, fled to his mother who knew everything and knew it best.

“Mother,” he gasped, holding the soul out, “Mother I—what have I done?”

“Do not be troubled, child,” Mother said. She was so calm. “You did as you must.”

Must?” Horror flooded him, horror at the thought of that feral hunger he had never known before, horror at the way the soul's beauty was faded to nothingness in his hands. He pulled it closer again. “It was—this is wrong, Mother, surely…”

Mother had looked at him properly then, then the soul in his hand. She took it from him, her darkness and stars gathering around it, then returned it to him a butterfly brooch that gleamed purple and gold.

“I am sorry I did not realize sooner,” Mother said, folding his hands around the soul turned keepsake. “I had wondered why your sisters rejected you so thoroughly when you were born, why Hypnos your twin.”

Thanatos stared at her, not understanding.

“You are somewhere between them both, aren’t you?” She pressed a kiss to his head. He still did not understand, but it soothed him anyway.

 

 

ii.

Mother did not know how to harvest, but Efthalia did. Thanatos loved his scythe, loves. She is beautiful, and she sings when they work, and she taught him everything he knows and more of harvesting souls.

She is not a weapon. He did not need one.

Not until he met his sisters.

 

 

iii.

The Keres haunt battlefields. The Keres rend souls the way Thanatos did his first soul, and they do not think it wrong. The Keres are cruel and vicious; when they caught sight of Thanatos when he was still small, they would chase him until they caught him, pin him to the ground, and break his wings again and again and again.

He learned to hide his wings. He learned to be more like his twin. He did not—does not—need wings. He would not be like them.

He hated his sisters. Hates them.

Souls are his domain—he still did not understand then what a domain was, beyond instinct: wrong to rend, wrong to destroy, wrong to let a soul go too long without being harvested.

He had never forgotten how quickly that viciousness overwhelmed him. He had never forgotten the feel of rending with his hands.

He snuck onto a battlefield, shrouded himself in so much darkness that even his sisters would not see him, and went looking for an answer to their violence. He would not be like his sisters. He would not rend with claw or tear with teeth.

But he would not let them keep stealing from his domain, either.

There was an Olympian there; there often was. Thanatos had seen him a few times, though he had been careful to hide himself. The Olympians did not much care for him, for any of them from beneath the earth.

This Olympian was violence and fury, but he was not feral. He was controlled and confident, and his smile was wholly his own. He had a sword in hand, and it seemed to work well enough as a tool of precise violence. Thanatos did not understand the difference between a tool and a weapon, then.

Thanatos left and he went to his grandparent far below everything, the grandparent Mother no longer spoke to, because he knew Mother would never grant him this.

“I need a sword,” he said, and Chaos smiled.

 

 

iv.

Chaos gifted him Efsevios, a match to Efthalia in all the ways that matter. He is brave and wise, and he focuses all the instinctive fury Thanatos inherited from his sisters’ down into something useful.

Thanatos practiced with Efsevios before he risked confronting any of his sisters, but he felt awkward—he had no one to truly teach him, and Efsevios was a tool more than he was a weapon in Thanatos’ hand. Thanatos was still scared, the first time he went to a battle to try collecting a soul. His sisters had made it clear he was not welcome on the battlefield. But it was—is—wrong what they did, and souls…

Souls belonged to Thanatos.

Efsevios was in his scabbard at Thanatos’ belt. Efthalia was in his hand. There was a soul that Thanatos would take.

He was so tired of them destroying these souls—his souls. His to harvest, his to gather, his to guide.

His.

He heard one of his sisters shriek, looked up to see her dive, and all the rage and terror and tension that had coiled so tight in his chest ignited at once—enough.

Souls were his.

He drew Efsevios and leapt up to meet his sister. He did not feel her tearing through flesh, did not feel her claws rake over his face, did not feel her knife sharp feathers cutting deep enough to damage muscle. She would not have this soul, she would not—he would eat her raw first.

<No,> Efsevios rang in his head, compressing the rage he had caught fire with down-down-down so he could think.

He cut her wings off, and left her in the dirt.

He would not be like them.

“Thank you,” he told Efsevios, and the sword hummed in his head. Thanatos cleaned the blade on the remnants of his himation, sheathed him, and went to retrieve Efthalia and the soul both.

He smiled.

Finally—he had managed to save one from his sisters.

 

 

v.

The problem, of course, was that Thanatos still did not know how to fight. He could pick them off here and there, but it was slow and sometimes he was not fast enough.

It did not save enough of his harvest.

He thought a while. They grew bored enough of him, eventually, and he did not think they could truly kill him. He was larger than they, by then. Perhaps if he simply let them have their fill, he would be able to save more souls.

<You are a god, not a sacrifice,> Efsevios scolded in his head when he decided to try. He was beginning to understand more, understand how to use the darkness and time of his domain. His sisters were made of the same darkness as he.

<Idiot,> Efsevios snarled in his head when Thanatos crushed half a flock with their own shadows, drawing all the ire of the survivors.

It hurt, but they could not really kill him, and he was right—they did get bored and leave. It was not the way a god should win, but it had worked. And when he drew Efthalia and they swept through the field, dozens of souls sprang into the air at once and oh, this was so good and sweet. He would endure a thousand deaths to make every harvest so easy.

Thanatos was very pleased, until the Olympian who roamed so many battles approached. All the Olympians were patronizing, or at least the ones he had had cause to interact with. He could only imagine what this Olympian would think of Thanatos now, when he never ran from any fights at all.

Thanatos wished it had been another who saw him. Even Zeus would be better than this one, with his confidence and grace Thanatos yet envied.

“You saw all that, then?” he asked.

“It was quite a sight,” the Olympian said.

Thanatos frowned and looked away, hands tightening on Efthalia. Of course it was a sight—he had not fought at all.

“That was not meant as an offense, I only have never witnessed a god allowing themselves to be torn apart in order to save a few souls.” There was sincerity in the Olympian's voice and… admiration. God, not godling.

A feeling Thanatos did not have a name for twisted low in his gut; shivered down his spine. It felt—good.

“Oh.” Thanatos tried to gather his wits, but this wasn't like the instinctive rage that destroyed his ability to think. He looked at the souls, held out a hand for them to land. They were beautiful and soothing and his. “I couldn’t think of another way to get them to go away. I’m surprised it worked so well.”

“You likely would not need to, if you knew how to fight."

Thanatos laughed.

“Who would teach me? Lord Hades? I can’t imagine that going well.” Lord Hades was many things, but certainly not a teacher. Thanatos almost wanted to laugh again.

“I would,” the Olympian said, easy the way Thanatos had seen him wield a blade. The bottom fell out of Thanatos' stomach, his mouth went dry, and a pulse he usually never thought of was suddenly loud in his head.

Efthalia laughed at him.

"I don't even know your name," Thanatos said, looking up to meet a blood red gaze.

The Olympian chuckled, his smile the barest curve of his lips but no less full of joy.

"I have forgotten myself, haven't I? We have not been introduced." The Olympian caught Thanatos’ hand that had, moments prior, been home to souls, pressed the barest kiss to his knuckles, eyes still sparkling joy. "I am Ares."

Thanatos tried not to feel sorrow when Ares released his hand; Efthalia laughed again.

<I like him,> his scythe purred, and he wished he could tell her to be quiet.

"Thanatos," he managed, mouth still dry.

Thanatos did not enjoy fighting, did not enjoy how if he dropped Efsevios—which happened too often in his clumsiness—he lost himself. He did not enjoy what he had to be when he fought.

But he desperately wanted to follow Ares to—anywhere.

And maybe he would not be so clumsy, if he had someone to teach him.

"Do you mean it, about teaching me?" Thanatos asked.

"I would not offer if I were not."

"What would you want? Surely you cannot mean to do it free?"

"Free? Of course not. I would teach you how not to be a sacrifice, and each of your victories would be as my own," Ares said, sincere and that… admiration thick in his voice again. "If I teach you, the honor would be all mine."

Thanatos very nearly fled. He was not entirely sure what was happening in his chest, and there was a heat curling so heavy in his gut he wanted to curl in and—

And do things not at all appropriate to where he was.

"When?" Thanatos asked.

"Whenever you have time to spare. Your harvest is a busy one. Simply come find me." Ares considered him, then unfastened a knife at his belt, handing it over. "Use this to call me, if I happen to be away."

Thanatos took the knife, so unlike Efsevios—this was a weapon, and it would never be anything else. It made the violence in him flare and it was yet sheathed.

There were souls that needed harvesting, as there always were, and Thanatos could not bear the promise in his hands, in this knife.

"I am late," Thanatos said, and fled.

 

 

vi.

Ares meant it, all of it.

It was horrible; fighting Ares was nothing like fighting his sisters. There was never that all-consuming rage when he fought Ares to hide behind. There was nothing to hide behind, not really, not even his hair—Ares would grab it if it came loose.

Thanatos perhaps did not tie it up as tightly as he should.

Efsevios insisted Thanatos go to Ares when there was a moment Thanatos did not need to rest, because it helped. Because it made it easier for Thanatos to control himself when he knew what to actually do with himself in a fight. Because learning how to fight without the anger helped when he was angry. He still did not like fighting, but it was… less terrifying. He lost himself in that animal rage less. He was less like his sisters and more like himself, whatever that might one day mean.

Ares was always easy to find, except the time he was not.

<Use the knife,> Efsevios insisted so Thanatos did—pricked his finger and fed it a drop of his black blood, half dreading that Ares would not come at all. Surely he had not been sincere. Serious.

He was; he arrived still smelling of Olympus and Thanatos could barely think.

It should not have mattered; it did. It made Thanatos feel—powerful. The Olympians did not think much of him, but Ares did; Ares had come when Thanatos called.

It made him feel bold.

“If your hair were shorter, you would not be so vulnerable,” Ares said as Thanatos was picking himself back off the ground, and Thanatos, feeling as if he had managed to catch the sun, allowed himself to answer a way that he would not, not ever, any other moment, because Ares had left Olympus for him.

“Maybe you should cut it for me.”

He said it so even, so smooth; he said it the way that Ares carried a sword, and it felt like more control than he had ever had in all his life.

“You should save that honor for someone else, dove,” and, very suddenly, Thanatos felt like he had no control left at all.

Dove.

Thanatos’ dreams, always nebulous, turned hot. He would wake rutting into his bed, painfully hard and wet, heat pooling in his belly; wake with half remembered dreams of a hand pulling his hair, of being pinned to the ground, of a low and joyous chuckle in his ear.

Dove.

He did not know what he wanted, not exactly, only that he did. Only that he should not—Ares was offering a kindness, not anything else.

Efthalia laughed and laughed and laughed when he picked her up, and even Efsevios, always serious, seemed amused.

It did not mean anything. It was only—a tease. Mocking.

Ares never mocked him.

Dove.

 

 

vii.

Thanatos began to win more than he lost against his sisters, and then he stopped losing at all. Thanatos’ still fought his sisters as if they might win anyway, because his victories pleased Ares.

Thanatos did not need lessons any longer. It was so easy to keep control of himself now, and he knew much of it because of Ares. He owed Ares, yet always, Ares insisted the honor his.

Thanatos did not enjoy fighting, but—Ares did. He would fight for Ares. If asked. But Ares did not, ever. Not real fighting.

Dove.

Ares knew him—what he was, and what he wished to be.

Thanatos returned Ares’ knife.

He tried to return Ares’ knife.

“Keep it,” Ares said. “It was a gift.”

Thanatos frowned and let himself hide behind his hair.

“If you insist,” Thanatos said.

“I do. Perhaps you might need it someday, and it would bring me great joy to know it had been of assistance.”

“Unlikely, but… thank you.” Thanatos was late; he was always late, now, so many more souls than there used to be when he first came to the surface. Had it really been so long?

He wanted to linger; he was late.

“It has been quite the honor, Thanatos,” Ares said, pushing Thanatos’ hair aside, hand resting on the back of Thanatos’ neck in a gesture both impartial and intimate. “I do so look forward to seeing you when next we meet.”

Thanatos’ tongue felt heavy; he made himself speak anyway. “I hope I don’t disappoint you too much.”

Ares chuckled, low. “You would never.”

He removed his hand and Thanatos finally, finally left. He was late, he always was, and it was wrong to leave souls to linger too long.

Eventually, his dreams stop bleeding.

 

 

viii.

Their relationship, which Efthalia was always quick to remind him had never been, turned towards one of associates. Equals, Efthalia would hiss and Efsevios agree. Thanatos would ignore them, and sometimes linger to exchange pleasantries after battles. Ares’ joy was a wonderful thing, his steady confidence, and even if Thanatos was not undone with nameless want by him anymore, he still shivered, a little, when Ares would call him dove.

An invitation Thanatos pretended not to notice, and Ares always gave him the grace to do so.

Thanatos had more work than only battlefields—plagues and famines and all the other kinds of dying—and all of them needed him. His harvest was one that did not end, though he learned over time it had its own cycles. He learned which souls could linger longest safely, which would leave tears and blemishes in his crop.

As loathe as he was, he sometimes let his sisters have the battle dead. At least their destruction was quick. At least they had no god offering them aid. Not like the Nosoi, their rot and ruin so often fueled by Apollo’s temper.

Besides—they had their own queen in the Underworld now. Thanatos had friends, beyond Hypnos and his tools. Megaera and Tisiphone and Alecto—the Fury sisters, though only Megaera came to the House. The House grew crowded with the souls Thanatos brought, the Underworld properly took shape, and Thanatos found himself enjoying the place he had helped create.

It was home, and he was not his sisters. His rage had a purpose to it. He could be gentle with the souls, he could defend them, and he had so many more people now than he had when he was still a small god.

He was… content, and he marveled at the feeling as beautiful as any soul.

 

 

ix.

Thanatos does not know what he is expecting when he goes to King Sisyphus; Zeus certainly didn’t think to tell Thanatos more than what he thought necessary which was… very nearly nothing. Thanatos had had to ask him where the king even lived.

Thanatos does not deal with the living; he deals with the souls they become. He doesn’t think he’s ever spoken to a mortal before, but—

King Sisyphus smiles when he sees Thanatos, broad and easy a way that Thanatos has always envied in others. He welcomes Thanatos into his hall. There is a confidence to him that echoes Ares’, and it puts Thanatos a little at ease.

“Why don’t you tell me what all this is about?” King Sisyphus asks. “A reasonable chat. You seem a reasonable sort of god, unlike some others we might both know.”

<I do not like him,> Efthalia hisses, and Efsevios hums agreement. His tools are wise and smart and beautiful; they have never led him astray.

He likes Sisyphus’ smile.

“Just a chat,” Thanatos says. “But then you have to come. I can’t very well tell Zeus I just left you here.”

“Oh, of course, that’s perfectly understandable. My, but if all the gods were as reasonable as you,” and there is admiration in Sisyphus’ voice. “Why don’t you take a seat? I’ll have food and wine both brought. Oh, it’s likely not as good as anything you might be used to, but it’d honor me anyway. I would not have Death call me a poor host!”

Very few admire Thanatos. He is not like his twin to inspire dreams; not like the Olympians who inspire worship. He still, despite his best efforts, inspires the same fear in mortals as his sisters.

“All right,” Thanatos says, and sets his tools aside.

 

 

x.

“Goodness, but would all the gods were as good as you,” Sisyphus says with that easy smile, admiration honeying the words. Mortals can worship; Thanatos has never been worshiped. “Surely even Athena is not so reasoned as you, good Death.”

He thinks he is drunk. There is heat in his gut, a flush that has spread down his face, burns the back of his neck, his shoulders. All Sisyphus’ golden words, all that adoration, slipping down his spine, pooling in his joints.

He has never been worshiped, and it is all that spills from Sisyphus’ lips.

“Show me how these work?” Sisyphus asks, picking up the chains from the table. His hands are broad, rough, and the chains seem almost small in his grasp. “I am only curious, and it would—I can think of no higher honor, really, than you sparing a little more of your time for me, before we must go.”

Thanatos cannot think through all the adoration. It is so bright and warm and he has never been an easy god to adore.

“All right,” he says, and holds out his hands.

 

 

xi.

He does not fight, when he realizes what Sisyphus is doing.

He could. He should.

Ares would.

“There, there,” Sisyphus says, brushing tears from his cheeks. “It’s hardly your fault. I can’t imagine you ever have much rest anyway.”

Thanatos closes his eyes and turns his face away.

 

 

xii.

When he does fight, it is much too late.

He still tries to rend himself apart.

He is late.

 

 

xiii.

He doesn’t know when he sleeps and when he wakes. He knows he is late; he knows he bleeds; he knows he cannot tear through his own bones.

He tried. Tries.

His thoughts spiral. He spends so long from the House; will they notice? What could they do? He spends so long away for his harvest—

his harvest rotting in the fields, his harvest crying, his harvest ticking steady steady steady, growing ever heavier, late-late-late.

Will anyone notice? It is black and cramped and he does not know when he sleeps or when he wakes. Has it been long? If it was, someone would notice? Wouldn’t they?

Who would?

What if he was meant to be like his sisters? What if.

Maybe it is better, not being found.

 

 

xiv.

He wakes to movement and fresh air, wakes to the sharp press of everything, and he will—he will fight, this time, he will, he is late, tries to claw through flesh and bone and free

A hand, safe, presses over his eyes, the barest brush of a kiss to his temple, and Thanatos goes still. A voice, smooth and steady and laced with the promise of violence.

—dove.”

Ares; he will weep. He did not fight; Ares will be so disa—

His harvest, his harvest, first-first-first, and it hurts—it hurts as Ares unchains him, opens locks and drags free chains that do not want to let him go; it hurts when he speaks.

“Ares, I’m late, I have to go, late, late—”

“I know,” Ares says, hands familiar, hands safe. “I know.”

The last of the metal is stripped away and Thanatos lunges, still struggling to see even in the dim light of night, all of him on fire as muscles stiff from disuse are pressed to service, and grabs Efthalia.

<Thanatos,> Efthalia weeps, <Thanatos, my darling poppy, oh Thanatos, what has he done to you?>

“Not now,” he tells her. There are so many souls; how many has he failed? How many will have spoiled, how many will be little more than twisted remnants of what they could have been when he takes them to the Underworld? How many will become like those awful masses of souls that Hades takes pity on and presses to defense?

He should have fought; he did not.

He will have to catch up.

 

 

xv.

<You must rest,> Efsevios says when Thanatos fights.

<You must rest,> Efthalia says when he harvests.

“You look like you haven’t slept in a century,” Megaera says, frowning.

<Sleep,> Charon says.

Someone hasn’t been laid on their back in a while,” Alecto laughs.

“Than, thought about a nap? Me neither, not my preference, but you might want to look into one, got your brother all kinds of worried,” Hermes says.

“Even gods require rest,” Lord Hades says.

“Do not overwork yourself, my child,” Mother says.

He cannot be late again. He cannot close his eyes; he thinks he might be in the dark again. He can barely enter homes to fetch souls without terror that he might end up letting himself be trapped again.

He fetches his harvest and brings it down and so many of the souls twist from purple to magenta, so many of them have rotted, and it is—

He should have fought. He should be like his sisters—then he would not care his crop is spoiled. He throws himself at them on battlefields, and he does not win anymore and the pain almost feels like penance.

He flees when he sees Ares; he cannot—he should have fought. Ares taught him to fight; Ares saw him ripped apart and offered to teach him so it would not happen again, didn’t he?

Ares tracks him down anyway.

“There is nothing shameful in losing a fight. You know that,” Ares says, pushing Thanatos’ hair back behind his ear and Thanatos cannot bear to look at him.

“What if,” Thanatos whispers, “I did not fight?”

He leaves; he is late. He cannot bear to see Ares’ disappointment at the confession.

Thanatos uses his hair as a shield and hides from the attention his presence draws now. He tries to keep his visits to the House brief, brief—

“Do you need help sleeping?” Hypnos asks, pushing Thanatos’ hair out of his face, ignoring how the locks try to drift back. His eyes are wide and brilliant.

Thanatos cannot lie to his twin.

He cannot let himself be late again.

“I know your nightmares,” Hypnos says, and Thanatos closes his eyes and lets himself bury his face in Hypnos’ shoulder. “It’s alright, really. Understandable. Seemed pretty bad, from what I can tell!”

Hypnos strokes his hair, wraps a few strands around his fingers, then slowly draws his hand back so the strands drift free again, curling.

“If you want to know what I think,” Hypnos says, ever a fountain of unwanted advice, “I think you should take a nap and then go see the Olympian that calls you dove.”

Thanatos cannot think of anything more horrifying, but Hypnos has his hands buried in his hair; Hypnos is stroking through Thanatos’ starlight; Hypnos is digging his fingers light against his scalp. Hypnos’ fingers drift lower, dig just a little into the too tense muscle at the base Thanatos’ skull, other hand leaving to tug Thanatos until Thanatos crawls into his twin’s lap where he sits floating in the air.

“You should sleep first,” Hypnos says, all slow cheer. “I’ll mind your dreams. And then you can decide about going to find your Olympian.”

There are no souls waiting; he is not late.

He sleeps.

 

 

 

Chariton

Ares is on Olympus, drinking at one of Dionysus’ feasts, Aphrodite gossiping about one dryad or another. Ares sips wine and does not pay attention. It is almost, but not quite, a distraction.

He has not been able to find Thanatos. Hermes is stealing the souls faster than Thanatos can notice they need tending, so Ares cannot simply wait for someone to die to catch him. Catching Thanatos would go counter to the entire point of his proposal anyway.

Darling, you aren’t even listening,” Aphrodite pouts, spilling across his lap.

“Forgive me,” Ares says smoothly, making sure to mind that she does not spill his wine.

“Are you still thinking about that godling? Awful, he’s so gloomy. Always so serious, not even a little bit of charm. Goodness, and so gullible. Don’t you agree, Dionysus?”

Thanatos is not a godling, and his trust is not something to mock.

“Oh, don’t ask me, I never talk to the guy,” Dionysus says with an easy smile. “Can’t be that bad, though.”

There is a reason they all like Dionysus, though Aphrodite looks like she rather doesn’t at the moment. As much as Ares enjoys her company normally, he is irritated.

“Here, Aphrodite, finish this for me?” He hands her his wine, extracts himself from under her. And, because he is not stupid, he presses a kiss—quick, if genuine—to her cheek, lets his hand linger at her jaw. “I am not in a feasting mood.”

Aphrodite pouts again, but she takes his wine and sits back in the pillows.

“Go brood,” she sniffs, but there is the faintest tinge of concern in her eyes that Ares does not miss.

It is not brooding. It is only impatience. He is well familiar with waiting to see if a plan will work, with needing to wait; it does not make the waiting easier.

Not for the first time, he considers simply going to the Underworld and demanding to see Thanatos, but no. It would be impertinent. Ares is not so young a god to give into his passions.

He has no destination in mind as he leaves the feast and roams the rest of Olympus. It is a beautiful night; they all are here, for the most part.

Perhaps he is brooding after all. How unfortunate. He should find Artemis—he and she do not often get on well, but a hunt would be a welcome distraction before he lets himself return to the mortal realm to wait. She is like to be in the dense forest on the slopes with Calliope, and it is always interesting to risk entering her domain.

Ares has only just stepped foot at the boundary of Artemis’ forest when there is a call that slides across his senses as sharp as any knife, a knife drawn from its sheath. One of his knives drawn, and he does not wait for blood—he goes, because there are very few who have his knives, and he will either find a very unfortunate mortal or—

Or Thanatos.

Thanatos, who seems to have finally slept, still half hiding behind his hair that glitters stars and moonlight, perfectly impractical. Thanatos and his brilliant gold eyes, mouth pressed tight, feet on the ground and dressed loose in a way Ares has never seen—only a chiton that falls to his knees, none of the more typical fare of his office.

“You’re the one who bribed Hermes, aren’t you?” Thanatos asks.

“Yes,” Ares says. He would bribe Hermes a thousand times over again, for this moment.

“Why?” Thanatos asks.

“You needed rest. Forgive me taking the choice from you.”

Thanatos turns his head away, hair blocking his features. Ares steps closer, careful, but Thanatos does not step away; does not pull away as Ares smooths the hair back from his face.

This, first; it may make Thanatos flee, and it is more important than what he hopes to propose. He slides his hand free of Thanatos hair, careful of the strands that have wisped around his fingers, careful of the delicate night woven in his hair, and takes Thanatos’ hands in both of his. It makes Thanatos look at him, and though it aches, Ares does not look away.

It would be cowardice, and Ares is not given to cowardice.

“I must apologize to you,” Ares says as he kneels; he keeps his grip loose as he holds Thanatos’ hands. He presses a kiss to each knuckle, to the backs of Thanatos’ hands, and feels them tremble, but Thanatos does not run and does not look away. “I have done you a great harm—I do not know how, nor when, but I apologize for ever giving the impression I would pass judgement on you for choosing not to fight. My joy in you—Thanatos, I did not teach you because I wished you fight always. It is your intensity that humbles me, dove, and though I do not deserve it for how I have wounded you, I beg you forgive me.”

Thanatos swallows, staring down at Ares, and Ares waits. He gives Thanatos the grace to collect himself, because it is what Thanatos deserves.

“You are not—disappointed?” Thanatos’ voice sounds half to breaking; Ares smothers his fury with himself again, again.

When did he ever make Thanatos think he could disappoint Ares? There is no one in all creation as magnificent as Death.

“I will not lie to you—if you choose to never draw Efsevios again, I will mourn the loss. But I would not be disappointed in you. Your preference has always been towards peace, and I have only been blessed that you think defending the peace of the dead is worth more than your own.” He presses another kiss to Thanatos’ hands, another.

Thanatos closes his eyes but does not turn his head away, his dark flush spreading down his face and neck and shoulders. Finally, he speaks.

“You are—impossible. You cannot mean all that.”

“Would you like me to prove it?” Ares asks.

Thanatos takes a breath, opens his eyes again. “I would like if you stopped kneeling. And I would like a drink.”

Ares grins at him.

“That can be arranged.”

**

Thanatos hears Ares return from wherever he had gone, and turns his head. Grass is meant to itch, he thinks, but the stuff here is soft as any cushion and all it does is tickle his cheek.

Ares showing him to Olympus is a very different sort of rush than Ares leaving Olympus when Thanatos calls. It is not as heady; he is older now and things are so different than when he was small and young, but—

—but Ares noticed his absence, Ares found him. Ares’ hands, safe. Ares taught him control and then he let Thanatos go when there was no more to teach.

Dove.

Ares has always known what Thanatos desired of himself, and never asked him to be anything else.

Even if Thanatos is still so unsure of the adoration in Ares’ voice, unsure of the sincerity of his apologies that he did not need to give, wary of it after his experience with Sisyphus... he cannot help how terribly much he wants to believe him.

Ares has never asked Thanatos to fight.

I have only been blessed that you think defending the peace of the dead worth more than your own.

Ares sits next to him on the hill, cups and bottle of ambrosia that makes Thanatos’ eyebrows raise as he sees it. He has never before seen ambrosia in person, much less tasted it. He very nearly wants to say as much but he does not—he could, he knows, Ares is not like all the other Olympians that Thanatos has dealt with. He would not pity Thanatos, or laugh at him.

Instead, he asks what he has wondered while Ares away.

“How do you know Efsevios’ name?”

“He told me,” Ares says, easy. He sets the cups and ambrosia both aside, and leans back against his hands to look up at the sky. He is dressed casually; Thanatos has never seen him without his armor and weapons, and it is in some ways disconcerting. “After he aided me.”

When Ares and Efsevios razed Sisyphus' kingdom to ash; Thanatos had gathered the souls from the aftermath, and had not missed the dead Keres among the ruin. It was a kindness that had made Thanatos very nearly weep, but he had been too busy to waste time on tears.

“In truth, I am surprised you sought me out,” Ares says, and Thanatos drags his thoughts away from a memory that edges too close to dark and trapped and late.

“Hypnos said I should speak with you. And then he forced me to sleep, and then he continued to insist until I agreed to make him shut up.” It is… mostly true. Hypnos had threatened him, too, but Thanatos is not eager to mention Hypnos’ threats had involved dreams of Ares.

Ares smiles. “I shall have to thank him.”

“Absolutely not.” He dreads to think what Ares thanking Hypnos would do when he is already going to be insufferable when Thanatos gets back.

Thanatos looks at the bottle of ambrosia, warm and glowing through its bottle; it is not what he had in mind when he said he wanted a drink.

“Mm, we will see. I do not like to leave debts unpaid.” Thanatos feels Ares reach over to run his fingers through his hair, can see the movement just barely in the corner of his eye. “Whatever the case, it is fortunate. I have been thinking.”

Thanatos is not sure if that is good or bad, or if he should respond at all, so he does not. He closes his eyes, enjoys the feel of Ares’ hand in his hair.

“I have a proposal for you, dove. I only ask you consider it properly; if you say no, then I shall never bring it up again.”

There is a pause and Thanatos realizes he is meant to respond. He nods, just slightly.

“Be honest—it is not only the disappointment you imagined I had that haunts you, is it?”

Thanatos is glad his eyes are closed; it makes it easier to hide.

“There were so many. Because I did not. Because I realized, and just—let him. I did not—”

“I would give you one last lesson, if you’d allow me the honor,” Ares says, and Thanatos finally opens his eyes to meet a blood red gaze. “One I could not teach before, and one that will require a great deal of trust on your part.”

Thanatos frowns up at him. “You’re not making very much sense.”

“You are your own best tool and weapon both, if you would allow yourself to be. I would show you.”

“And how do you propose to teach me that.” Thanatos laughs; it sounds absurd.

“By doing it over.”

“Doing what over?”

“The entire farce that was sending you to Sisyphus at all. I still have the chains, Thanatos.” Thanatos goes still, all of him cold, black edging his vision; Ares hand is gentle in his hair is all that keeps him from running. “But I do not think you would allow it to end the same way.”

“I cannot—you cannot be serious.”

“Have I ever made an offer that was not wholly serious?”

“But—Sisyphus is—”

“Very dead, and, I am assured quite often, very much regretting all of his choices. It would not be Sisyphus.”

Thanatos stares at Ares. Ares, safe.

“You,” Thanatos whispers. “It would be you.”

Ares’ smile is kind, his hand gentle in Thanatos’ hair. Thanatos cannot think; the idea of those chains, of ever touching them again, fills him with such a dread that he very nearly wants to flee just for knowing that Ares still has them. It makes him feel the way entering a house does, like being too long in lightlessness does.

“It is only a proposal.”

“You would stop? If I asked?” Thanatos feels fragile, his voice weak. He wants to flee, but for once there are no souls he is late for because Ares has bribed Hermes. For him. So they could talk. So Thanatos would not feel as if he is failing all of his harvest.

“Always,” Ares says, leaning down and pressing a kiss to the strands of hair that have wisped around his fingers. “I would only need to know how you’d say stop.”

“You think it will help?”

“I think your twin has made mention your nightmares are all helplessness, and he seems to think what I am proposing will help”

Thanatos swallows. Considers that Hypnos and Ares have both clearly spoken. Decides he does not care, for now.

“I would like my drink,” Thanatos says.

“Is that a no?”

“It is a let me think about it. How long will Hermes help?”

“Long enough, I think.” Ares pulls his hand away, slips the strands that have wisped around his fingers free with practiced ease. “Do not trouble yourself over him.”

Thanatos sits up and takes his cup as Ares opens the bottle of ambrosia.

“I’ve heard this stuff brings up the best of a person’s memories,” Thanatos says as Ares fills their cups.

“Yes.”

“That’s terrifying.”

Ares laughs.

“Do not ever let any of my kin hear you say that. It would confirm all their suspicions you are an overly serious bore who only thinks of work.”

“Maybe I would like them to think that,” Thanatos says.

Ares’ smile turns fond. “As amusing as it would be, I am quite sure the two of us can find a better way to torment them. Drink your ambrosia.”

Thanatos does, with no small amount of trepidation. He knows he does not lack for good memories, only—he does not know what the best of them is. To know seems like it might reveal too much. The liquid is smooth, thick, and it burns only after the fact.

Dark and terror and a hand over his eyes, a kiss to his temple, a voice laced in violence; he is safe-safe-safe-safe.

Thanatos stares at the cup, the glowing liquid still in it, and presses a hand to his mouth. His face is wet, and he is glad he has his hair to hide behind.

There is so much relief coiled in his chest, more than he thinks he ever really felt, because he knows how panicked he was. He knows how he ran. But he cannot—the ambrosia has burned it away, except for this singular moment he had forgotten.

Ares does not comment, only reaches over, places his hand on the back of Thanatos’ neck, and rubs his thumb gently over the skin. Thanatos hesitates a moment, then he lets himself fall over and lean into Ares’ side, shivers as Ares slides his hand from his neck to wrap his arm around Thanatos’ shoulders.

“I never told you thank you,” Thanatos whispers, because it is safer than I love you. Breathes in the musk and smoke smell that is Ares’; he wants to stay here and never leave.

“You do not have to,” Ares says, and presses a kiss to the top of Thanatos’ head.

“Maybe I should.”

“If it pleases you, then I would be honored to accept your thanks.”

Ares means it, all of it. He always has, hasn’t he?

Thanatos sets his cup down in front of him, then pulls away just enough he can look at Ares. Reaches a hand up.

He does not feel bold as he touches Ares’ jaw. He does not feel confident or easy as he leans up, presses a kiss to the corner of Ares’ mouth. He cannot even look at him, and his chest feels like it might split open.

“You should cut my hair,” Thanatos breathes. “After—after your idea.”

Ares goes still.

He hears Ares’ cup drop, and then Ares is pulling him onto his lap, a hand twisting in Thanatos’ hair.

“Look at me,” Ares says; Thanatos looks up, shaking. “You do not—”

“Yes,” Thanatos says. “I do. You—you have always given me so much.”

Ares goes quiet, and then using Thanatos’ hair, he guides Thanatos’ head to his shoulder. Thanatos presses his face against his neck, listens to that wardrum pulse, and lets himself feel safe and terrified in equal measure in Ares’ arms.

“I will not betray your trust,” Ares promises, voice wrecked a way Thanatos has never heard. He presses his face into Thanatos’ hair, breathes in, and Thanatos realizes he is not the only one shaking.

Thanatos laughs, unsteady.

Maybe next time he has reason to drink ambrosia, he will remember this.

**

Not for the first time, not for the last, Ares is humbled at all of Thanatos’ intensity, the sincerity that blazes so brightly in every choice he makes. It is as if it is the only way he knows how to be, always; even Ares sometimes finds himself without passion and yet—

He breathes in, fist twined in Thanatos’ hair. Thanatos smells of poppies and spring and ash; Thanatos smells of a home that Ares would defend, always, forever. He has never loved anyone with such an intensity, and he wonders if it manages to come close to how Thanatos must feel about him, to trust him so.

He doubts it, but he must try to meet it anyway—it is what Thanatos deserves.

“I will need to know,” Ares finally says, once they both have stopped shaking, “what happened.”

“All of it?” Thanatos asks.

“As much or little as you like. It only needs to feel similar.” He presses a kiss in Thanatos’ hair, another. Another.

He presses his face back against Thanatos’ hair before he cannot stop. He waits for Thanatos to speak.

“I almost think I’d rather risk the ambrosia again,” Thanatos says.

Ares chuckles, and though it is difficult, eases his grip on Thanatos’ hair. His hand is well and truly caught in the drifting white and stars—it always is after winding it around his hand so, but he does not need to try and pull away yet. He rubs his fingers against Thanatos’ scalp. Thanatos sighs, tension draining again.

“He reminded me of you,” Thanatos says; it takes everything in Ares not to freeze. “He told me I was—reasonable. He smiled as easy as you do when you carry a sword and all his words were—I thought.” Thanatos goes quiet, and he turns his face a little more into Ares’ neck, a hand gripping the fabric of Ares’ chiton. “I did not know worship could make one drunk.”

There is a white noise buzzing in Ares’ ears.

He reminded me of you.

Ares closes his eyes and makes himself breath through the scream pressing into the back of his teeth.

It is a pity that he cannot kill Sisyphus and raze his kingdom to the ground again. It is a pity he cannot go to hell himself to see to a punishment worse by far than a boulder and a Fury to mind him.

“Ares?” Thanatos, quiet.

Ares swallows the scream, and presses a kiss to Thanatos’ head. Another. Untangles his hand carefully from the hair wrapped and wisped around it, then gently takes Thanatos’ face in his hands.

“It will break you,” Ares says, “if you do not fight.”

Thanatos stares at him, eyes searching his face.

“It will break me,” Ares says, “if you do.”

“Oh,” Thanatos says.

“We cannot reenact this.”

“Surely it does not have to be redone the same. Exactly?” Thanatos asks.

“No.”

“Then…” Thanatos trails off, eyes still searching Ares’ face. “What if.”

“What if?”

“If it just needs to… feel. Similar. I could—If we fight. We could fight, as ourselves.”

“I cannot use my love of you against you, dove,” Ares says. “I do not know—”

“Let me finish,” Thanatos says, frowning, and he pulls Ares’ hands away from his face. He looks down, brows furrowed as he thinks, and oh, Ares should have realized.

Thanatos already chose. He chose as soon as he offered up his hair, and there is nothing in all creation that is capable of stopping him once he has set his mind to it.

Ares loves him, all over again—the steel of him.

“We need the chains. But not—I don’t think you’d need to talk me into them. I hate them. They’re terrifying. I don’t even want to hold them, if I’m honest. But—I trust you. I trust you.” Thanatos looks up from their hands, gold eyes bright. “You only want to prove I can defend myself?”

“Yes,” Ares says quietly.

“Then—then just drive me into a corner. With the chains. Catch me. Then let me go, and do it again.”

“But would it be enough?” Ares asks.

“It would be,” Thanatos says. “You—it’s not as if you ever fought to kill me when you taught me before. It will be like that only… well. Likely more blood, if you actually get my temper out. I never could get angry with you before. But—I hate those chains, the way I hate my sisters.”

Ares chuckles.

“We can stop,” Thanatos says, “if you need. If it’s—If I’m wrong, if it hurts one of us. Think of something else to try. But I think it would work. It has the right parts.”

Thanatos, giving Ares a little grace.

“We can try,” Ares finally says. He leans back so he can look at Thanatos.

“Not now,” Thanatos adds, very quickly, and Ares cannot help laughing.

“No,” he says, lifting a hand to twine in Thanatos’ hair again, watches the way Thanatos leans into the touch, the way his eyes still, always, go soft. “Not now.”

He kisses him, twisting his hand a little tighter, dragging his teeth over Thanatos’ bottom lip until his mouth parts, just a little. Ares wants to plunder; he does not. Later, later—they will have time. He takes his time exploring Thanatos’ mouth, and Thanatos whimpers so beautifully when Ares pulls away he very nearly dives back.

He relaxes his grip, drinks in Thanatos’ face—blown pupils, that dark flush that runs down his face, his neck, his shoulders. Thanatos’ breathes in, tongue flicking against his lips.

“You kiss much better than Hermes,” Thanatos says, still half-dazed.

Ares frowns.

“Why do you know that?”

“I beat him at a game.”

Ares lets go of Thanatos’ hair and settles his hands at his waist, considering him. “So you asked for a kiss.”

Thanatos shrugs. “I was curious.”

Ares snorts, leans in again, and presses a kiss, single, to the corner of Thanatos’ mouth.

“If you are still curious, we have ambrosia to finish and it won’t be dawn for hours yet.”

“It’s horrible.”

“Once for every cup.”

“Twice.”

“Thrice, and not once more.”

“Fine,” Thanatos huffs. He slides off of Ares’ lap to retrieve his cup, and Ares makes a token effort to find his. He does not see it; it likely rolled down the gentle slope.

“We will have to share,” Ares informs Thanatos when he comes back. Thanatos hesitates a moment; Ares holds out an arm and Thanatos crawls back onto his lap. Ares rests his hand at Thanatos’ neck, feels that flush follow, rubs his thumb along a quiet pulse, then lets go to get the ambrosia.

Ambrosia is, perhaps, almost as intense as Thanatos. The kissing makes the purity of it a little more bearable, but soon they are both leaned into each other, heads resting by each other’s pulses.

“Does anyone actually like this stuff,” Thanatos asks, face wet.

Ares slides his hands beneath Thanatos’ chiton, feels the muscle jump beneath the skin.

“I do,” Ares says. He feels very nearly at peace; he did not consider that between the ambrosia and Thanatos both he might find a little gentleness. “But I have been told my tastes are… unique.”

Thanatos snorts, then shivers as Ares traces his fingers along a thin scar at his shoulder.

“Should I stop?” Ares asks.

Thanatos shakes his head slightly.

Ares turns his head, bites a kiss into Thanatos’ pulse, another. Another. Lingers on each one, leaves the skin bruised, darkening. Thanatos grips his chiton with a low whine, hips shifting, and Ares pretends not to notice because they are both of them too flooded with the best of themselves to remember it in the morning.

Ares wants to remember every moment of finally laying claim to Thanatos; wants Thanatos to remember every moment of Ares baring his throat. He can wait.

“If I win tomorrow,” Thanatos mumbles, “you must do that again. You have no idea how much—you ruined all my sleep, when I was smaller.”

Ares chuckles.

“I am pleased to hear that.” He drags a nail down Thanatos’ spine, listens to his breath hitch. “We should try to sleep.”

“After that?” Thanatos complains, but when he lays down next to Ares on the grass, he is asleep in moments.

Ares considers him, smooths his drifting hair but does not grab it, and wonders if he will survive what Thanatos has proposed.

Ares hopes so; to see Thanatos defend himself will be magnificent. Humbling. He would risk his own destruction a thousand times over, to witness it. He has always been greedy.

He lays down next to Thanatos and wraps an arm around his waist. Breathes in the smell of home—poppies and spring and ash.

He sleeps.

**

Thanatos is running.

He is in a wood that hums with the promise of violence, so overgrown the sun barely pierces the branches. There is shadow and darkness plenty, but when he tries to skip through it, the cuff at his ankle burns his skin and he falls back to the earth, lands in underbrush that tears at his skin. He scrambles over, terror sick in his chest, and tries again to unfasten the cuff with its broken length of chain.

"There you are."

It is all the warning Thanatos gets before Ares grabs his hair, yanking his head back. Thanatos stares up at him, stares at the chains in his hand, and wants to scream.

Ares will have to let go of his hair to pin him to the ground.

Terror and rage twist thick in his chest; he stares at chains that do not look so large in Ares hand.

He tried begging, many times. He tried crying, and he tried going still—going still had been worst of all, had been too close to what had happened, and now he is here, sick with terror and a scream like a knife lodged in his throat. He has tried running, except he cannot get the cuff he broke off entirely and the shadows here are not his.

Ares will have to let go of his hair to pin him to the ground. Ares will be fast.

“Late?” Ares asks; Thanatos shakes his head, as much as he can.

He does not need to stop.

There is a scream like a knife lodged in his throat and he is sick with terror and he is so tired of running.

He hates those chains. He hates being afraid.

Ares hums violence and lets go of Thanatos hair. He is fast—he falls upon Thanatos, the weight of him shoving Thanatos back into underbrush that tears at his skin, dirt and blood mixing. Ares pins Thanatos to the ground and the terror ignites; he feels-hears chain across his skin, and nothing else will work, he hates those chains, he hates being afraid, he is so tired of running

He does not have Efsevios to guide him back; he has a knife that is all violence he keeps in his shadows like the promise it is, and he grabs it with the hand Ares has not pinned. The knife tries to twist out of his grip at being used against its maker, but Thanatos knows what it is to bend violence to his own purposes, and all it can do is howl as he drives it between Ares’ ribs.

Ares stops.

Thanatos shakes, that wild animal violence he has spent all his life trying to shape into a tool screaming in his veins, his head.

Dove,” Ares breathes, voice thick with adoration.

Thanatos twists the knife with a snarl; Ares’ blood is hot as it splatters across his skin, soaks his clothes. He rips his other hand free of Ares’ grip, grabs him by the neck, and digs his fingers in, wishes they were claws, he hates so much. Tries to drive the knife deeper, he will cut Ares’ heart out and eat it whole, how dare he

Ares goes down under him, and Thanatos feels as if he has captured the sun, feels bold, feels more sure of himself than he has ever felt in his life, Ares’ head tilted back, Ares baring his throat, to him.

“Thanatos,” Ares prays, all worship, and Thanatos kisses him.

Devours him, swallows down all the noises Ares makes. Lets the knife vanish and presses his hand against the wound, grabs Ares’ face with his other hand. Takes and takes and takes, until the howl singing victory in his veins quiets enough to realize he is shaking.

Ares’ hands at his waist, home. Grounding.

He rests his forehead against Ares’ own; the wound under his hand has nearly healed, but he does not move his hand away. Ares’ blood is so hot. His skin.

“The victor traditionally takes spoils,” Ares finally murmurs in the air between them.

Heat pools in Thanatos' belly, low and red the way all his dreams used to bleed. He thinks of being pinned to the ground and dove and Ares’ hands in his hair, thinks of a chuckle that promises violence. He thinks of waking cock hard and fingers curled inside himself, wet, thinks of violence, tamed.

Thinks of Ares’ blood, smeared on his hand, and knows, finally, what he wanted then. Wants.

“What if you had won?” Thanatos asks.

Ares is silent a moment, and when he speaks, his voice is the threat of violence. “I would leave you ruined. I would claim all of you for my own, take you until you sued for peace and then keep going. I would leave you ruined, and worship the wreckage.”

His hands tighten on Thanatos’ hips, relax.

Thanatos shivers, mouth dry, but he knows what he wants. He has captured the sun. He is bold.

He presses a kiss to the corner of Ares’ mouth, opens his eyes as he pulls up a little. Ares looks up at him, heavy-lidded adoration.

Thanatos has not been worshiped before. Not properly. Not in a way that matters.

Ares means everything he says.

“Give me that,” Thanatos says.

Ares goes still.

“Give me that,” Thanatos says again, “or I will cut my hair off and give it to Zeus.”

Ares digs his fingers into Thanatos’ waist.

“You would not,” he growls, eyes flashing and teeth sharp.

Thanatos lets himself grin back, smears blood across Ares’ ribs. He is bold; he has captured the sun, and the sun would worship him.

“I would,” Thanatos says.

Ares surges up; Thanatos loses track of himself until his back hits the leaf litter and dirt, cries out as Ares’ teeth sink into his neck. He claws for purchase on Ares’ shoulders as Ares hauls Thanatos’ hips up into his lap. Ares bites kisses into his neck, grinds against all the heat and damp pooling in Thanatos’ hips; Thanatos arches his back, bares his throat, and keens.

“You will not,” Ares snarls in his ear, and in a few heart beats has Thanatos stripped of his chiton, shivering as he stares up at Ares. Ares looks down at him, a hand firm on Thanatos’ hip, other following the line of Thanatos’ breast bone, over his ribs, across his stomach.

Pauses at the join of his thigh and hip.

Thanatos feels terror shiver through him as Ares looks at him, all of him laid bare. Ares brushes a finger down Thanatos’ cock, over sensitive skin, pauses; Thanatos closes his eyes, flush running down his face, his neck, his shoulders—hot.

He is a bit of both; he always has been. He knows it is not how the Olympians are.

“Dove,” Ares says.

“Yes?” Thanatos cannot bear to look at him; cannot bear to pull away. He is so wet; he has never been so wet. There is so much tension coiled in his spine; his cock is leaking already. It will break him, to look at Ares and see judgement.

“I seem to be the one who needs a lesson,” Ares says.

Thanatos opens his eyes. Ares is staring at his face; Ares, face all adoration, all worship, fingers light on sensitive skin. Waiting.

A sob cracks Thanatos’ chest before he can smother it. He reaches down, pushes Ares’ hand aside so he can show him, Thanatos teach him, when Ares has always been the one to teach.

“Like this,” Thanatos says, curling two fingers into himself, trapping his leaking cock against his palm—his favourite way, so when he moves his hand, his palm slides against his cock, makes his vision edge white when he pushes his fingers back in. He bites his bottom lip, tries to focus only on his hand, and not the way Ares’ eyes are watching, not on Ares’ fingers digging into his hips.

It does not matter; there is white heat building between his legs, threatening to break, and his fingers stutter faster. He tries to draw his legs in though he is still in Ares’ lap.

Ares grabs his wrist and Thanatos wants to scream. He bangs his head against the ground, legs shaking.

“Thank you,” Ares says. He pulls Thanatos’ hand away, grip still tight on his wrist. “Would you really give Zeus your hair?”

“If you don’t hurry up, yes,” Thanatos snaps, trying to shift his hips to find some sort of friction, trying to pull his hand back. He is so close.

“Idiot,” Ares growls, letting go of his wrist. “You’re mine.”

Prove it,” Thanatos hisses. “Prove it, prove—” He breaks off with a cry as Ares grabs his hair, yanks his head back, and bites another kiss into his pulse. Struggles as Ares catches Thanatos’ hand before he can manage to finish himself, claws his shoulders. Ares grabs that hand too, pins them together as Thanatos tries to kick and sobs.

Lays staring up at him, hands bound together by his own belt.

He could escape it, easy. Break it.

“Magnificent,” Ares praises, smile like a promise, eyes full of conquest.

Thanatos stays still.

Ares shifts down, away, a hand catching the back of Thanatos’ thigh. Thanatos tries not to sob as Ares hooks his leg over Ares’ shoulder, does sob as Ares wraps his hand around Thanatos’ cock. He twists his hands against the belt, but he does not break it, trembling with tension as Ares presses a kiss to the inside of his hip. Ares’ hand on his cock slides down, then he is curling his fingers inside Thanatos. Thanatos keens, tries to tilt his hips up into the motion, he’s never—it feels so different than when he does it, Ares is so hot, his fingers thicker and he is so much slower than Thanatos.

Then Ares swallows his cock with a hum and the pressure that has been trapped in his hips breaks, spills out and leaves him blind.

He realizes, dimly, his face is wet; realizes, dimly, Ares’ fingers are still curled inside him, still moving.

Realizes, dimly, Ares is making a map of what he plans to take.

He shivers, throat raw, hips jerking up as Ares’ fingers brush a spot that it took Thanatos’ months of restless dreams to find. Ares presses his tongue against the underside of his cock then hums again, and oh, he has not—the sensation nearly ruins him again, immediately, and he is still shaking and oversensitive, still aching even as Ares pushes him back towards that brilliant fall with steady fingers and a chuckle that vibrates against Thanatos’ skin.

“Ares,” Thanatos begs, twisting his hands against a belt he could break and does not. “Ares.”

Ares lifts his head, presses a kiss to the base of Thanatos’ cock, and it takes Thanatos several dizzy moments to realize he is being spoken to.

“—simply marvelous.”

Thanatos’ hips twitch; Ares fingers rub slow against that tender spot inside him, and they twitch again. He is embarrassingly, horribly wet.

“Dove,” Ares says.

Thanatos nods, keeps trying to press into the movement of Ares’ hand. He wants—faster, more, he wants—wants—wants that feeling of Ares’ blood on his hands, slick against his skin again.

“Late?” Ares asks.

Thanatos shakes his head.

“Good,” Ares says. He leans back down, presses kisses all over Thanatos’ hips until Thanatos shivers through a gentler climax. Finally slides his fingers out, letting Thanatos’ leg slide off his shoulder. He pulls Thanatos up by his wrists, settles Thanatos on one of his thighs. Tilts his head up with a gentle touch, eyes all want.

Thanatos shudders.

Ares kisses Thanatos’ wrists, still bound.

“You are the most exquisite god I have ever tasted,” Ares says.

Thanatos’ breath hitches.

“Taste,” Ares says; Thanatos opens his mouth obediently, lets Ares push his fingers into his mouth, tastes himself on them, heat beginning to flare in his spine again. Watches Ares’ face—Ares calm, Ares possessive. “Marvelous.”

The word slides liquid down Thanatos’ spine, joins that heat in his belly. His hips twitch; his cock is half-hard again and it hurts.

He thinks he might die. He thinks he might not mind dying like this.

“You would look even more exquisite with my cock in your mouth,” Ares says, easy as the way he carries a sword on a battlefield.

“Please,” Thanatos chokes out, tries to choke out, around Ares’ fingers in his mouth. He is nearly dizzy at the thought—Ares’ cock is larger than his, would certainly not fit fit in the palm of Thanatos’ hand. He wants, desperately, to know what it tastes like, feels like.

He twists at the belt; does not break it.

Ares chuckles, removing his fingers and running his thumb over Thanatos’ bottom lip.

“Another time, dove,” he promises, and bites a kiss into Thanatos’ skin until Thanatos is weeping.

Thanatos thought Ares already worshiping him, but as Ares begins to whisper against his skin, into his ear, he realizes he was very, very wrong. The words slip golden down his spine, pool in his belly, in his joints, turns him half gold. He cannot stop crying; Ares’ holds him through it, calls him good and exquisite, calls him the best of the gods, the bravest. Presses adoration so deeply into him that his bones hum with it, until all of his thought has been driven out, until his shape bleeds all his truths.

“You do have these,” Ares says, voice all wonder.

Please,” Thanatos begs, face hidden in the safety of Ares’ shoulder. “Please.”

“I love them.”

“They are too much like—”

“They are not,” Ares says, so firm, so sure, and Thanatos weeps.

“Stop,” Thanatos says, not late.

It feels so good as Ares digs his fingers into the feathers. Ares’ hands, safe, running through them. He cannot remember the last time someone touched them and it did not hurt.

“I am going to fuck you while you are like this,” Ares promises. “Repeatedly.”

“Don’t,” Thanatos says, not late.

“Yes,” Ares says.

He carries Thanatos over his shoulder back to his hall. Thanatos struggles, weak, but it is so difficult to fight this—all the adoration ringing in his bones is Ares’. Ares chuckles as Thanatos flails, only turns his head to press a kiss against his hip.

Thanatos loses track of the world, the worship in the kiss undoing him again.

Ares lays him chest down on a table in his hall, presses kisses down Thanatos’ spine. Thanatos whines as he feels Ares’ skin on his, Ares’ heat, Ares finally having stripped himself of his chiton. Keens as Ares’ finally, finally takes him, one hand digging into Thanatos’ wings, Ares’ teeth sharp in his shoulder. Thanatos tries to find any purchase on the table, but every movement, every kiss, every touch is overwhelming, as overwhelming as the first time he ever went to the surface, more.

“Dove,” Ares says, a prayer and promise both, and oh, Thanatos never wants to leave.

Ares is so warm, hot, and Thanatos shudders as Ares stills, feels Ares’ spend slip down his thigh. Ares presses another kiss, softer, to the one still bleeding at Thanatos’ neck, then starts to move again, rougher this time, faster, as if Thanatos is not the only one undone, and Thanatos closes his eyes, tries to follow his pace.

“Thanatos,” Ares prays; Thanatos closes his eyes and lays his face against the table.

“Please,” Thanatos whispers, not late, when Ares starts to fuck him again, too weak to move. “Please.”

“Your spoils, my favourite god,” Ares says, voice wrecked.

Thanatos weeps, but he does not say late, only spreads his legs a little wider and tilts his hips to better take Ares’ thrusts.

“Beloved,” Ares whispers the last time, all his weight pressed against Thanatos’ back, pressing an unsteady kiss to Thanatos’ jaw. “Dove.”

Thanatos whimpers as Ares’ slides out, shivers a moment before Ares pulls him up and drags him off the table and to a couch. Thanatos cannot stay upright on his own; he does not know if he will ever be able to walk properly again. He collapses gratefully into Ares’ arms, wings curling instinctively around them both, and presses his face into the safety that is the curve of Ares’ neck.

They are both of them covered in dirt and blood and spend. He hopes Ares is as sore as he.

“Bath soon,” Ares promises, tired a way Thanatos has never heard.

Thanatos falls asleep listening to a steady wardrum pulse he would follow anywhere.

**

Thanatos’ wings are gone again when Ares wakes.

He is not surprised; he has seen how Thanatos cuts the wings off the Keres, how he breaks them. He knows how intensely Thanatos does not wish to be like his sisters.

It is still a pity.

Ares is pleasantly sore in a way that will linger, the couch and pillows comfortable with Thanatos sleeping against his chest, but he is also quite ready to wash all the filth sticking to their skin off.

He grabs a lock of Thanatos’ drifting hair, lets it wisp around his finger, then pulls away. Watches the curl slowly unwind.

He will miss it.

It takes quite a bit of prodding before Thanatos finally moves enough Ares can stand up. He lets Thanatos sleep on the couch a little longer and goes to retrieve clothes for them both.

The halls are not empty, but the few attendants Ares keeps are out of sight—they will come when called, and not before. Ares quite prizes the discipline of his halls. His kin could learn something about the management of their own.

He examines his wardrobe a while, finally settles on a plain white chiton for Thanatos. He does not have anything black, and certainly nothing black and gold. His preference has always been towards reds.

How ill-prepared.

He leaves the clothes at the baths, goes back to the main hall. Thanatos has curled around a pillow, the fine thin scars down his back that give away his wings visible. Ares wonders if Thanatos is aware they are there at all; unlikely.

“Dove,” he says, slipping his hand through Thanatos’ hair and giving a light tug.

Thanatos does not fully wake, but he lets go of the pillow and wraps his arms around Ares’ neck when picked up.

Not for the first time, not the last, Ares considers simply keeping him this way, but no. It would be blasphemous.

Ares sets Thanatos down on a few towels and sees to cleaning himself off, first. The water from the fountain is warm, eases some of the ache in his shoulders as he pours it over himself. He checks his ribs where Thanatos stabbed him, pleased to find it has scarred—it will be a nice reminder. Lets himself remember the brilliance of all of Thanatos’ fury focused on him, that singular moment where he wasn’t quite sure baring his throat would actually be enough to stop Thanatos from destroying him utterly.

He smiles, then reaches for soap to finish cleaning.

Ares feels very nearly himself once he has finished rinsing the soap away. Turns his attention to Thanatos, still sleeping.

It is a heady thing, worship. Particularly when unused to it.

“Thanatos,” he says, running his fingers through his hair. He tugs gently, and Thanatos sighs, gold eyes opening to look up at him. “You are rather in need of a bath.”

Thanatos sighs, winces as he stretches.

“Who’s fault is that?” Thanatos asks; Ares smiles instead of point out Thanatos had asked for all of it.

“Allow me,” Ares says once Thanatos has left the comfort of his towels and seated himself by the fountain.

Ares takes his time pouring the water over Thanatos’ head, his shoulders, his legs. He takes his time with the soap—starts at the back of Thanatos’ neck and works his way down in slow, even circles. Thanatos’ head dips forward; Ares takes care not to disturb him too much from the doze, though it is unavoidable when he rinses away the soap.

He is knelt at Thanatos’ feet, removing the cuff yet at his ankle so he can soothe the skin beneath, when Thanatos speaks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you be… delicate,” Thanatos says.

“You would dedicate yourself to me,” Ares says. He drops the cuff on the tile, lathers soap down Thanatos’ calf and ankle. “As if I exist at all without you.”

Ares reaches for the basin again, refills it, and rinses away the soap.

He looks up. He is—he does not run from his emotions. He is terrified; he does not know how or why Thanatos loves him so intensely; he does not know what he has done to ever deserve that love. He has been greedy, he risked his own destruction, but ultimately all he has done is only what Thanatos is owed.

Thanatos is Death, singular, irreplaceable. He does not understand how the rest of his kin do not see it, how they do not understand that Thanatos will outlast all of them, that when eventually there is nothing left, Thanatos will still exist, a singular brilliance to harvest the last gasp of creation, his domain so vast that there is nothing that falls outside of it.

The Chthonic gods always call themselves small and large, not young and old.

It is Thanatos who has taught Ares why.

“You are… impossible,” Thanatos says, and flicks water at Ares’ face. “Every time you kneel at my feet you say something impossible.”

Ares laughs, presses a kiss to the inside of Thanatos’ knee, and rises.

“Are you certain about this?” he asks. He already knows the answer. Thanatos already chose, and there is nothing that turns him from a choice once he has decided.

It is one of many, many things that Ares adores about Thanatos.

“If you ask me again, I really will cut it off and give it to Zeus,” Thanatos says.

Ares pushes aside his irritation at how well Thanatos knows what will spark fury, and gets his razor and one of the endless ribbons Aphrodite is forever forgetting.

“It will be easier not to make a mess of your hair if you sit on the floor and I take the stool,” Ares says.

Thanatos slides off. Ares sits behind him. He lingers a moment, watches how the white locks drift, the starlight. Lets it tease around his fingers, pulls away, watches it unfurl.

He will miss it.

Thanatos tips his head back.

“Ares?”

“It is nothing, dove,” Ares says. He leans down, steals a kiss he does not deserve. “Give me your knife.”

“The one I stabbed you with?” Thanatos asks, smiling.

“The very same.”

Thanatos pulls it from his shadows, offers it up. It is still, somehow, whole—but then, Thanatos has always been singular in his ability to shape violence.

Ares sets it on his leg, then begins to gather Thanatos’ hair up. It comes easily—Thanatos has always allowed him the honor of taming it. He smooths it back, gripping it loosely in one hand. It is difficult to tie the ribbon around it one handed, at least at first, but he manages. He lets go.

The ribbon loosens, a little, but it does not come undone.

Ares picks up the knife, grips Thanatos’ hair loosely.

“This might hurt,” he says, because he does not know. His mother always cut his hair, and now he does it himself.

He hesitates.

“Thanatos."

“I will do it, I will, I just want you to imagine Zeus’ face—”

Ares cuts his hair, feels the stars and drift of it die in his grip, feels Thanatos flinch, sees him curl in and hands reach up as what is left spills limp. Closes his eyes as he feels them both change—his violence more permanent, deeper and darker in a way that will be interesting in the future but for now…

“Dove,” Ares says, soft.

Thanatos is still curled over, hands still pressed into what is left of his hair. It gleams the color of steel—Ares’ color. One of them.

“Dove,” Ares repeats.

Waits.

Gives Thanatos the grace to collect himself.

“Yes?” Thanatos finally says, himself.

Ares sets the knife down. Checks the ribbon around the now dead hair is secure, sets it aside as well. Picks up his razor, the obsidian gleaming in the light.

“Let me fix your hair, dove,” Ares says. “And then we can enjoy the baths.”

**

The sun is setting on a battlefield. Thanatos arrives, squints up at Helios in irritation, and tugs a little at his hood.

There are none of his sisters in sight, nor Ares.

<Disappointed?> Efthalia purrs.

“Hardly,” he says.

She laughs.

They sweep through the field. The souls fly up, take shape, and follow Thanatos as he works. This is part of some war or another. Thanatos would hazard he knows a fair bit about war, now—some learned, much of it simply there, waiting for him to need it. Much of war, it turns out, is not on the battlefield at all.

He hesitates a moment when he finishes.

<You miss him, poppy,> Efthalia says.

“Shut up,” he snaps, irritated.

“Goodness, dove, that’s hardly a way to talk to your tools.”

“Ares,” he says, and stows Efthalia in darkness, her laughter ringing in his head. He wants, very much, to embrace Ares, but he is meant to be working.

He will be late if he lingers too long.

Ares smiles at him, easy, something wrapped in cloth and held in one arm. He catches Thanatos’ hand, presses a kiss to his knuckles that makes his flush run down his face, neck, across his shoulders.

“I see you have adjusted your garments accordingly,” Ares comments.

“The sun burns my neck.” That is true; Thanatos does not mention he misses being able to hide behind his hair, especially since it seems all anyone in the House wants to talk about.

Well, when they don’t try to pry about Ares.

“Ah, a pity. It will grow back.”

But not the same. Thanatos does not mention that; Ares knows it as well as he.

“I have a gift, if you have a moment.”

There are more souls than there used to be, and he is still sometimes late, even with Hermes helping more permanently now.

“Yes,” Thanatos says. He knows which souls he can be late for. He knows if he must go, Ares will not hold it against him.

Ares holds out his cloth wrapped bundle. Thanatos takes it, curious—it is a weapon, he can tell even through the cloth, but he unwraps it carefully anyway. Sucks in a small breath as he catches sight of his colors, the steel and gold of his own tools. One gleaming purple eye, blinking up at him, annoyed at the last few rays of sunlight.

“For when you must rise to your own defense.”

Thanatos swallows, looking at the clawed gauntlet.

“Ares,” he whispers. “How did you even—this is too much.” To manage to get a match to the tools Thanatos has—he has no idea what Ares has paid for this, what he has agreed to.

“It is not enough,” Ares says. “Besides, the knife I gave you is terrified of you. You needed a weapon who will understand why you fight, and how.” A pause. “You do not have to—”

“Shut up,” Thanatos says. He slides the gauntlet on, feels it buzz with curiosity and wonder so like his own and cannot stop his smile. “Do you have a name? Do you know their name?”

“Chariton,” Ares says as the gauntlet hums, bright, brilliant, <Chariton.>

Thanatos laughs. “Ridiculous. You’re impossible.”

The gauntlet hums so soft, as beautiful as Efthalia, as Efsevios. They hum violence, controlled, focused the way Thanatos tries to be, and while Thanatos is not eager to fight, he very nearly would not mind picking a fight just to see how they would do.

<So you’re who he loves,> Chariton hums. <You’re smaller than he made you sound.>

“He’s—very fond,” Thanatos says, and looks up to meet Ares’ gaze. Ares is smiling, as easy as the way he holds a sword.

“Thank you,” Thanatos says.

“It is only what you deserve, but if you wish to thank me, I know a better way.” Ares grabs Thanatos’ hood, and Thanatos discovers it works almost as well for pulling him forward as his hair used to. The kiss is biting, demanding, and it is only Ares’ hands, safe, catching him that keep him from falling.

Reluctantly, Thanatos breaks the kiss, lets himself take in Ares’ face, lingers on his blood red gaze.

He is late.

“I have to go,” Thanatos says, and tries not to mourn.

<He’s fond? Goodness, look at you.>

“Find me when it pleases you, dove,” Ares says.

“Always,” Thanatos promises.

He and Ares have time—his harvest does not.

He goes, lips still bruised from Ares’ kiss, and does not even mind when Efthalia immediately begins to fill Chariton in on all the details of his and Ares’ history.

**

<Poppy.>

<Poppy? He’s clearly a dove.>

<Efsevios, what do you think?>

<I think he is doing something very stupid.>

“Weren’t you the one who said I’m a god?” Thanatos asks.

There is a hall in a wood so overgrown the sun barely pierces through the leaves. The shadows there know him now, and he slips through them easy, slips into a hall that is by turns full of victory and silence—victory, now, but Thanatos is careful not to go near the feast.

He is very bold, these days, and he has time.

He leaves his tools and weapon all in his shadows, leaves his greaves and all the accoutrements of his office on the floor, and slips into Ares’ bed without anything on at all. Buries his face in pillows that smell of Ares’ musk and ash.

Wakes to Ares’ weight dipping the bed, Ares’ teeth nipping his throat, Ares’ hands—safe.

“To what do I owe the honor?” Ares asks, voice thick with violence and victory and reverence.

“I heard somewhere,” Thanatos says, guiding one of Ares’ hands lower, parting his legs, “victors like spoils.”

Ares laughs, joyful.

“Welcome home, dove,” Ares hums, and kisses him.