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Heroic Anxiety

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"LOSER! AH-HAHA!"

Panic had reached his breaking point. Shoulders hunched and head hung low in defeat, he certainly felt like a loser. It wasn't his fault that he couldn't get a proper grip on the scrolls. They were huge! At least his chubby counterpart weighed more. Compared to some of these scribbled on rolls of rock, Panic was as light as a feather.

"There goes another one! How many times is that now, stupid?" Pain laughed "Eighteen?

They'd been at this for hours, two tiny imps balancing on old ladders and organizing every scroll Hades owned. Their task was to separate every single one into two piles for the Underworld's first inspection. A daunting job, but they had no choice. It was part of the agreement, their boss' infinite "probation" if you will, that every scroll deemed too extreme to be in Hades' hands would be handed over to Zeus.

"Come on. Toughen up, Panic. Jeezz. You're embarrassing yourself."

And the restrictions placed on reading materials were only one small paragraph of that agreement. There were precincts that ruled their every move, from where they could go, how they could go, what they could do, and who they could contact. They were all still able to do their jobs, but that was it... do their jobs. It was the only upside to the agreement between Hades and the other Gods. The Lord of the Dead would keep his position in the Underworld and, in return, he'd basically do whatever Zeus said.

The agreement was a punishment for all of them. It was house arrest, a way for Zeus to make sure his baby brother never stepped out of line again, and Panic couldn't really blame him. He remembered the attack on Olympus like it was yesterday. Six years had already come and gone and the imp could still hear the screams, see the destruction, smell the failure, fear,  uncertainty...

"Scrawny little Panic can't even lift one stupid scroll all by himself?" Pain snatched one of the heavy rolls of parchment from his partner's hands, stumbling back to his own ladder like a fool. "Could you be any more useless? HaHA!"

Useless?  Was he kidding? "I'm n-not useless! You're the one goofing off! Hades will be here any minute with Athena! If this isn't finished, both of them will be angry-"

"Bla bla bla- Talk to the butt," Pain sang, shaking his fat derriere in Panic's space.

Now, normally, the teal minion could ignore the insulting chitter-chatter Pain was so keen on inflicting, but the idiot had been especially horrible today and without rhyme or reason. It seemed he couldn't so much as sneeze without Pain finding something nasty to say. He was so sick of it... sick of ALL of it.

Panic wouldn't consider himself the violent type. He didn't have a hot temper or a bullheaded attitude, it just didn't suit him, but at that moment an intense feeling bubbled up through his small body like lava from a volcano... He could feel it tickling-  choking him so much that he had to let it out!

"JERK!"  He cried and brutally kicked the ladder straight out from under the other minion's body. Startled, Pain floundered and snatched onto the rack, accidently yanking down all of the remaining scrolls.

It was like watching someone fall to their death. In horrible, unforgiving slow-motion, nearly a hundred golden scrolls fell from the wall and onto their organized piles. Pain was still hanging from the shelf when the crash settled, frowning down at the ugly mess.

"Gaah! Panic!" He shouted. "What did you do that for?"

Ignoring his other half's cries of anguish, Panic quickly slid down the ladder and began digging at the piles. It was no use. The golden cylinders were everywhere. There was no way they would have enough time to reorganize them all!

"Oh NO!" He chewed nervously on his four fingers and looked up at Pain. The maroon imp had the same worried hopeless look on his face.

They were doomed. This was bad. Very VERY bad! Athena was supposed to come collect all of the scrolls that didn't meet the agreement. If she showed up and saw this mess, she'd report it back to Zeus and Hades would be furious! They would be grilled up and fed to Cerberus! They would be thrown into the River Styx and carried away for all eternity!

Of course Pain, in all his rotten glory, was already looking out for himself. He plopped down next to Panic and whistled.  "Oh man. What are you gonna tell Hades? He's gonna be soooo mad at you."

"Me?" Panic choked. Was that supposed to be a joke? "You mean WE. It was your fault too!"

The maroon imp snorted and hastily picked up the scroll closest to his feet.

"Uh-uh. That's not how I remember it-"

And like a heavy hand of fate, the golden weight immediately slipped through Pain's bony fingers and slammed down on the unsuspecting jerk's foot. A howl loud enough to wake the dead echoed through Hades' throne room and shook the walls around them. It was a hilarious sight: Pain bouncing around on one foot as the scroll rolled away.

Panic couldn't help it,

He laughed.

"Something funny, Panic?" A much deeper and more sinister voice supplied.

The teal imp's laughter died at once. After a desperate gulp, the small head whipped around to see two very angry gods under the room's archway. His dumb counterpart, terrible as ever at reading a room, grit his pointed teeth and said "H-Hades! You're back early!"

Panic rolled his eyes. Hades was not in fact back early. He was right on time and staring down at a mess of scrolls with the god of wisdom and warfare standing by his side. The look on both gods' faces were murderous. Not surprisingly, Hades himself was looking particularly ticked. His grey face was glowing a faint red and smoke began billowing out of his nostrils. A sure sign of imminent punishment.

"Yeah. Funny thing, Athena," His lord growled, large fists shaking with barely controlled rage. "I give these bozos five hours to sort through a couple scrolls, and I'm left with this." His fist uncurled and gestured to the horrendous mess littering the floor.

Athena pursed her lips  "What is the meaning of this?"

"It was Panic's fault!" Pain cried and fell to his knees before them. His hands grabbed hold of the goddess' dress as he sobbed. "I told him you'd be back any minute! I begged him to stay focused, but he made ME do all the work!"

"What!" The other imp squeaked.

"Yeah," The smarmy blob looked back and gave Panic a toothy grin. "Then he purposely messed everything up 'cause I told him he was being a jerk!"

Athena had her hands on her hips, looking at their master like this was some elaborate scheme to keep the scrolls from Zeus. Not a farfetched idea, but certainly not the case this time. If Panic didn't think of a way to ease the tension, the situation would only escalate from here... Hmm, let's seeeee

Ah! That's it! All gods loved some good old fashion groveling. Athena would be no different.

"We're sorry!" He decided to say, boldly coming to stand beside his partner's bowed body and speaking directly to the goddess. "We're so sorry, Your War-ness. It w-was an accident! The scrolls are umm- heavy and uh... I tried to fix it in time, but- but- "

Athena's face softened. She might have a tough exterior, but the goddess had a weakness for pitiful things... and, by nature, Panic was definitely a pitiful thing.  

"Enough, little creature. You are forgiven."  Her face hardened again when she turned to speak to Hades. The god of the underworld still looked furious, but with an added speck of confusion pulling at his brow as he did a double take between the imp and his peer.  "I will give you until the next inspection to have these scrolls organized and ready for Zeus. Consider this a warning, Hades."

With that, Athena turned over her shoulder and continued on with the inspection, leaving Hades scowling down at his two "trusted" henchmen like they were dead meat.

"Five hours to do one measly little thing," He hissed. Both minions scrambled backwards as his hair flickered to red. "Five hours and you idiots couldn't even handle a clean-up? Let me ask you something, Panic "

The teal imp winced at the sound of his own name. He hated being singled out. Boss never called him by his name unless he was unhappy. Being ignored, overlooked, or coupled with Pain under the term "boys" was how he knew Hades was content. Nothing good ever came from hearing his own name.

"Y-Yes, sir?"

"Are you completely incompetent?"

Panic's eyes widened. For some reason, the insult stung a lot more than usual. It wasn't the first time he'd heard something to that effect directed at him, but coupled with the rest of day's events...

 "I ... I uh... I'm..."

"Forget it. Forget it." The god rubbed his eyes wearily. "Clean up this mess and beat it."

Pain and Panic breathed a sigh of relief when Hades turned his back,  "Oh, and boys?"

"Hm?" The minions lifted their heads.  "ohhhNAUUHHHHHHHHHHRGH!"

Two terrifying balls of fire were thrown at each of them. Panic dodged both of his and gasped as Pain was hit in the back and again right on the behind. It would have been funny if that hadn't been so close to being him. Thin and lanky had its advantages sometimes. His poor counterpart, wider and brighter in color than himself, was a walking bullseye for their boss' target practice.

Panic cringed and looked back at Hades. Yellow eyes met an angry identical pair.

"Never embarrass me again." was said to him so intensely it made the creature's knees shake. All he could do was nod his head, watching the god retreat while his mind tried to put a stopper on a powerful incoming emotional breakdown.

Somewhere behind him, Pain groaned.

Pain.  UGH! This was all Pain's fault! If he hadn't been so mean to him, he wouldn't have kicked the ladder in the first place!

"YOU!" Panic stormed over to where the maroon jerk was sitting. A dozen scrolls burned around them, spitting sparks at his feet as he stomped passed.

Before Pain could even properly stand, Panic swung his arms up to push him back onto his scorched behind. "You lied!" He shouted, angry enough to give the red zit another push for good measure. "Why would you tell Hades it was all my fault?"

"What? I didn't lie! You purposely kicked me off that ladder, remember! You wanted to mess everything up!"

"Th-That's... That's not what happened! You know what happened!"

"Don't throw this on me 'cause you got yourself in trouble, ya big baby." The fat imp folded his arms over his chest, sitting up as tall as his short stout body would allow. "I was merely a victim." 

"ARRGH!!"

Panic wanted to-

He wanted to-

ARRGH. No. It wasn't worth it. He didn't want to hurt Pain. It wasn't in him to start beating on the other imp over a botched job, whether it was his fault or not. He tiredly dropped his angry blue fists to his sides and made his way out of the room.

"Hey!" He heard Pain call after him. "What about the scrolls?"

Panic kept walking.

Distance. What he needed was distance. Some nice, easy, quiet distance to cool his head and forget about this.

'Forget all you want,' his treacherous mind commented 'But it will happen again. It will always happen again.'

"Stop." He closed his eyes and gripped the sides of his head with his small hands, trying to reel his emotions back in like a drifting boat.

That little voice in his mind was right though. What did he think was going to happen? Pain and Panic were partners, not friends! stupid! stupid! He should have just kept his dumb mouth shut. He shouldn't have tried to justify himself. Always having to go looking for comfort, always having to scrounge for approval, always feeling crushed time after time and rejection after rejection...

And sure, he knew it was foolish of him to be hurt by the other minion's mockery. He knew it was idiotic of him to feed into Pain's sick taunts, but he couldn't help it! They've been doing his dance for centuries now. Two very different halves of a whole butting heads whenever things got a little too stagnant. And now that Olympus had put such tight restrictions on the inhabitants of the Underworld, it had only gotten worse.

Loud and impulsive, Pain always seemed to bounce back first and was only too happy to leave Panic feeling like the fattest man at the relay race (ha). And while Panic would worry himself sick and nearly drown to death in his own thoughts, Pain rarely seemed to dwell. He just... didn't experience feelings the same way Panic did. It was like they had been molded from the same spirit that was split in two; Pain thrived off of his apathy, while Panic suffered from an overflow of empathy. Things that meant the world to him meant nothing to his so-called "co pilot".

And for his naturally sensitive nature, Panic found it increasingly hard lately to let anything go.

"I'm not gonna cry. I'm not gonna cry. I'm not gonna cry."

Panic sniffed and hobbled down the lengthy staircase leading to the Charon's drop-off.  He stopped on the last stair and quickly rubbed his eyes. Oh No! He was crying. "Argh!" Just what he needed! A tear-fest so that the rest of the Underworld can ridicule the lesser half of Hades' right-hand minions. He could just imagine Pain's wide-mouthed grin, his tongue darting in and out as he laughed his stupid head off

"Just a bad day." He whispered, wringing his hands and pacing the stone earth, trying and redirect the flow of emotion that was quickly taking over his small body.

Sure, a bad day. One, singular, solitary bad day was normal, but an infinity of bad days? Panic couldn't even remember a day that could be considered a "good day". What did a "good day" exactly entail? Was there a criteria? Did surviving a day count? Maybe not getting roasted to a pile of pathetic ash? Would a day without being mauled by Cerberus be a "good day"?

He loudly groaned and strode forward, leaning in and resting the bridge of his big nose against the cold stone post that would mark the boat rower's docking point. The River Stygian was quiet today and Charon was nowhere to be seen. Ever since the agreement had been put in place, they'd all seen less and less of Charon. There was less need of him, Panic supposed, now that Hades pretty much stayed put. Still, Athena must have taken the boat to get here... Maybe she had left immediately after their little confrontation in the throne room? Not like there was much else to see in this place other than Hades' personal chambers. Everywhere else was nothing but rocks and gloom and more rocks and slime...

What he wouldn't give to be anyone but himself right now. Anyone. How much would he pay to experience something other than the day-in and day-out torment he had grown accustomed to? This sunless, ruthless, dead world is what Panic had been born to call home,

And for the first time ever, as he sat sobbing quietly in a ball against the cold brutal stones,

The minion of the Underworld wished to be mortal.