Love and Death’s paths cross, from time to time.
Usually it’s only Thanatos alone who waits by the dying mortals’ side, steadfast and patient. There is little he can do to ease suffering for many of them. He is but their guide, the hand leading them down into the Underworld.
The Olympians stop by to pay their respects on rare occasions, usually to send off their prized mortals: the unusually devoted ones, the particularly great ones, destined to be remembered even long after their time on the surface is up.
And then, there was just pure, blatant favoritism.
Today, he is in Akrokorinth, at the Temple of Aphrodite for one of the priestesses there. Her sisters lay sweet-smelling lilies and geraniums around her as her breaths become shallower and shallower, lighter than air. One of them wails in grief, kneeling upon the dais and barely keeping upright as her arms shake, shoulders heaving in time with her sobs.
“There, there, poppet,” Aphrodite coos, petting the priestess's hair, her eyes occasionally darting up to watch the other hiereiai bring in more sacrifices to invoke the goddess’s mercy. A massive white bull, its alabaster body unblemished and immaculate lays surrounded by the season’s best pickings of olives and persimmons. She smiles watching the ceremony take place, before returning to the task at hand.
“One would think you were the one leaving, dearest,” she titters, grazing her knuckles down the anguished priestess's cheek, the mortal’s tears staining her fingers. Thanatos watches all this with a detached look. Passion, he surmises, is what the goddess is after today.
“Oh, these mortals, sometimes I think they may be more dramatic than even Father,” Aphrodite clucks her tongue fondly. “Wouldn’t you agree, Sir Thanatos?”
Thanatos looks over at the goddess. One of her hands is still absentmindedly petting the young lady’s head with not a mother’s touch, but one more akin for a loyal hound.
“They do only have one, brief life to live on the surface, they’re terrified of anything that reminds them of its inevitable end.” Thanatos replies neutrally. Even now, he’s wary of dealing with the Olympians. He’s seen first-hand just how fickle they were, granting boons and flinging curses with barely any thought behind their actions.
He thinks, as he often does lately, of Zagreus. And wonders if he too would adopt their strange, impetuous ways once the Prince arrives on Mount Olympus.
The goddess brings up a hand to push her hair behind her ear, “As boorish as it all is, I can at least understand why this little one is having such a difficult time today,” Aphrodite hums, “it can be so very hard to say goodbye to the one you love most.”
Thanatos stiffens, and he slowly slides his gaze over to the side, careful to not seem disrespectful towards the goddess. The mountaintop view lets him see far into the distance, even down at Korinthia, the city’s trees bursting with soft, pink spring blossoms. “It can be, I would guess.”
Aphrodite twirls a finger in her hair, a coy, knowing grin blooming on her face. “Oh, come now, it doesn’t do to be so shy, especially not in front of me, darling.”
Thanatos fancies himself a private person, one that in turn does not pry into other people’s affairs. He levels a steady look towards the Olympian.
“I would not think that the personal relations of a god of my lowly station would hold much interest to you, Lady Aphrodite,” he says carefully, making sure to sound as humble as possible.
She laughs, a delicate hand alighting onto her bare sternum, “Oh on the contrary, I do love knowing every bit of delectable gossip I can get. It’s the same few stories, over and over, and yet I can’t quite seem to get enough of it all.”
Aphrodite graces him with a serene, patient smile. “Though, I can already hear your yearning heart, and can guess the gist of what’s in there. And you seem to lately have your thoughts on a certain princeling, do you not?”
Thanatos remains silent. He wasn’t about to implicate himself; his feelings made a joke for the goddess to tease about.
Undeterred she presses on, “It must be ever so lonely. Knowing that the only way you’d see your love again is for him to fail. To know you weren’t enough to make him stay.”
Thanatos grips his scythe. Feels the tension in his neck as his insecurities were spoken aloud, one by one.
A moment passes, and the priestess in the center takes her final breath, her soul rising up and towards Thanatos. He drapes a robe onto her naked shoulders, pulling the hood over her head, glad for the excuse of work to ignore the goddess’s words.
“If it’s of any solace, please do know that all of us on Olympus would be delighted if you come visit us from time to time. I would hazard that your dear Zagreus would think the same once he arrives.”
In a moment of weakness, and even as the words stick to his throat, he gives Aphrodite a tired, forlorn reply:
“He was never mine to begin with.”
“Now you seem to be in higher spirits today, Sir Thanatos,” Aphrodite smirks over a chalice of nectar.
A festival for Aphrodite coincided with the death of a local tyrant and his sycophants, and the citizens of Kythera were more than happy to open the wine casks for such a felicitous occasion.
Thanatos keeps his mouth shut. It wouldn’t do to spill his Lord’s secrets—of the surprise return of the Queen, and Zagreus’ physical incapability to stay on the surface for long before being sent back down to the House.
It probably should not bring him so much joy, knowing that each of Zagreus’ attempt at escape would inevitably be in vain, but it does comfort him immensely to know the Prince would always come home in the end.
To him, he thinks, rather selfishly.
“Things…have been looking up recently,” Thanatos admits after a pause. The goddess smiles knowingly, as she summons another goblet of nectar out of thin air, holding it out for him to take. Thanatos bows his head in thanks, before taking a sip.
It’s sweet and light on the tongue, but ultimately pales in comparison to the hard-earned bottles of Ambrosia Zagreus gave him, that he was only now enjoying as of late in the company of the Prince.
They take the moment to watch as another boat makes its way into Skandeia Harbor, worshippers of Aphrodite pouring onto land laden down with sweet meats and wine to bring to the temple atop the cresting hill to the north of the island. Thanatos notices the way the goddess seems to drink in the adulation, her beauty even more bewitching than usual as her power grows from the mortals’ offerings.
“Truly a pity that mortals don’t bear gifts for the Chthonic gods as they do for Olympians.” She half-pouts, even as her radiance pours off her in waves, her skin tinged with an empyrean, decadent glow. “There’s nothing quite like being worshipped.”
Thanatos thinks of Zagerus, the way his hands seems to burn their way down Thanatos’ body, reverence in his eyes as he whispers his own, undying devotion to the god of death.
Thanatos brings the goblet up to his mouth for another taste, a faint half-smile playing on his lips.
“No, there isn’t.”