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Escape artists never die

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As summer jobs go, Thanatos knows it could be so much worse. Most of his friends from uni are stuck in some sort of retail or restaurant job, with horror stories of the general public occurring day by day. Working in his brother’s weird new venture has the added bonus of him being able to entirely choose his hours, getting paid decently well, and his co-workers are already people he knows...although sometimes that has its own disadvantages. 


It is a perfectly fine summer job. Or it had been until he turned up. 


“Good morning, Than. I’d like one entry please.” 


“Zagreus,” he replies, then looks at the clock. “It’s one in the afternoon.” 


Zagreus, or ‘Zag’ as he keeps asking to be called, seeing as he apparently can only use names with one syllable, as he’s been dubbed ‘Than’ for the last week and a half, turns and stares at the time. 


“Huh. Well, feels much earlier. Any new puzzles today?” he asks, as Thanatos checks which room is available. 


“Aren’t there always?” he replies, taking Zagreus’ cash and adding it to the register. 


“Room three,” he says, and Zagreus gives him far too blinding a smile for someone who is spending a summer afternoon in a small room, trying to solve puzzles under a time limit. 


Thanatos doesn’t really understand the appeal of these escape rooms, but the business is thriving. The ones here range from elaborately themes meant for groups of up to six, to the single player rooms which Zagreus is currently walking to, Thanatos watching idly on the monitor. 


The guy is odd. He’s been coming here for two weeks straight, almost every single day, to play the escape room. And he’s not beaten it once. 


Surely, it must be boring. Of course the puzzles change every few days, his brother apparently having developed an endless supply of brain teasers when Thanatos wasn’t looking, which does make for a few return visits. But no one comes in this frequently, especially when they’re so bad at the games. 


He shouldn’t care. Zagreus’ obsession pays his wages, and that’s really all he should be thankful for. But honestly, it’s such bizarre behaviour, he cannot help but watch as he opens the door, and almost runs to the first puzzle as the timer on the wall starts counting down. 


“Is the hot guy back?” 


Years of practice is the only thing which keeps Thanatos from jumping as Hypnos appears next to him, leaning forward and almost pressing his nose to the monitor. Thanatos sighs and pulls him back by his hoodie, ignoring the yelp of protest. 


“The idiot has returned. Did you finish organising the store cupboard?” he asks, turning just as Hypnos starts yawning, and he feels a headache building. Why anyone thought giving Hypnos a job which involved spending time in a small dark space was a good idea, he’ll never know. 


“It’s looking different!” Hypos says cheerily, and Thanatos reaches for his water, praying this is just dehydration. 


Hypnos pulls up a chair, and props his hand on his chin, staring at Zagreus, who is repeating a series of lines out loud, trying to figure out what he’s missing. 


“Bless, he’s done a few already. Maybe today is the day!” he says, and Thanatos ignores him, instead pulling up an expenses spreadsheet he may as well do. Spreadsheets usually get Hypnos to run far away. 


But with the apparent entertainment of Zagreus, Thanatos ends up spending the whole hour having to deal with his brother’s running commentary of escape number goodness knows what, until, just like before, the clock runs out. 


“Time’s up, Zagreus,” Thanatos says into the microphone, having to bat Hypnos away from calling it. 


He sighs heavily, the sound carrying, then looks directly at the camera, startling Thanatos slightly. He waves cheerfully, as if he’s victorious rather than adding another loss to his belt, and something about the demeanour sends a warmth spiraling. It is oddly touching to see someone continue to face a challenge again and again, even if said challenge is an escape room. 


“I really thought he had it. Oh well, always tomorrow,” Hypnos says, then leans over the counter as Zagreus makes it up the stairs. 


“Good run today, Zag!” he says, and Thanatos feels his eye twitch at the nickname. 


“Thanks, mate. Gotta keep trying. Thank you, Than, see you soon,” he says. 


Thanatos looks up and nods as Zagreus waves, retreating outside, the blinding sunshine making him blink as he glimpses the world outside for a few moments, before the quiet descends once more. 


Of course, it does not last though. 


“See you soon, Thaaannn,” Hypnos draws out and then laughs brightly as Thanatos turns to stare at him. 


“What, it’s cute! Than and Zag, has a nice ring to it,” he says. 


“Don’t you have work to do?” he says, pointing to the invoices which are stacked high at the desk away away from the counter. 


“Doesn’t everyone?” Hypnos replies, and Thanatos questions whether actually this job is even worth it. 



Megaera is a welcome presence when he arrives at work. The desk area is tidy, the schedule for the day is updated and she’s brought him coffee. He doesn’t know how he’s survived the last two weeks without her. 


“Remind me never to try going on vacation with my sisters again,” she grumbles, and he laughs. 


“At least you’re not working with your siblings,” he says, and she makes a face, clearly imagining it. 


She works the front desk, leaving him to the admin which Hypnos had sort of started over the last few days. Which is fine by him, organisation has always been soothing, that is until Megaera puts her head around the door. 


“There’s a customer who's asking after you,” she says, barely able to control a smile as he stares in confusion. 


He doesn’t know why he questioned what could be occurring when he arrives to see Zagreus chatting away to Megaera. 


“Oh, hey, Than, just checking you’re alive,” he says, pushing his erratically styled hair out of his face. 


“Why?” Thanatos says, and Megaera gives him a look he can’t interpret while Zagreus simply smiles. 


“You’ve worked the front desk since I started playing, seemed odd not to see you here,” he says, which is not an actual answer in his mind. 


He makes a noncommittal sound, hoping that would do to end this….whatever is happening, and to his relief, Megaera turns back to Zagreus. 


“You can start, if you like,” she says, and he looks excited of all things before turning away and marching with purpose down the stairs. 


“He’s been in before?” she asks, and Thanatos nods. 


“All the time, actually. Still hasn’t beaten a single room,” he adds. 


“Not once? But he still comes back?” she says, and Thanatos can truly understand the surprise in her voice. 


“Yes,” he says, and Megaera huffs, going back to her position at the desk, Thanatos back to his admin. 


He finds himself though watching the time, curious as to how Zagreus is doing today. It’s odd not having to watch his escape attempt, despite how much Thanatos has thought him a strange apparition in his day. So, when almost an hour has passed, he walks out to the front desk. 


“He’s not going to make it,” Megaera greets, and Thanatos sighs. 


“And you say he’s been doing this steadily for two weeks?” she asks, sipping her coffee as Zagreus frantically starts putting jigsaw pieces together, making more mistakes in the franticness of his motions. 


“For some unknown reason,” he says, and she scoffs again, before pushing the microphone over to him. 


He does it without thinking. “Time’s up again, Zagreus,” he says, and watches as he hangs his head, cursing under his breath. 


As before though, he waves at the camera once, cheerful demeanour back and for some reason, Thanatos is anxious for his return. Megara laughs quietly next to him, but before he can ask, Zagreus appears. 


“Well, getting a little closer. Thanks, as ever,” he says. 


“You know you can ask for clues, when you’re stuck. You have three per go,” Megaera says. 


“He refused before,” Thanatos says quickly, concerned for a second she’s thinking he hadn’t done his job correctly. 


“And what escape attempt was that?” Megaera says, hand on her hip and smirking a little at Zagreus. 


“Ah, the...third, I think,” he says, looking between them both. 


“Well, Zagreus, maybe consider asking Thanatos for help next time,” she says, rolling her eyes which is an effective dismissal. 


“Thanks, Meg. Maybe I should,” he says, then sends a smile to Thanatos before departing. 


He turns, and as suspected, he’s being stared at. “Meg?” he asks, to which she simply raises an eyebrow. 


“Than,” she deadpans back, and well, he probably deserved that. 


They’re busy for a while after that, helping with two pre-booked groups who do extremely well, both clearing the game, with a few hints. Thanatos clears up after them, rearranging the room and swapping out different puzzles for the ones Charon has stated need to be changed. 


When he comes out, Megaera has closed up for the day, in record time, reminding him once again why he prefers working with her to Hypnos. 


“Should I expect Zagreus tomorrow?” she asks as they make their way to their cars. 


“I suppose, that is the pattern,” he says, a little unnerved he actually doesn’t mind that it has become as such, a marker in the day when Zagreus turns up. 


“Perhaps you should offer to help him when he does,” she says, then turns without another word, leaving him to try not to think too hard on that. 



The next day, Zagreus doesn’t turn up. Which shouldn’t actually be...well, anything to Thanatos, except unfortunately Megaera caused him to think about hints far too much and he’s actually figured out the best ways to help him, depending of course on the room free. 


He thinks he’s acting normally, except Megaera and Hypnos both corner him when the afternoon rolls in, and it appears there’s no sign of their most valued customer. 


“Cheer up! He can’t stay away, he’s probably just sulking after the last one,” Hypnos says, and Thanatos sighs. 


“I don’t care,” he says, which causes the other two to exchange knowing glances. 


“I’m sure he’ll be back tomorrow,” Megaera offers, which brings it more comfort than it has any right to, and he’s thankful when Hypnos mentions something about Alecto’s Instagram, and her attention is diverted. 


Why is he so invested in a person he didn’t know two weeks ago? Who he doesn’t know much about other than he’s apparently obsessed with playing escape games on his own and has the funds to do that every single day for weeks. 


Nothing he knows about Zagreus should warrant such fascination; he’s bad at spatial awareness, very good at number patterns and hit or miss at word association. He has heterochromia, the first Thanatos has ever seen in reality, making his gaze hard to look away from. His voice is soothing, lilting when he talks to Hypnos, softer when he talks to him, and his hair is-


That, Thanatos realises with impending doom, is far too many thoughts about Zagreus. 


Not good. 


“What’s not good?” Megaera asks, and he’s alarmed he said something out loud. What is this man doing to his brain?


“The state of the invoices,” he says, which is actually a guess, but a good one, as Megara takes one look and he can feel her rage coming off in waves. At least it means neither of them will talk to him about Zagreus any further. 


However, this goes on for several days, and his mood drops a little each time. He hadn’t realised he’d actually looked forward to seeing Zagreus and his attempts at escaping so much. It is positively ridiculous. 


It doesn’t stop his heart from freezing when on a Thursday morning, Hypnos suddenly yells, “He’s coming!” 


Megaera looks up, clearly annoyed at the shout, when she catches sight of his face and smiles. 


“I think you should work the counter,” she says, getting out of her chair and disappearing into the back room just as the door opens. 


“Zag! We missed you,” Hypnos says, and Zagreus blinks while Thanatos closes his eyes and inhales once through his nose. 


“Missed you too, mate. My dog was sick,” he says, making a face as he does, which makes Thanatos rethink his initial idea that it had been an excuse. 


“I hope your dog is better,” he says, before Hypnos can say anything, and Zagreus smiles. 


“He is actually, I should bring him next time. Oh, right, do you have a room free?” he says, which utterly distracts Thanatos from the fact he offered to bring a dog for no reason. 


“Yes, room 1 today,” he says, and the process starts again, Zagreus taking the entrance at a run, as if he’s heading into battle. 


“He missed me,” Hypnos says, and Thanatos just glares at him, which is enough to get him to leave the vicinity, Megara coming back in a few minutes later. 


“Remember the hints,” she says, as she walks by, and Thanatos sighs. He’s not meant to give clues unless specifically asked, and he knows Zagreus isn’t going to do that. 


But when 40 minutes has passed and Zagreus is still stuck, he sighs and turns on the  microphone. 


“Would you like a hint?” he says, and he watches Zagreus slump a little where he’s making notes on a number pattern. 


“Might actually be a good idea,” he says, looking up at the camera and giving a sheepish smile that makes Thanatos have to swallow and take a breath. 


“Fine. You get three,” he says, glad his voice doesn’t betray him. 


Zagreus doesn’t escape, but he gets very close, and Thanatos can almost feel the determination as he sweeps back up the stairs. 


“Thank you, Than. I’m sure I’ll be able to break out next time,” he says, sounding so pleased that he actually feels himself lighten with it. 


“Good luck,” he says as a parting, only for Hypnos to appear out of the store room. 


“Remember to bring your dog!” he calls, just as the door shuts. 


“He’s not going to bring a dog here,” Thanatos says in exasperation as his brother pouts. 


Of course, that means he is completely wrong, as Zagreus turns up the next day with a dog. 


“I also brought you this,” he says, handing an extremely confused Thanatos a cup of coffee, while he just stares at the very small dachshund currently sniffing near reception, Hypnos taking pictures of it from every angle. 


“Why?” he says, and Zagreus shrugs. 


“You always seem to have a coffee, and I thought I’d give you one to show my appreciation for yesterday,” he says. 


Thanatos has no idea what to say to that, so Megaera ends up checking Zagreus in, and waving him down the stairs. Thanatos just sips his coffee in a daze as Zagreus runs down to room 3, and the timer begins. 


Cerberus is actually adorable, and Thanatos gets far less work done than he probably should seeing as the dog is so incredibly friendly. He and Megaera take turns making sure it doesn’t starve for affection, so much so that they almost forget it’s owner until Hypnos grabs their attention. 


“He’s completed the hexagonal puzzle! Wow, he’s on a roll today,” he calls, and they both get up, Thanatos doubling back to pick up Cerberus, who snuggles into his arms as they all sit and watch the screen. 


Zagreus is doing well. Exceptionally well actually, and Thanatos smiles to himself as he sees him putting into action the tricks he’d mentioned the day before. But time is ticking away, and the three completely abandon their work in favour of watching it as the hour draws closer. 


“I can’t watch, he’s not going to make it,” Hypnos moans, hiding his face in Megaera’s shoulder, who for once doesn't protest. 


“Come on, Zag,” Thanatos mutters, entirely missing the smirks from the other two as he and Cerberus stare at the screen, watching him piece together the final few sentences of a riddle. 


The last piece slots in, and the board lights up, Zagreus on screen spinning around to look at the timer. 


58 minutes. Thanatos laughs as Hypnos yells in triumph and Megara shakes her head, gesturing towards the microphone. Thanatos clicks it on. 


“Well done, Zagreus,” he says and Cerberus lets out a small bark in congratulations. 


As soon as he arrives upstairs, he swoops the dog up in his arms, who cuddles up in the same way he did with Thanatos a moment ago, who is only slightly jealous. Megaera takes a photo of Zagreus with his trophy, finally able to add him to the wall of escapees. Once done, he approaches Thanatos, who looks back, ignoring the way his heartrate rockets at the satisfaction on his face. 


“You made it out,” he says, and Zagreus nods. 


“Couldn’t have done it without your tips though. Thank you,” he says. 


There’s an odd sense of awkwardness that descends then, Thanatos almost feeling like he’s falling, unable to grip onto a course of action. Surely, now he’s beaten it, there’s no reason for Zagreus to come here anymore, and the sudden disappointment that floods hits hard and fast. 


“Than, isn’t it your lunch break?” Hypnos suddenly says, and he turns around. 


“Umm, it’s 11am,” he says and Hypnos makes a frustrated noise, then plasters on a smile. 


“Well, you've earned a break either way. You can show Zagreus that sandwich shop I mentioned!” he says, and the realisation of what’s happening sends panic through his veins. 


“I wouldn’t mind a victory sandwich. If you have time,” says Zagreus, and that soft tone is back, calming his nerves and yet igniting an entirely new set in the same moment. 


“I have time,” he says, and he doesn’t miss Hypnos shooting a thumbs up sign to Zagreus over his shoulder, but when he looks back, all Zagreus is doing is holding the door open with one hand, the other holding his dog. 


It’s quite frankly, an adorable image. 


“Maybe you could give me some more of your famous tips,” he says as Thanatos walks through the door, the two walking side by side down the street. 


“You’ve already escaped,” he says, and Zagreus laughs. 


“Yes, but only one room. There are five more. And I have a feeling I’ll only be able to do it with you,” he says, and the tone is clearly meaning something else, as he steps closer to Thanatos. 


He finds himself smiling, the prospect of more escapes, of more Zagreus making all brighter than the summer sun could ever do. 


“I think that’s certainly the case,” he says, and as Zagreus starts detailing the parts he got stuck on previously, Thanatos knows he’ll never be more grateful for this summer job.