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To Zagreus, Thanatos could sometimes be all but an opaque reflection of his own open heart. For all the time Zagreus knew Than, and for all the concentration he could muster to understand him, Gods knew that missing the subtle shifts in Than's moods got him into trouble more than once.

Zagreus had always known the obvious signs when Than’s work was piling upon him, and his recent absences were no exception. In his brief appearances at the House, Thanatos brandished the stress of his task like armor for all to see. The burden constricted the tendons of his shoulders, screwing tight into his neck. His brows drew together similarly, digging straight lines sweeping into the heavy bags under his eyes. He withdrew into his robes, the silver of his hair receding into shadows beneath his hood, where Zagreus’ comfort seemed to barely reach.

Less obvious, however, were the slips in Than’s composure that followed. Zagreus thought he had learned all the ways to fluster Than, to chip away at his grim exterior, if only to bring a small smile to his face. But there was a language, one which Zagreus only learned as his lover, that spoke of something entirely different intensifying within him. There was a tremble along the trails where Zagreus' fingertips met his skin. There was a too-warm exhale between the breaths of their brief conversation. There was a clench of Than’s jaw, a half-hearted attempt at restraint, when Zagreus moved too close. Zagreus relished in uncovering each one; he collected them like he did his keepsakes and Chthonic companions, just as rare and all the more cherished.

These, Zagreus came to understand, were open threads of Thanatos’ self-control, exposed under the dire need to rid himself of it. He also came to understand that, if he plucked at those threads just right, Than would eventually unravel in his hands. All Zagreus had to do was wait for the desire to strike.

He waited as best as he could, anyway. Than could be dreadfully, painfully slow to express himself. Zag couldn't help but to expedite the process from time to time. He took full advantage of their next meeting in Elysium to do so.

Zagreus had been in the middle of a very successful escape. Ares and Aphrodite first sought him apart, imbuing the Twin Fists of Malphon with devastating strength: his uppercut drawing in and weakening wretches to the bone, the second blow driving blood-red doom straight into their throats. A few chambers later, they appeared together. The gods provided him a gift which only the two of them could: the Curse of Longing, passion and aggression, perpetually intertwined.

Zag fought so swiftly through each chamber that he barely realized that he had made it to Elysium. The shock of green light and the bell toll thundering through his chest had a way of stopping him in his tracks. Of course, the appearance of the god that followed was about as arresting.

“Than!” Zagreus called. “Been a while since you last joined me.”

“I’m well aware,” Thanatos said, readying his scythe. “So, let’s waste no further time. Shall we?”

Zagreus shot him a cocky grin and nodded. “Sure. Just try and keep up.”

Hm. We’ll see about that.”

The light from the first sigils barely waned before Zag laid his hands on each Exalted summoned into the chamber. Serving blow after merciless blow, Zag worked himself and the Fists into the violent, rapid rhythm of their hunt. Their bloodlust surged in his veins, singing out of his chest in rough, triumphant growls. The heavy miasma of Thanatos’ power sunk into the chamber around him, and though the grim mark of Thanatos’ reaping swirled above their heads, his languid motions were not quick enough to fell the warrior shades. Each one found the blunt end of Zag’s knuckles sooner.

The tenth—eleventh—then twelfth enemy fell to Zag’s hand. By then, the Exalted seemed his alone to fight. Zag thought his eyes deceived him at first; was Than reaping even slower than usual? His formidable attacks did take time to work, but by this time, Than usually had at least a handful of souls in his corner. He hadn’t seen Than make a single kill shot yet.

When Zag stole a look in Than’s direction, he realized that not only was he missing his execution, he wasn’t even watching the enemies anymore. The subject of his focus was undeniable. Zagreus turned back in time to dodge the stab of a spear, delivering a punishing pummel in return, and he could almost feel Than’s eyes raking over his body as he moved. His gaze razed hot on the back of Zagreus' neck, following him through the chamber as his score mounted higher.

Zag smirked to himself, devious satisfaction taking hold. It was one thing to defeat him in combat, but getting into Than’s head was certainly the better—and rarer—prize.

Zag might have added a bit of flair to his combat after that: an exaggerated curve of his hip as he lunged, a flex of his back muscles as he jabbed, a flash of a coy smile as he looked over his shoulder at Than. And why not? If he was going to best Than this handedly, why not give him something to look at while doing it? Why not, when he knew the delicious kind of attention he could garner, when it made his own nerves stand on end?

With the chamber cleared, Zagreus trotted up to Thanatos, catching his breath. “How many was that?” He asked.

Thanatos looked to his side, glowering into his shoulder, as though that would conceal the flush creeping along his jaw. He produced the centaur heart.

“Enough to earn this,” Thanatos replied.

“What, you didn’t keep count? Should I guess instead?”

“Spare me that much, Zag.” Thanatos lifted himself into the air, readying his departure. When he finally looked down at Zagreus, a single corner of his lips quirked up.

“You put on an impressive show,” he murmured.

The smooth, reverent tenor of Than’s voice reminded Zag of similar compliments, whispered in low, warm mists against his ear. The memory sent a tingle down his spine.

An impulsive thought sparked in his mind. Before he could stop his muscles from reacting to it, Zag was in motion—wrapping the large fists around Than's tapered waist, pulling him out of the air and down into his kiss. A scant, surprised cry resonated against Zagreus' lips in the second before Than pulled back. Than glared at Zag—but the bewilderment in his expression wavered, unstable, as though struggling to cover something else.

Zag thought he knew what it might be by now. There was only one way to find out for sure.

“See you at home?” Zag asked.

Thanatos tutted. He vanished without another word. But in his last glimpse of him, Zag caught an intent, unmistakable in its rawness, glimmering in Than’s eyes.

Zagreus could not recall—did he even fight out of Elysium? He must have, though the irritating cries of Theseus and the threatening roar of Asterius barely registered as background fog to his heated thoughts. When the massive rats bit through his ankles, and the Satyrs marked his back with poison, Zagreus accepted the return trip to the house. He would rather not face his father this time around. It was hard to be upset about a technical defeat, all things considered, if he was right about what awaited him at home.

Right he was.

In contrast to Zag’s unkempt room, Than appeared perfectly composed, poised on the end of Zagreus’ bed when Zag arrived. His silver hair lay slick-straight and neatly coiffed; his chiton folded immaculately into the belt secured at his waist. The reflected lantern light cast a pristine shine upon his golden regalia, rolling off the bare muscles underneath it. Than was gorgeously statuesque in his stillness, like his portraits and the marble idols crafted in his name. He looked as though he could wait there, with his arms swept to his sides, his legs gently crossed, for an eternity.

When their eyes locked on one another, however, Zagreus suspected that Thanatos had waited for him long enough.

“I was hoping I’d see you here,” Zagreus said.

Thanatos tilted his head slightly. “Were you expecting me?”

“Not necessarily—just, you know, hoping. It's a rare sight to see you so soon after one of our competitions.”

“I happened to be going on break when you returned,” Thanatos said. “It seems our schedules finally match again.”

“Finally,” Zagreus sighed.

Zag realized that it had been far too long since they last shared a private moment together; so long that the mere flex of Than’s chest as he swayed back caused his stomach to flip, so long that when Than drawled—"Come here, Zag”—in the same honey-dipped resonance with which he spoke in Elysium, Zag moved toward him without a second thought.

Zagreus knelt over Thanatos, drawing up one knee to rest by his hip. His hands traced up the lines on Thanatos’ gorget, the gold glinting in the space between his fingers. Zagreus’ knuckles found the sharp line of his jaw, brushing back and forth slowly, gently, until Thanatos leaned just slightly into the touch. Thanatos closed his eyes momentarily, the sweep of his white eyelashes dazzling against his ashen skin.

“You seemed rather distracted last we met,” Zagreus said.

Thanatos tried to scoff, but the sound seemed caught in his throat. "Not like you needed me there anyway." Thanatos stilled a moment, seemingly reconsidering what he said. He added, “I am sorry I wasn’t of more help—"

“Than, you don’t have to apologize to me. I know your assignment has been wearing you thin again."

"All the same," Thanatos said, "I should not let my mind wander such that I leave you alone to the Exalted."

"That's quite all right. I hope we can agree that it worked out in the end." Zagreus leaned in further, drawing his hands to Thanatos’ sides. “What was on your mind then, I wonder?”

He planted a kiss just beneath Than’s jawbone. Than tilted his head up to accept it. Zag felt the muscles quiver beneath his lips.

“I was—I was not thinking, for a change," Than said. "I was merely content to watch you show off.”

Zag hummed a laugh. "There's nothing wrong with that. Besides," Zag continued, his lips traveling up to the shell of Than’s ear, “I happen to love showing off for you.”

Than caught Zag’s face with one hand, lifting it up to meet his. He looked at Zag like he was the only thing in the world, the reverence and the intensity drawing him down beside him.

“Then show me more,” Thanatos said. His voice was barely above a whisper now. The invitation wound the promise of pleasure tight inside Zagreus, spurring on a growing greed.

Zagreus smiled. “There's plenty more where that came from, if you so desired.”

“I do,” Thanatos breathed.

Zagreus captured Thanatos’ next breath with his kiss. Thanatos froze, a fractured second passed, and the last of his hesitation dissolved on Zagreus' tongue.

Zagreus swept him up further, the press of Thanatos' skin against his a familiar comfort. He suddenly realized how insidious his own loneliness had become, having gone so long without Than’s soft lips warming on his own, or the gentle pressure of his hands framing his face. He felt how deep his own need had run, how urgently it required relief, now that he had Than all to himself.

Zag found the gorget’s clasp, removing it to expose Than's cool flesh, the cut of his collarbones, the bobbing apple of his throat when he swallowed. It was a favored spot for Zag; when he laved his tongue along the length of Than’s neck, the sweet sigh that it provoked never failed to excite him. Than breathed heavier underneath him, as though moving air that had been locked within him for far too long.

Than pulled at Zag's clothing, his body subtly rocking into Zag's tongue driving down his chest. His hands seemed insatiable, almost desperate to unhook Zag's belt and unclasp his chiton, gliding along the bare skin revealed. He dug his nails into Zag's back when Zag reached his nipple, pulling him in closer, leaning into the hot circles Zag drew around the sensitive bud.

Than's breath caught—yet still he held back his cry. An utterance like that was no longer enough for Zag. Not now. He dragged Than closer into his lap, kissing him across his chest, drawing up wells of ichor in his flesh. He reached under Than's chiton until he found him straining hard against his leggings, immutable evidence of his desire. There, as Zag petted him through his clothing, Than gasped—expelling hot breath back into Zag's kiss. Zag grew lightheaded by Than's admissions, the long throb of his cock beneath his strokes, the almost-silent, half-broken whine he left on Zag's lips.

A hand on Zag’s chest stayed their kiss. Than pulled back. The gloss-eyed look on his face would have caused Zagreus to nail him into the bedsheets, if Than hadn't slid off the bed and onto his knees before him, his hands squeezing at the meat of Zag’s thighs.

With only his leggings left, Zag stood to remove them—but not before giving a bit of a show. Not when he held Than’s hungry gaze on him like this. That was, after all, what Than had asked for. He slowly lowered his leggings, revealing the length of his hard cock to the trace of Than's eyes.

Than bit his lip, looking up at Zag, then taking his cock in his hand. He stroked him once, twice, then replaced his hand, delivering a slow lick along the length. The contrast of Than's warm tongue with his cool fingers swirled together in Zag's abdomen; he groaned as Than continued back and forth mouthing along the underside of his shaft. Zagreus already ached for more, but he would never deny Thanatos the pleasure of taking his time worshipping him. Than was capable of driving Zag wild with just his mouth alone, besides.

Zag’s cock stood attentive, twitching just out of reach of Than's lips, the heat of his breath curling along the head. Than’s eyes remained focused there, a deep blush gathering on his high cheekbones. The two slowed for a moment to drink in the other’s burning adoration, with Zag carefully smoothing and gathering up Than's silken hair, and Than delivering leisurely, loving licks and flecks of kisses to Zag’s head.

Zag continued to wind Than’s hair into one fist as his fingernails dragged along the soft fuzz at the base of Than’s neck. Than shivered at the sensation, his eyes rolling up to meet Zag’s own, lust laying heavy on his eyelids. His mouth parted open, and the wetness of his tongue was so close to Zag’s skin he could almost feel the memory of it.

Seeing Than like this seemed nearly too devious to be witnessed. It was hard to believe that the god knelt before him was the same prim, disciplined Thanatos who wielded immense power over the mortal realm, who commanded deference in the halls of the House that he graced, whose stone-faced scowl and detached demeanor was all that nearly every soul in both realms knew of him. But Zagreus had the luxury of understanding Than better than most. He knew what desire looked like on him, the way it brewed and bloomed deep underneath his calm exterior, longing to be drawn out at Zag's behest.

In moments like this, it felt like Zagreus was unveiling a salacious secret, as though this side of Thanatos existed only for him to behold. It was his to savor, his to claim. And claim it, he would.

A fresh need struck him at the thought. Zagreus clasped his cock, stroking himself slowly for Thanatos, whose attention fell back to his movement.

“You want this, don’t you, Than?” Zagreus teased, his voice low and heavy.

Thanatos only licked his lips, his eyes still transfixed on him, his breath heaving as Zagreus anchored his hand further into his hair. Zagreus held tight, barely resisting his own craving, as he waited for Than’s consent.

“Hold me in place,” Than whispered.

Zag obeyed, finally slipping his cock between Than's lips. His free hand found the back of Than's neck again, guiding in as he thrusted further. Than relented in Zag’s hands; a heavy moan rose into his throat and hummed around Zag as he sunk against him. Zag drank in the sound with a sharp inhale. Than’s lips and throat parted, exploring the angle, allowing Zagreus to find a slow, delicious rhythm. His tongue slipped around his head; his cheeks hollowed with each lurid suck. Than looked impossibly erotic beneath him, entranced in pleasuring Zag, and between that and the overwhelming sensation of fucking Than's mouth, Zag lost himself as well.

How easily Than forgot his modesty then, in favor of a steady wave of heady moans that sent shocks into Zag's belly. Zag pressed in further and gripped him tighter, even as his hands and legs started to shake. The sounds Than made now reminded Zag of the way Than cried out when holding on to him, his voice raising as the muscle of his thighs clenched at Zag's waist. His mind chased the memory, clamoring for tangibility, wanting the glorious pleasure of Than's love to surround him in every sense.

Zagreus groaned. “Than—fuck. I want more of you.”

Thanatos nodded before his lips popped off of Zagreus. “Yes,” he gasped. "Please."

Zag let Than push him back onto the sheets, climbing back to rest sitting up by the head of the bed. He handed a vial to Zagreus from the shelf. Than gave Zag just enough time to lather his fingers in oil while Than removed his own clothing. Then he was crawling back up Zag's body, trailing love-swollen kisses along the way back to his mouth. He turned and rested his back on Zag's chest.

"Won't you turn around for me, love?" Zag asked, his fingers circling Than's hole, hoping to add an incentive. "I want to see you."

Than looked back, his eyes flashing with his rare mischief. "And I want to try something," he replied.

"You want to try something," Zag repeated slowly, taking the thought in as his first finger slipped inside Than. "Is it something we need to talk about?"

"No, it's not like that. I"—he moaned as Zag pressed in further—"I have to concentrate to make it work, though."

Zag tried not to pry at Than too quickly out of excitement. He buried his head into the nape of Than's neck, kissing into Than's disheveled hair, curled by sweat and heat. He fed the gentle roll of Than's hips back and forth onto his fingers. Slowly, he added another finger, working Than open for him, pressing against the tender, smooth spot of his prostate. Than ran out of breath against him.

"You sure you'll be able to concentrate?" Zag teased as he withdrew his fingers.

Thanatos spread himself atop Zagreus, his legs wide, his hands resting on Zagreus' calves. Zagreus lined himself up, then pressed forward into Thanatos. His head reeled feeling the slow, steady burn, the acclimation of Than's body to him. Thanatos let out a breath, hitched, and a slow moan that drove Zag deeper by impulse alone. With each thrust, he slowly pushed in to the hilt, until the perfect curve of Than's ass rested against his hips.

Zag watched the arch of Than's back move fluidly with Zag's force, the broad muscles working in synchronicity with the warmth and tightness gripping his cock. Zag's hands kneaded into the soft muscle of Than’s thighs, watching it respond in turn, chasing the urge to quicken his pace. He gasped, tipped his head back as he moved faster on instinct.

Then his thrusts fell out of meter. It was almost as though Thanatos had disappeared atop him. He couldn't feel the weight of his thighs on his own anymore, either. He looked down, his eyes adjusting for a moment—Thanatos was still there—but he was higher off Zagreus than he should be, lighter than he should be, as if—

As if he were floating.

"Than?" Zagreus asked, staying himself. "Are you—"

Zagreus," Thanatos cried, his head whipping back. His fingers encircled Zag's wrists, pulling himself down to meet Zag's body again. "Don't stop— Just— Go as hard as you can, all right?"

Oh. Yes. Zag leaned forward, drawing his legs up to kneel. He braced his hands around the taper of Than’s waist. He pushed and pulled Than with him slowly, experimentally at first, feeling the soft glide of Than against him. Their bodies rolled together in waves, with Zag guiding them both at his leisure. Than's body weighed just enough to manipulate him with deliriously satisfying ease. Realizing this, it took little time for Zag to buck faster again, then faster, harder, recklessly so, encouraged all the while by Than's wanton keening.

"You feel so— so fucking good like this, Than," Zagreus purred.

"Ah— nnnhYes—"

At the total mercy of Zag’s embrace, Than’s muscles slackened completely, allowing himself to be moved by Zag's grip alone. Than only tensed when Zag tweaked his nipples, when he bit into his shoulder, when he encircled his waist with one arm and hungrily raked his fingers across Than's hipbones with the other. Zagreus reveled in it, reveled in the gratification of Thanatos coming undone for him, abandoning all but the primordial urge to be used.

Sweat gathered on Zag's brow, heat rising in his stomach and up his chest, but he dared not stop. He dared not let up. He focused on the potent friction branding ecstasy into every muscle, on hearing his name slurred and shattered across Than's mouth, on the tart taste of Than's skin on his tongue. The rest of the world fell away, spinning like a whirlpool, one that he would gladly drown in. He would fill his lungs and his heart and his veins with this private debauchery. He would accept this divine sacrifice of self-control. He would possess it, if only to hold it and keep it safe, to allow it to breathe as only the god of blood himself could.

Zagreus snaked a hand to Thanatos’ neck, his moans vibrating beneath his fingers; he moved up to cradle his jaw. “Look at me,” Zagreus growled, and Thanatos’ head melted back into his grip at the command. Zag saw everything he wanted painted plain on Than’s profile, his lips loose, his eyelashes fluttering over blown pupils, all clamping shut when another moan forced itself from his throat. Zag held his body taut and arched, using all of him at once in the rhythm of his rutting.

"Zag, I— I can't—"

Reaching wildly behind him, Than teetered as though caught off balance. Zag leaned forward, accepting the embrace, wrapping Than in his arms as they fell back. They laid flat and flush against one another in the plush of the bed. Zag felt the familiar weight of Than's body return, writhing on top of him, nuzzling into the crook of his neck.

“That’s it," Zag cooed, his words muffled in Than's skin. "Come back into my arms." His hand clasped Than's cock, spreading the leaking slick from the head. "Let me take care of you.”

As Zag spoke, Than's muscles shook, seizing just as his breath did. Zagreus fucked him relentlessly until a wild sob ripped from his lungs. Than came in his hand, hot and pulsing and moaning deep. Triumph scored through Zag's body, heightening his own need until it consumed his mind, lit the blood in his veins aflame, rushing into a frenzied peak within him. He soon followed Than to the brink and over it, sending bliss into every limb with his release.

The two laid there a moment, limbs entangled, entirely too spent to do anything else. The silence broke suddenly with the sound of Thanatos' laughter, a delicate and sheepish chuckle that Zagreus loved above all else. Than's mirth was the greatest treasure he had ever discovered, welling joy in his heart. Zag could not help but mirror it. They laughed together, exhausted, bewildered, loving, as they situated themselves into a more comfortable embrace.

"You’re going to regret telling me you can do that," Zag said.

"You think so, do you?" Than asked. "Well. Looks like I need a little more practice with it, anyway."

"Oh, we can practice any time you want. I mean, literally any time."

"I can always count on you for that." Than sighed. "As for now, I... really needed this. Needed you."

Zagreus hugged him closer. "I know, my love. Me too."

Zagreus parted only to gather a wet cloth to clean them both. He took his time with Thanatos, washing away the final vestiges of tension from his body.

When they next met, Than's gentle smile had returned, his stance a little more relaxed than before, and his lips were soft on Zag's own.