It wasn't often that Megaera was in the House at the same time that Thanatos was, and even rarer still that a fiery prince didn't seize the chance to drag the two of them to his bed chambers when it did happen.
But lately, it was an equal toss-up of whether Zagreus would return either elated at the joy of speaking with his mother once more or frustrated and in a dark mood after defeat at the hands of his father. Which meant that he was gone for fairly long periods of time when he tried to escape.
Thanatos made his way to the lounge, heart in his throat. Megaera was there, and he silently approached her table.
A shy, small longing was tugging at the back of his mind lately. It'd been something easy to brush off at first, but now it was like a pebble in his shoe--at least, he thought it would be, despite his lack of experience with shoes or walking--a constant, little thought that was wearing at him.
It was something he knew Megaera would understand. He hasn't enjoyed her company in any sort of peaceful manor in a while, normally their time together is spent tangled with heat and passion and a writhing prince between them.
But sometimes... sometimes he missed her. And some of the calm companionship they used to have ages ago.
He cleared his throat. "Megaera," he said, voice coming out thinner than he meant.
"You seem quiet today, Than," she commented, raising an eyebrow at him. "More than usual, anyway. Everything alright?"
"Can I ask a favor?"
She nodded, sipping at her drink.
He studied the pink of her lips and nails, reflecting brightly against the glass of her cup. "Do you remember, a long time ago when you... when you would braid my hair?"
Another nod, encouraging him to continue.
"Would you be willing to braid my hair again? If you still have time on your break?" he asked, running his hand nervously along his gauntlet.
She blinked in surprise. "There's not much there to work with, but sure."
"I'll change it. But just for a little while. I just..." He cleared his throat. "I was feeling nostalgic."
Megaera had a way of telling when Thanatos was in the mood to be teased, and when he his edges were a bit too raw for a harsh touch. And so she gave him a fond smile. "Death feeling nostalgic? What would the mortals say?"
He huffed a laugh. "Is that a yes?"
"Of course, Than. I'd be happy to."
He smiled gratefully at her, and she polished off the last of her drink.
"Yours or mine?" he asked.
"Well, if you're feeling nostalgic, I suppose mine then, right?" she asked.
A sort of bittersweet memory filled him then of the time spent with Megaera when she helped him after he'd been tricked by King Sisyphus. She told him to stop by her little room in Tartarus any time he needed. And he had indeed taken her up on her offer, many times.
She'd always been so considerate, the hard walls of her exterior opening up to him, and easy to talk to then. Just as she was now, he supposed. They would talk often of his worries about work and in turn she'd tell him about her responsibilities weighing on her. And sometimes they had just laughed together, talking about lighter topics.
He smiled. "Yours then."
He held out his hand to her and she took it, and he poofed them to her room. He was instantly hit with the smell of her candles, the only pleasant fragrance in all of Tartarus. He took in the soft blue-gray of the walls, the paper bats strung up above her bed, the painting of her and her sisters on the wall, and the pillow stitched with pink hearts gifted to her from Dusa on the bed. She still had her vanity with her various lip stains, kohl pencils, and extra jewelry piled atop it.
"Would you like the vanity or the bed?" Meg asked.
He pursed his lips. "Do you still have that black polish I like?"
She smiled. "So vanity then?"
He nodded and she motioned for him to sit. She rummaged around and pulled out a little bottle of black nail polish and he felt a grin tugging at his lips. She pulled out her soft brush and then put a hand on her hip expectantly.
"Oh, right," Thanatos remembered.
He studied his reflection in the mirror as he shrugged his hood off. He gathered up a handful of hair in his hands and focused.
Gods are able to change their appearances as they see fit. But he hardly ever changed--why would Death need to take any other form? So it took him a few moments to gently work the strands in his hand, pulling them longer, lengthening them so they trailed down to his chest.
He worked through the other sections of his hair until it was all long, a weight to it that he'd forgotten about.
"Wow, that takes me back," Meg said softly. She picked up a lock and twirled it in her fingers. "Didn't Zag love your hair like this? Why not wear it long more often?"
He blew a strand caught on his lips out of his face. "My work on the surface gets it so tangled. And I just... it doesn't always feel right, I suppose."
She nodded, not needing more of an explanation than that. "It looks nice, but yeah, I understand." She pressed a light kiss to his forehead.
A warmth filled his chest, and he had to look away from the mirror, trying to ignore the gold heating his cheeks.
She laughed and ran her hands through his hair, loosening up the lengths with a few practiced motions.
He almost immediately melted into the touch, the familiar gentle scrape of her nails against him sending a relaxed shiver down his spine. It felt like he was in a memory more than the present, it had been so long since she did this for him.
"Don't fall asleep on me," she teased, and he hadn't even realized he'd closed his eyes. She ran her brush through the ends, smoothing them all in place.
"Right," he said, blinking. He shucked off his gauntlet and then opened up the little bottle of polish. He got to work painting his nails, and she started sectioning out his hair.
"Over or under?" she asked.
"Hm, under," he said.
She hummed and wove the strands underneath on each pass, starting from the top and adding hair at each turn. He let out a little contented hum.
"Do you remember the time I asked you what your favorite color was?" Meg asked.
He rolled his eyes, smiling. "Oh, gods, yes, I said pink, didn't I? I'm sure you knew why I said that."
"You'd been staring at me in the mirror for who knows how long, yes," she teased. "I thought that was really sweet."
"Of course. And that happens to be my favorite color as well. Have you ever seen me not wear pink on my lips since then?"
He hadn't. "Well, I wasn't lying. I do enjoy pink. I've always loved how bright your wing is compared to everything else around here."
"Than," she scoffed. "You sound more like Zag. When did that happen?"
He chuckled--she was right, that did sound like something Zag would say. He hid his blush by pretending to closely inspect one of his newly painted nails.
"I suppose he's rubbed off on me a little. I know back when you and I spent time together like this, I would've never been brave enough to give you compliments."
"So Zag's made you foolish?" she said, but there wasn't any sharpness behind her words.
"Is it foolish to say what I think of you?"
Meg's hands in his hair paused. "Hm," she said, "it depends."
"How about 'your hands feel very nice'?"
The hands continued, nearly brushing the nape of his neck now. "Not foolish."
"What about 'I wish I'd been brave, before'?"
She met his eyes in the mirror. "I'm glad you weren't."
He blinked. "What do you mean?"
"We were a mess back then, Than. You had so much you were working through, I was still finding my footing in my job... it wouldn't have been good then. For either of us. No, I think things fell into place for us at a much better time."
Thanatos swallowed, and knew there was truth to her words. Sometimes he felt like he's missed out on time with her ever since they vaguely drifted apart from their old closeness. But maybe that had to happen in order for them to be drawn back together, with Zagreus' help?
Meg continued. "Besides, it's not like you to dwell on things we can't change."
He gave her a rueful smile. "Zag's doing, once more."
She laughed. "True. Hey, those look really nice."
He held up his fingers for her to inspect, a flicker of pride in his chest. Meg said the compliment casually, but it still was sweet to hear.
"Here, Dusa taught me something, hang on," Meg said, finishing up the last twists of his braid. She tied it with a little black ribbon, and he realized it was the very same one that she had often used on his hair.
The weight of the braid on his back was comforting, all the length of his hair neatly tucked back into place. He felt... pretty.
Meg bustled about the vanity, shaking him from his thoughts. With a smile, she pulled out tiny pieces of bits of metal jewelry, some with little silvery skulls that caught his eye.
She held aloft a little bottle of some sort of adhesive. "So, look, we can add these to your nails if you like. You want some little skulls?"
Thanatos nodded eagerly, but was caught up on one factor. "You said Dusa taught you this, for fingernail polish?"
Meg shrugged. "I didn't pry. And it works."
He pursed his lips, but didn't push it. He made sure to offer up his left hand that wouldn't be covered by his gauntlet when he worked.
She showed him how to lightly brush on the glue. And then carefully, she placed the tiny metal piece on top. Thanatos loved the way it caught the light as he moved his hand.
A few more little silvery studs were added, and he couldn't keep the grin off his face.
"Thanks, Meg. And pass along my thanks to Dusa as well."
"No worries, I'll have to thank her too. I haven't seen you smile like that in some time."
He bit his lip, embarrassed. She laughed and pressed a kiss to the hand she was still holding.
"You look like you feel nice," she explained.
"I do," he said, tugging the braid forward and running his hands along the bumps. "This was really nice."
"We'll have to do this more often."
He let out a sigh and nodded. He had to return to work soon.
"I'm going to keep it long for just a bit," he decided, pulling his hood back up.
"You could show Zagreus. I bet he'd pounce on you the moment he saw it."
Thanatos briefly considered it. He raised a playful eyebrow at Meg. "Why aren't you pouncing on me?"
Her eyes widened with surprise, and a grin broke out on her face. "I think I can be persuaded to amend my mistake." She put a hand on her hip, close to the whip at her side.
He relished in the idea for just a second, but regretfully knew he couldn't right now. "I've got to get going, I'm way behind on work. Next time, though?"
She nodded, understanding. "Next time."
"Thanks again, Megaera," he said, calling forth his scythe and shifting himself to his next assignment.