Zagreus rarely slept, this much was a well known fact about the Prince. Hell, even the narrator pointed it out every so often.
He typically only slept in post-coital bliss, when the gnawing feeling of loneliness is kept at bay by warm arms around him.
Sometimes even that isn’t enough and when he wakes up alone, he curls in on himself to try and preserve the body heat in the blankets.
Zagreus fills his room with things, gems spent lavishly in all corners of the House to try and find some crumb of happiness in taking control of his surroundings.
The lounge where Megaera likes to rest is made more comfortable, inviting one to come in and stay longer than one really ought to.
The seating area he bought for Thanatos has been unused since he commissioned it.
He tells himself he’s selfish, greedy, taking all he can in his fists before realizing he’s crushed something so precious to him. Chiding himself is the only way to stave off the loneliness inside of him, sometimes.
Even with his mother filling a hole in his heart, he can’t help but feel the cavern that Thanatos leaves behind. Zagreus swears the time between visits is getting longer, and the actual visits even shorter.
With no sense of time, Thanatos could be just a few runs away, or dozens, and Zagreus had to consciously fight off the deep loss that arose every time he came back from the Styx, finding no Thanatos.
“I saw him three runs ago, and it had only been eight before that,” Zagreus is practicing his lyre, but his heart isn’t in it. Counting runs is the only way he can concretely tell the time, but going out again feels like it’s lengthening the time he has until he can see Than again.
He’s antsy, he can’t sit here much longer. He feels the weight of nothing pressing in on him.
Zagreus springs to his feet, shakes his head, and announces to no one, “No, none of that, mate!”
“It’s fine, it’s just been a few runs, not too many. He’s got his duties and all,” Zagreus murmurs as he grabs Stygius, the pierced butterfly already pinned to his chiton in hopes of it somehow drawing Thanatos closer to him.
The pacts of punishment he heaps on increase the amount of enemies he faces, their damage increased, defenses stronger, all in hopes of Thanatos showing up again.
Zagreus could never be mad at Thanatos, no no no. He has his duties and they’re fundamentally important to the natural order of things, and who is Zagreus to stand in the way of that?
Meg’s there, Meg’s always there, and as horribly selfish as it makes him feel, it’s not enough. She’s not the same as Thanatos, and that’s something they all understand. Thanatos fills a place in his heart Megaera could never, and vice versa.
He needs them both. Needs them like a mortal needs oxygen, or food.
He can’t have them both, it seems.
“You know, I haven’t seen Thanatos in a long while. Evidently there’s a plague ripping through an army,” Megaera says over a glass of ambrosia.
Even though it’s the most decadent drink of the gods, the words make it taste like ash to Zagreus, as if he got gut punched, “...It’s been far too long.”
Megaera picks up on this, and even if her expression doesn’t quite change, she tacts on, “I’m sure he’ll find his way to you soon enough, if only to stop you throwing yourself through the Underworld.”
“Hey now, it’s my job to do that!” Zagreus jokes, but the smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
When he sees Thanatos in Elysium Zagreus is so elated he throws himself at Death, hugging him so hard he could have cracked ribs.
Thanatos is not so cruel as to push him off, not when he can feel the deep need in the embrace. He needs it too, needs to imprint Zagreus over his body so they can always be together, no matter how taxing his duties have become.
He wishes he could shirk the whole mess off on some other bastard. He fears he may be giving some of his worries to Zagreus, and shoves them deep inside of himself.
Zagreus is here, he has not gone, there is nothing for Thanatos to worry about. He won't up and leave without a trace, leaving a pit in Thanatos' stomach. He knows the hypocrisy of that statement, and knows he is the most blessed god to have a part of Zagreus' heart. He'll never, ever take advantage of him for that big, beautiful heart of his.
But he doesn't know how to say it, not like that. So he says it another way.
“I’m sorry it took me so long, Zag. I’ll try not to take so long next time.”
“It’s alright, I know it’s just your job.” Zagreus murmurs into his chiton, despite it being uncomfortable with all of the armor Thanatos is sporting, he needs to commit everything about the god to memory.
It wasn’t alright, but Thanatos let himself pretend that it was.
“I’ll see you back at the House, Zag.”
“I’d love nothing more, Than.”
Despite being in excellent health, Zagreus dies of Satyr poison in the first tunnel he enters, because he can put up with a little failed run to make sure that Thanatos is there on his ledge.
He doesn’t want to sleep, when they’re laying in his chambers, tracing the pattern of Thanatos’ spine with his fingertips reverently.
Zagreus knows he’ll wake up alone.
Zagreus sort of wished someone would get mad at him.
He wished that Thanatos would appear as he accidentally stepped on a trap, tsking in that way he did that Zagreus ought to be more careful.
He wished that Megaera would call him out as he purposefully rushed through her attacks to get in a few precise hits.
The butterfly pin is almost useless when Zagreus turns up the heat too high, too fast, and is sent swirling down the Styx before he can even reach Meg.
He tries three more times, and when Hypnos comments, “Wow! You’d think you got reset to your first attempts with how early you’re dying!” Zagreus nearly bursts into tears in front of the entire House.
The entire House, of course, except Thanatos.
His spot is empty, as it has been for well over twenty runs.
Perhaps it was the wrong tactic. Perhaps he needs to be very, very careful, as perfect as possible to see Thanatos again.
The pin glows strong for chamber after chamber (after adjusting the pacts of punishment, of course) and Zagreus is moving carefully. His time doesn’t even suffer very much, even as he’s careful, opting to use his shield now as well.
Megaera’s not an idiot. She knows that Zagreus, big hearted Zagreus is hurting something terrible. But she also knows better than to try and tell him that outright.
She’s not… she’s not good at that kind of thing, and she knows any attempt she makes to comfort Zagreus would be a mess.
When he enters her chamber with hardly a scratch on him, she feels a sort of pride, mixed with something else she cannot name, “You’re looking considerably less worse of wear than you usually are.”
Zagreus genuinely brightens at that, “Thanks, Meg, I’m just… trying to be more mindful, I suppose.”
“That’s a new one,” she grins, instead of scoffs, and they’re off.
He avoids her volleys and whip with an anxious gate, instead of a mindful one, like he claims. And when she does land a hit, he winces as if something much deeper than flesh is harmed as the glow of his butterfly pendant is dimmed.
When Megaera emerges from the Styx, she too has a tiny grain of nerves deep in her gut, but she’s able to shake off the secondhand sensation far better than Zagreus could.
When Zagreus comes back, it was exposure to the cold that killed him, supposedly.
But he really hadn’t had the energy to do much more than walk mindlessly through the snow, until he was so overtaken by frostbite that he deliriously wondered if he could get Thanatos to appear by just laying down and accepting his fate.
It didn’t work, obviously.
The Prince knew (was convinced) that Thanatos valued duty over all else, that’s why he had to keep going forward, keep performing his job as head of security.
He even spent some time combing through paperwork in the administrative chambers, formulating plans for how best to escape.
Better times, harder pacts.
It really, truly wasn’t Thanatos’ fault that he was so busy. There were more morals than ever, and more death as well. He couldn’t simply put it aside.
Zagreus saw the pain in Thanatos’ eyes whenever he apologized for keeping him so long, and decided that his own pain wasn’t worth the trouble.
Would he still be the same when Thanatos reappeared? He honestly couldn’t remember how many runs had passed since he’d seen Death last.
In the end, nothing he did truly mattered. The dead kept dying, Zagreus kept spiraling just a little closer to insanity, to true desperation, to simply wanting it to end.
And then he would see Thanatos again, arriving with that familiar green glow, a soft look in his eyes reserved only for Zagreus.
His heart would swell as he said his lover’s name, feeling full for the first time in ages.
Thanatos makes that small smile of himself, feeling immense relief that Zagreus is still here, still his, the gnawing guilt in his gut subsiding just a bit just as Zagreus’ crushing loneliness lifts.
They promise themselves to each other in any way possible, clutching tight to precious time they had.
Thanatos would get pulled away to his duties, both telling themselves it won't be that long, this time.
And they would do it all again.