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trying to return the sun

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The rush of combat is incomparable, heady and intoxicating in a way that not even the finest of ambrosia can compare to. On occasion, Ares remains behind, glorying with the warriors drunk on bloodlust and exultant with their victory. Doom and chaos accompany him everywhere he goes, wreaking havoc in their wake.

Where war goes, death follows. But it is not until today that Ares is at last graced with a glimpse of his face.

A god lingers on the edge of the carnage. He appears young at first glance, but his piercing gaze is as ancient as the stars in the heavens. Dressed in the fine armor of his station, he is stately and composed in a way Ares can never hope to be. Ares is made of violence and fury, so unlike Death and the scythe he wields with such precision.

When Ares takes a step toward him, he tenses visibly – even in midair, he has the look of a hunted animal ready to bolt.

Ares stops in his tracks. He understands. He is a thing to be feared. Reviled, even. He removes his helmet and places a hand over his chest, bowing low.

“A pleasure to meet you at last,” Ares says quietly. “Lord Thanatos.”

Thanatos freezes, and a strange expression Ares cannot name crosses his stern features. “Lord Ares,” he replies, and inclines his head in turn. “My work here is done.”

He says nothing more – he turns away, concealing his face behind a fold of his dark hood, and in a flash of green light, he is gone, death’s knell echoing in Ares’ ears.

It is the first time they meet, but it is far from the last.

Thanatos does not always reveal himself, and even less often does he deign to speak to Ares. Far be it from him to hold it against Death Incarnate, who doubtless has duties that call him beyond the demands of war. Still, Ares cannot help but loiter after every battle now, until the war horns still reverberating in the air fade into a deafening silence.

It is odd, the way his chest tightens at the slightest flash of unearthly green light, a look flicked uncaringly in his direction by a pair of golden eyes. Ares is one of the greatest of the gods, fathered by the Lord of Olympus himself, and yet he is undone by a glance, a few perfunctory words.

It is ridiculous – but perhaps it isn’t, not really, not when war and death are so closely bound that they are inextricable.

He wonders sometimes what it would be like to stand closer to Thanatos, a mere arm’s length away. Close enough to see the pale eyelashes resting against the sculpted cheekbones, close enough to smooth away the ever-present crease between Death’s brows with his fingers.

(Ares would never, of course – he already knows his untamed hands aren’t meant to handle anything other than a blade or a spear, let alone something as delicate as gentle Death.

But he can’t help but wonder, because there are days when Death stays, unbidden, even when his scythe has already swung in its usual precise arc. Golden eyes fixed on Ares, burning with a heat he feels even from afar.)

“Lord Thanatos,” Ares says, doing his best to blunt the harshness of his voice. “How goes your work these days?”

“Well enough,” Thanatos says shortly. “You know as well as I do how it is with these mortals.”

(Is it Ares’ imagination, or has Death consented to drift a little closer today, despite the stink of blood and carnage that clings to him?)

“True,” Ares agrees, and inclines his head courteously.

(He treats no one but Thanatos with such deference. He could do better than this if Thanatos would let him. He would kneel in worship, if only Thanatos allowed it.)

“I ask only because…” he hesitates.

(It is only with Thanatos that his courage fails him.)

“You seem quite busy as of late,” he says at last. His best attempt at tact, as though he isn’t already acutely aware that Thanatos has a thousand other places to be. “More so than usual, if you will forgive me for saying so.”

Thanatos holds his gaze for a long moment, golden eyes searching his face. “I – I have had to contend with many things lately,” he says quietly. “War, as always. But lately, also famine. I’m sure you are… aware.”

Ares does know of Lady Demeter’s latest work, perhaps even more than Thanatos does.  

He dares to take a step closer. This time, Thanatos doesn’t even flinch. Ares counts it as a victory.

“Tell me,” he says, and extends his palms toward Death. “Is there something I can do to ease your burden? You have only to say the word.”

(He does not miss the way the golden eyes drop to his mouth, the thin lips parting as though to speak.)

Thanatos says nothing. After a long moment, he turns his face away, his starlit hair concealing the exhaustion in his eyes. “There is nothing,” he says in a low voice. “I… I must go, Lord Ares.”

“Of course,” Ares says, and lingers where he stands long after the toll of the bell has faded away.

--

His lord father is angry. Angrier than Ares has seen him in a long time.

Lord Zeus summons Death to Olympus to receive his orders, but Ares cannot stay. There is a war being fought on the coastline of Troy, and he must go.

(He consoles himself with the thought that he will run into Thanatos again, sooner or later. Death is inescapable, after all.)

--

There is something wrong.

A human takes a spearhead straight through the chest. A mortal wound that should have left him dead on the spot, his blood spilled on the grass. But somehow, he stays on his feet and keeps fighting despite the iron piercing his heart.

Something is wrong, and Ares doesn’t understand what it is.

But it isn’t long before he realizes – no one on this battlefield is dying.

For the first time, worry burrows its way into Ares’ heart, making a home for itself when the skirmish ends without a single body left decomposing on the ground. Somehow, every man limps home alive, many with wounds so grievous that Ares cannot fathom how they are still standing.

--

Death subsists on far more than war.

But what is war without death?

--

“Where is he,” Ares growls at Hermes, who’s fluttering nervously over a field covered with blood, bereft of a single corpse. “I should report him to my lord uncle for this gross neglect of his duties –”

“Look, coz, Thanatos is busy, the same as we all are,” Hermes interjects. “But between us, this needs to be looked into.” He shakes his head. “I mean, sure, we’ve covered for him before, he’s got way too much on his plate if you ask me, but this time…” He trails off, a small frown settling between his brows. “Something about this doesn’t seem right, you know what I mean?”

--

The absence of death unsettles Ares enough that it becomes intolerable. He extends himself beyond the scope of the battlefield, searching, searching. Death leaves traces familiar enough to Ares that he can track him down the way a hunter would track prey.

He can sense it now that he’s actively looking – there is a disturbance, some shift in the fabric of the mortal world. A rift he finds in Ephyra, hidden in the deepest cellar of a king’s deserted palace. Ares enters, his feet carrying him lower and lower into its depths, until at last, he finds what he is searching for.

(Ares would not have recognized him, if he had not already felt Thanatos’ absence as keenly as his presence.)

A god kneels on the ground, chains glowing a dull gold – they are the chains of Death, and they hold Death himself captive, his wrists held tightly behind his back, a golden shackle around his neck in a cruel mockery of his usual armor.

“Lord Thanatos,” Ares breathes, shocked. “Who has done this to you?”

Thanatos lifts his head and screams, a howl of pure agony that ricochets around the tiny cellar, his many wings beating against the walls in a vain attempt to free himself. Green light flickers sporadically, the dying embers of a flame.

The chains are keeping him from shifting fully, Ares realizes in horror. Thanatos is trapped in a frightening half-form, somewhere in between his divinity and his chthonic self. Like this, he is all wide golden eyes and starlit feathers, teeth and claws sharper than daggers in a sea of darkness and stardust, but he is still in his god-shape – Ares can just make out the trembling lines of Thanatos’ mouth, the contours of muscle that the elegant grey chiton leaves bare.

He’s been straining against his own chains so long that his wrists and ankles are dripping with ichor.

Ares is abruptly, incandescently furious.

He lets go of his usual shape, allows himself to take on his godly form, flooding the darkest corners of the cellar with his power. The frenzy of destruction barely held back, a blade’s sharp edge away from destroying everything in the immediate vicinity.

Thanatos, he says, his voice a low rumble that shakes the very foundations of the palace, I will free you from your chains, if you will let me.

Death wails, an unearthly, primordial screech that sets Ares’ teeth on edge, as though his screaming is coming from somewhere deep within the bowels of the earth.

He moves closer, but Thanatos only screams louder, a storm of star-dusted feathers swirling through the cellar as his wings beat fruitlessly against the unforgiving stone, the manacles clinking ominously.

Thanatos’ fear distresses Ares, and the wave of sadness that overcomes him is enough to snuff out the worst of his fury. He pulls the edges of his divinity back toward himself until he is wearing his usual form, the one he presents to the other gods to make himself more palatable. Violence and bloodlust hidden behind the spotless veneer of his polished armor.

(It is not for nothing that he wears the mark of the vulture on his chest.)

“Lord Thanatos,” Ares says wearily, and falls to his knees.

He sets his swords down on the ground first.

Thanatos has stopped screaming. All his wide eyes are fixed on Ares in an unblinking stare.

When he begins to tug at the straps of his breastplate, only then does he realize that his fingers are trembling. He had meant only to show Thanatos that he intends him no harm – even his armor is sharp at the edges, offensive as well as defensive.

But now, Ares has never felt so exposed, his chest rising and falling in quick, uneven breaths he doesn’t need to take. He fumbles with the buckles, painfully aware of Death and his watchful gaze, and his hand slips against the razor-sharp edge of a bladed shoulder piece.

Ichor drips from his fingers as Thanatos lets out a soft hiss. Ares grits his teeth as he unclasps his cape with its jagged edges, allowing it to drop to the ground behind him. He lifts the breastplate over his head, leaving unsightly streaks of gold on its gleaming white surface as he sets it down on top of his weapons.

With shaking fingers, Ares reaches for his crown of laurels, a wreath keen enough to cut. He lays it on top of his breastplate, the cruel black leaves in stark contrast against his armor. He resists the urge to wrap his arms around himself, laid bare as he is before Thanatos’s piercing gaze, in nothing but the thin white chiton he wears beneath his armor.

“I beg you, O Death,” he says, “allow me to approach. I wish only to free you, and nothing more.”

Thanatos says nothing, only watches him with those golden eyes of his.

“Lord Thanatos,” Ares says, and inches forward on his knees. He holds out his hands where Thanatos can see them, his palms empty. A supplicant at his patron’s altar. He does not know what he can offer – he is all ferocity and blunt words and boorish touch, but for Thanatos, he will try. “Please,” he whispers.

Thanatos’ fingers twitch wordlessly against the cold stone. Ares is so close now that he can see the way his skin shimmers between star-filled darkness and ashen brown, sees the drops of moisture that are clinging to his lashes.

Ares, Thanatos’ voice echoes quietly from somewhere beneath the stone floor, and for a moment, the chains glow a little brighter, Ares –

“Hush,” Ares says, and reaches up to touch the shackle at Thanatos’ throat. His eyes widen, but he holds himself still. “It will be alright,” Ares promises, his throat tightening at the fear shining in Thanatos’ eyes. “Allow me.”

Ares closes his eyes and concentrates, reaching out with his power to feel the shape and form of the chains. He knows better than to try and break them, but perhaps, just perhaps… he cups his hand around the golden shackle and lets his power flow through, letting all his carnage and violence feed steadily into the manacles.

It takes every last bit of Ares’ strength before Death’s chains are satisfied with his offering.

At last, they loosen and fall with a deafening clang to the stone floor. Thanatos shudders, and without warning, he collapses against Ares’ chest.

Ares is exhausted, barely able to move, but he gathers Thanatos’ shaking form against him and tries to hold him as carefully as he can. It is so difficult to be gentle when all of him is made of war-torn rage and careless strength – and right now, he barely even has enough of himself left to hold his corporeal form. He lets Thanatos struggle to stitch himself back together in his arms, lets him dig his claws deep enough into Ares’ skin to draw ichor, his body of endless night and starstuff flickering with eyes and wings and needle-sharp fangs until he can remember how to hold his shape once more.

A golden-eyed god lies pressed against Ares, trembling with fear and exhaustion.

“Ares,” he says hoarsely, his fingers curling into the white chiton, “Ares –”

“Hush. You’re alright. You’re safe now, I promise,” Ares says, trying to calm him. “You must tell me who did this.”

“S-Sisyphus, the mortal king,” Thanatos says, a shudder running through his body. “Lord Zeus, he…”

“Now I remember,” Ares says, the fury already beginning to build in his chest despite his fatigue, the tang of bloodlust already heavy on his tongue. Just a moment longer, he thinks, closing his eyes, pulling Thanatos closer. His wrists and ankles are sore and bleeding – Ares wishes he could do something, but he does not know how to heal, only how to destroy. There is a king he has to track down, but for now, Ares has his lord to attend to.

“I’ll take you back to the Underworld,” he says. “Let me take care of this for you.”

“Wait, I –”

“No objections this time,” Ares says as firmly as he can, and lifts Thanatos into his arms with the last of his strength.

--

What Ares loves most about his sanctuary in Thrace is that none of the other gods know where it is.

He collapses on his bed and dreams.

(The boatman lifts the god of death into a boat and exhales a wordless groan. There is purple fog flowing from his mouth. Ares is not versed in their chthonic tongue, but he fancies that perhaps it is something like gratitude, for returning his brother to the banks of the Styx after dispatching the king with extreme prejudice.

The rest of his dreams are filled with starlight and darkness, golden chains and eyes, ashen brown skin pressed against his chest, burning tears falling like rain on his shoulder, a hand gripping a fold of his chiton, unwilling to let go.

Cool fingertips on his forehead, carefully smoothing his hair. A shadowy figure in greys and golds hovering above him.)

When Ares finally regains consciousness, he blinks his eyes open to find a silver-haired god framed by the doorway, hovering just inside his room.

“Lord Thanatos,” Ares says, his voice muzzy with sleep, and makes to get up. “My apologies –”

“No.” A gentle hand guides him back against the pillows. Thanatos is squinting, as though he’s in pain.

“Are you alright?” Ares asks, trying to push away the drowsiness.

“I am,” Thanatos says, the crease in his forehead deepening. “Being on the surface – it’s very different from the Underworld, that is all.”

His eyes dart to the open windows, the light of the noonday sun spilling into the room. Ares waves a hand tiredly, and the curtains shut of their own accord, leaving the room banked in darkness, thin strips of sunlight cutting across the bed.

“I – thank you,” Thanatos murmurs, “you didn’t need to do that.”

“I would have you comfortable here, Lord Thanatos,” Ares says. “I’m not sure how you found me, but I must apologize for not being a better host.”

“I was the one who barged in,” Thanatos objects, before he turns away, letting out a tsch that Ares has heard many times before – he has long figured out that it is his way of expressing frustration, annoyance, displeasure, a thousand different emotions all at once. “Forgive me, Lord Ares,” he says haltingly. “Words are… difficult for me, at times. I did not mean to intrude on your rest, only... my brothers spoke of you to me, and I wished to know that you were recovering well.”

A small smile rises to Ares’ lips. He should have known there was no hiding his dreams from Sleep Incarnate. “Even gods must rest sometimes,” he says. “Even you. As I hope you did, after your ordeal.”

“I did,” Thanatos says, and his lips curl downward at the corners. “You should not have –”

“But I did,” Ares interrupts, “and I would do it again, a thousand times over.”

“No,” Thanatos says, and his fists clench at his sides. He takes a deep breath. “The past few days, you have barely stirred. I thought… I thought –”

“All is well.”

Ares turns his hand palm up on the bedclothes. A silent invitation, but an invitation, nevertheless. It asked nothing of Thanatos, he could easily ignore it if he so wished – but his weight settles on the bed almost at once, his unarmored hand enveloping Ares’ in his own.

“I’m sorry to have worried you,” Ares murmurs. “You have… been here?”

“Tsch.” To Ares’ great surprise, a pretty golden blush is staining Thanatos’ pale cheeks, visible even in the dimmed light. “As I said, I wished to know you were recovering well.”

“I am. But I appreciate it dearly,” he says, and for a moment, his weary hand grips Thanatos’ tighter. “I wish to see how your injuries have healed, if you would show me.”

The strange look he sees Thanatos wear sometimes crosses his face for an instant. “Certainly,” he says at last, and pulls his hand from Ares’.

Ares only has a moment to regret the loss, but he is all too quickly distracted at the sight of Thanatos unfastening his bejeweled gauntlet to bare the skin of his other hand to Ares’ gaze, his wrists whole once more.

“Good,” Ares says with a sigh of relief. “I am glad.”

To his surprise, Thanatos lowers the cowl from his head and unfastens the cloak, allowing it to drop from his shoulders onto the bed along with the winged pauldron on his shoulder. “I would have you see I am recovered,” he says, but the small tremor in his voice does not escape Ares, who frowns. He raises a hand and takes Thanatos’, stilling his movement.

“You do not have to show me, if you do not want to.”

“I do,” Thanatos says at once, “I – I do,” he repeats, more quietly, hesitant now, ducking his head so that his eyes are shielded by silver hair. “That is… if you would look upon me, I – I…”

Ares turns Thanatos’s cheek toward him, as gently as he can. “Please. Show me.”

He lets his hand drop back against the bedclothes, watching as Thanatos tugs at the straps of the ornate gorget, lifting it off and placing it on the small table next to the bed. Ares wonders how he can bear to put it on after the weight of the golden shackle around his neck.

Thanatos’ shoulders rise and fall in a ragged breath as he raises his chin, baring his throat for Ares’ inspection. “Fully healed,” he says quietly, taking Ares’ hand and lifting it to his neck. Ares sees how Thanatos’ eyelashes flutter when Ares drags his rough fingertips slowly over the fine skin of his throat, his prominent collarbones.

“I am glad,” Ares says again. His mouth is very dry.

“My legs too,” Thanatos says, and his hands are already pulling up the hem of his gold-edged chiton before Ares stops him, grasping his wrist firmly.

“What are you doing?”

“I…” For a moment, Thanatos’ nerve seems to fail him before he steels himself once more. “You wished to see that I was free from injury, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Ares says, “but you are not obliged to –”

“I know,” Thanatos breaks in, “I know, but –” He takes another deep, shuddering breath. “I, I want to,” he says under his breath, “I want you to look at me.” In the half-light, his eyes are glowing slightly. Embers being fanned into flame. “To know if you might find me pleasing.”

Ares exhales sharply. “Thanatos.”

He stiffens, turning his face away. “Have I overstepped? Forgive me, I had not intended… I, I should go –”

“Thanatos,” Ares repeats, taking his hand. “You do not need to try. You must know I already find you pleasing.”

“Even after –” Thanatos’ voice fails him suddenly, and only then does Ares understand. Even after you saw me, monstrous and unformed, incapable of speech –

“Of course,” Ares says, his brows knitting together. “It changes nothing. If I were to be honest…” he pauses, tries to find a way to put it more delicately, you think you have seen what I am made of, the bloodshed and wrath and destruction, but you have not seen the worst of me –

“If I might hazard a guess at your thoughts,” Thanatos says, and Ares is surprised to see the ghost of a smile hovering about the corners of his lips, “you and I, we are not so different from each other, are we?”

“Perhaps,” Ares allows. “They fear you, but only because they do not know you, gentle Death. They see only the regalia of your station and miss entirely how beautiful you are under your cowl.” Thanatos makes an embarrassed noise and tries to hide his face, but Ares holds fast. “Show me whatever you wish,” he says quietly. “Be it yourself as you are now, or your true shape… it matters not to me.” He presses his lips to the knuckles that had been bloody and raw just a few days past. “You will always be pleasing in my eyes.”

Thanatos is gazing at him as though he can hardly believe his ears. Ares privately thinks he wouldn’t be surprised if Thanatos simply vanished right there and then.

He waits for the toll of the bell, the flash of green light, but neither are forthcoming.

Instead, Thanatos glances down at their entwined fingers and appears to gather what’s left of his resolve. “Then… I would have you look at me as I am now,” he says, his voice rough. He lets go of Ares once more to unbuckle the belt of skulls, to unclasp the golden pin that holds his chiton in place. Ares can sense his discomfort at being watched, yet he had asked to be beheld – Ares thinks he might understand what he must feel.

Somehow, Thanatos manages to be graceful despite his embarrassment, his slender fingers deftly tugging his ornaments free. The silken chiton falls, baring Thanatos from the waist up, the strips of sunlight catching on the outline of his chest, the firm planes of his shoulders. Ares has to draw a shaky breath, his fingers closing tightly around a fold of his blanket. He watches Thanatos draw his leggings down, stepping out of his clothes and leaving them on the floor.

“Thanatos,” Ares breathes. “Do you truly have no idea how beautiful you are?”

He makes a noise of protest but settles back down on the bed. “You… you may do more than look. If you like.”

For a moment, Ares is almost afraid to reach out. His touch would only mar Thanatos’ perfection, his hands were made only to wield weapons and viciousness – but Thanatos takes his hand, lays it on his bare thigh. Ares bites back a groan at how firm the rippling muscle is under his palm. Thanatos’ hands are work-hardened and callused like his own, but the rest of him is delicate, finer than silk.

Ares huffs out a laugh. “You may be gentle, but you are cruel to present yourself like this to me when I am barely able to move.”

“No matter,” Thanatos says with the beginnings of a smile on his face, “allow me, this time.”

He leans down and kisses Ares, hesitant at first, but when Ares’ tongue brushes against his lower lip, he lets out a sigh and presses himself more closely against Ares, parting his lips to allow Ares to explore his mouth.

“Thanatos,” Ares says, his voice a harsh rasp when Thanatos breaks the kiss, “you are actually going to kill me.”

“Shall I stop?”

“Don’t you dare,” Ares snarls, and pulls him in for another kiss, pouring in all the desire he has felt for countless eons for this god, now so pliant and willing in his bed.

“Ares,” Thanatos gasps. “I would see you too, if you would let me.”

Before he finishes speaking, Ares is already tugging impatiently at the chiton knotted on his shoulder, and Thanatos chuckles, helping him pull it over his head with gentle fingers.

Lying here, still greatly weakened and completely uncovered under the intensity of Thanatos’ stare, Ares almost wants to pull the blanket over himself once more.

“Am I pleasing to you, Lord Thanatos?”

It takes Thanatos a moment to answer – he licks his lips before fixing Ares with a stare that pins him down. “I have never wanted like this before you,” he says, his voice grating in his throat as he climbs on top of Ares, “never, never –”

His words are cut off by a groan when Ares pulls him down, grinding their hips together. Here is all the proof Ares could ask for – Thanatos is hard against him, smearing moisture against his thigh.

“Gods,” Ares groans, “Thanatos, you –”

He tries to sit up and finds that he is unable to do so without assistance. Thanatos helps prop him up against the pillows so that he is leaning against the headboard, something suspiciously like a smirk on his lips the entire time.

“I can’t help but think that you did this on purpose,” Ares says, raising an eyebrow as Thanatos climbs onto his lap, “waited until I was exhausted and pounced –”

Thanatos laughs, clear and sweet. Ares wants to hear it again, would do anything to hear him laugh just once more. “I must admit this was entirely unplanned, but I’m not complaining in the slightest.”

“Neither am I,” Ares says, smiling. If he wasn’t already completely lost before, he is now, watching Thanatos tracing cool fingers over his chest. If there were anything to complain about, it would be that he cannot kneel and give himself utterly over, to worship Thanatos on his hands and knees. “What would you have of me, my lord?”

He is surprised at how this flusters Thanatos – he buries his face in Ares’ neck with an embarrassed noise. “Touch me,” he says, when he is able to find his words again, “everywhere, all of me –”

“As my lord commands,” Ares says again, just to hear the little sigh of pleasure that escapes Thanatos when he says it, and tilts his face up to kiss Thanatos again, moaning when Thanatos threads his fingers into Ares’ curls. His hands explore Thanatos’ body, but slowly, as gently as he can, running his palms along Thanatos’ flanks, committing the planes of his back to memory, remembering the wings that he keeps so carefully hidden from view.

“Beautiful,” Ares murmurs, pressing his lips against the line of Thanatos’ throat, “beautiful, every inch of you –”

“Ares,” Thanatos groans, but it sounds more like pleasure than protest. “More.

He gropes under his pillows for the bottle of oil he always keeps nearby before closing his slick palm around Thanatos’ straining cock. He cries out, shivering against Ares’ chest.

“Too much?” Ares asks, already withdrawing – but Thanatos grabs his wrist, holds him in place.

“No, no, keep going,” Thanatos says, pulling in drawn-out breaths through his teeth, as though trying to control himself. Ares goes slowly, letting Thanatos set the pace until he’s gasping against Ares’ mouth.

“Wait,” he says at last, stilling Ares’ hand, “not yet, I want… I want –”

“Anything, tell me.”

“In me,” Thanatos whispers, “please –”

Ares leans back against the pillows as Thanatos spreads his thighs wider, exhaling softly as Ares’ fingers dip between the cleft of his ass, circling his entrance.

“This is what you want?”

“Yes,” Thanatos says, “yes, ah –”

His words break off into a gasp as Ares enters him. Slowly, slowly, so slowly that Thanatos squirms in Ares’ lap, chasing his pleasure, begging Ares for more.

Ares is entranced just looking at him. When he curls two fingers in Thanatos, he cries out, so quickly unraveling under Ares’ touch. Beautiful.

“Look at you,” Ares murmurs, his words catching in his throat. All these endless centuries he had been content to look at Thanatos from afar, to make his offerings of war, to treasure the few moments of conversation Thanatos would allow him. But this – he could never have imagined it. He presses a kiss into a pectoral tensed with pleasure, mouths at a nipple until Thanatos pushes him away, shivering.

“Not yet,” he says, his voice ragged at the edges, “I want – I want you –

Ares’ mouth twitches into a smile that he bites back. “You may need a little more than this before you’re ready.”

To his surprise, Thanatos reaches for the bottle of oil, slicking his own hand clumsily. With his other hand, he pulls Ares’ fingers out of him with a gasp.

“You can’t…” He shakes his head and levels Ares with a single glance, his golden eyes blazing. “You have seen me,” he says, and closes his fingers around Ares’ cock, “you’ve seen my true shape, Ares, you know what I am made of and who I am,” he growls, his hand moving now, so skillful that Ares’ eyes close entirely without his permission and he moans aloud, “you will not, cannot break me –”

Before Ares can object, Thanatos has already pushed himself up on his knees. His lips part in anticipation as he maneuvers himself into place and breaches himself on Ares’ cock.

A groan punches its way out of Ares’ throat – Thanatos is slick and still so, so tight that the sheer pleasure of it is edged with pain. Thanatos has stopped breathing entirely, his head thrown back in a soundless cry.

Sharp regret lances through Ares. He is not made to handle beauty as delicate as this, he is a thing of destruction, demolishing everything in his path –

“Ares,” Thanatos sighs, pleasure writ clear on his face, and sinks down a little lower.

His thighs are shaking with the effort of holding himself up. Ares pulls him closer until they’re pressed chest to chest, Thanatos’ weight on him. He lets out a throaty moan in Ares’ ear as he adjusts, pushes himself down a little more. Ares tries to hold himself as still as he can, to let Thanatos go at his own pace, though every inch of him is screaming to move, to have Thanatos take everything he has to give. He feels the shuddering exhale against his skin as Thanatos bottoms out, fully seating himself in Ares’ lap.

“I wish you could see how you look right now, beloved,” Ares murmurs, rubbing a hand up and down Thanatos’ back, trying to soothe him. “Beautiful.

Nnh, Ares…” Thanatos lifts his head and kisses Ares, desperate and hungry. He levers himself up with a hand against the headboard, and the shift in position pushes Ares even deeper into him, making them both moan. “You’re so, so,” Thanatos lifts himself slightly, sinking back down onto Ares with a thin cry, more broken than Ares has heard yet. “Ares –”

“Careful,” Ares admonishes him gently, though the heady pleasure of being buried in Thanatos to the hilt is nearly overwhelming.

“Tsch. I don’t need to be careful.” Thanatos grabs the headboard to steady himself as he pulls himself up higher, lowering himself back down on Ares’ cock, faster now, with his half-lidded eyes fixed on Ares. “I can – I can take it,” he says, the words pushed out of him as he fucks himself down on Ares, again, again, until he’s breathless, utterly wrecked, “Ares, ah, you’re so –”

“So what?” It’s all Ares can do to keep himself steady. Exhausted as he is, he longs for nothing more than to flip Thanatos on his back, to pin him down and take what he wants, but somehow, he restrains himself. Though Thanatos will insist that Ares cannot break him, Ares can feel how brittle he is around the edges.

“So… you,” Thanatos gasps out, his body shuddering with pleasure, “I’ve wanted, I want you, all of you, I have for so long –”

“Then take me,” Ares bites out, forcing himself to keep his eyes open, for Thanatos to look at him and see the truth of his words, “I am yours.”

Thanatos cries out, and his hips stutter, unspooling so quickly under Ares’ gaze that it catches him off-guard. “Ares, tell me –”

“I am yours,” Ares repeats, and it is a promise. “All of me is yours, beloved, always has been –” Thanatos tightens around him with a cry, and it pulls a groan from his throat. “Thanatos, I’m –”

“Yes,” Thanatos says, gripping the headboard with both hands now as he rides Ares, a sharp moan tearing from his chest as Ares closes his fingers around his cock with quick, firm strokes, “yes, nnh, Ares – ”

Thanatos collapses against Ares, crying out and spilling all over his fingers, and the pleasure of him clenching around Ares tips him over the edge, white hot ecstasy overcoming him.

A long moment passes where they are silent, simply pressed against each other as they come down before Ares realizes that the shoulder Thanatos is hiding his face against is damp.

“Oh,” Ares sighs, and cradles Thanatos closer to him, wanting nothing more than to ease his pain, but not knowing how – he only knows how to sow chaos and reap bloodshed. “Was it too much?”

(Was I too much? is at the tip of his tongue, but he knows better by now than to ask a question to which he doesn’t want to hear the answer.)

The pause goes on long enough for Ares to begin to worry, but Thanatos shakes his head, clinging to Ares, pressing himself as close as he can. “It’s not that,” he says, his voice hoarse, “it was… wonderful. You were.”

“Oh,” Ares says, the heat of ichor climbing to his face. Embarrassment is an emotion unfamiliar to him – he clears his throat abruptly before he gets distracted. “Then tell me, what has upset you so?”

“Not upset,” Thanatos mutters against Ares’ neck. “Just… overwhelmed, I suppose.”

“I see,” Ares says, humming thoughtfully. He attempts to reach for his discarded chiton to wipe them clean, but Thanatos whines and clings impossibly tighter. “Come now, beloved, I want you to be comfortable,” he says, pressing a kiss against Thanatos’ temple.

Thanatos shakes his head again. “I know,” he says, and his voice trails off – a beat passes before he speaks again. “Just a little longer,” he says, so quietly that Ares has to strain to hear it even in the silence of the bedroom, “it feels… safe, like this. With you.”

Safe? Ares can’t help the short bark of laughter that escapes him. “That is not a word I have heard anyone use to describe me before, gentle Death,” he says, running his fingers through the short hair at Thanatos’ nape to temper the bluntness of his words. “Recall that my reputation is even worse than yours.”

“I have never feared you.” Thanatos’ fingers grip Ares tightly. “Not in the way you think.”

“Thanatos –”

“Only you could have freed me from my own chains,” Thanatos says, the words barely audible. “I never – I never said thank you.”

Ares exhales, allowing himself one ragged breath before he urges Thanatos to sit up, so that he can look at him properly. Thanatos sighs and relents, reluctantly pulling himself away from Ares, though he keeps his gaze fixed somewhere around the vicinity of Ares’ mouth.

“You do not have to thank me,” Ares says at last. He wonders if Thanatos understands that war cannot be without death. That he exists only because of Thanatos. But that is a conversation for another time. “I only wish you had not suffered so.” He cups Thanatos’ face, wiping away the moisture on his cheek with a thumb. “Or that I had found you sooner.”

Death’s golden eyes are swollen, his face streaked with salt and dampness, shivering slightly. But even like this, he is so beautiful. Perhaps even more so, now that Ares has seen all of him, the strength that he uses to hold all his torn edges together. He takes Thanatos’ hand, and now that he is looking closely, he can see that the manacles have left raised white lines on the slim wrists.

Thanatos looks down, tries to pull his hands away from Ares. “They were divine wounds. And from my own chains,” he mumbles. “I – I could not… they could not be entirely healed –”

Ares presses his lips to the scars before Thanatos can finish speaking. “Do not be ashamed, Thanatos.”

He is angry, so angry that it burns – he is already of half a mind to pay a visit to Tartarus, lend a hand to the Furies as they dole out eternal punishment to the accursed king who had done this to a god so gentle.

“I did my best to make his death worth the pain he caused you,” Ares spits out between his clenched teeth. “Before I delivered his soul to the boatman –”

Thanatos lays the pads of his fingers on Ares’ lips, silencing him. “What’s done is done,” he says, and sighs. “I am also to blame for being so easily taken in… I should have known better.”

Ares knows what he wants to offer is a laughable solution – war cannot follow death, not when it is always the other way around, and not all death is brought by war. Nor would Thanatos take kindly to such a suggestion, when he himself is well trained in combat, though perhaps not as well as Ares. As it stands, Ares can only offer him the next best thing.

“If you wish it, and when you are ready,” Ares says quietly when Thanatos allows him to speak once more, “I would hear the rest of what happened to you. And then… well, we can speak of it then.”

Thanatos says nothing, only turns his head to press his lips against Ares’ palm. Ares doesn’t push him further. But he allows Ares to wipe them clean with the white chiton, and consents to lie down next to Ares, cheek pillowed on his chest.

“I will have to go soon,” Thanatos mutters reluctantly.

Ares’ arms tighten reflexively around Thanatos, but he sighs and relents. “I know. If you must, then go,” he says softly. “But as I said, even gods must rest sometimes. Even you.”

Thanatos is quiet for a long moment. But to Ares’ surprise, he reaches over and pulls the blanket over them both.

“A little while longer,” Thanatos says, and adds under his breath, just loud enough for Ares to hear, “beloved.”