It’s a good thing I don’t need to sleep because I wouldn’t have. I spent the night here in the lounge, drinking, cutting myself on the broken pieces of plans gone horribly wrong. It’s a wonder I have any emotions left to bleed, but I do.
My father…I wince. I don’t even want to call him that anymore. Everything I am, everything that makes me so much his daughter…he called it all into question in front of my family.
Eris…If there ever was a goddess…god…whatever…I wanted to pitch off the top of the Tower, Eris’ name heads the list.
Dinlas…As wrecked as I am, I would normally be at Din’s door by now, drowning my problems in whiskey and inappropriate conversation. But I can’t, because he’s the problem, and I can’t trust myself to be alone with him.
I’m desperate to talk, but no one knows about Dinlas and me. No one except…
I throw back the rest of my drink and speak his name. “Thanatos?”
The shadows behind me speak with Than’s voice as he materializes in the lounge of the Tower. He sits down on the sofa next to me, reaching inside his cloak for his pipe and placing it in his mouth. I’m a little disappointed when he doesn’t light it. The scent is soothing to me, another note in the complex perfume of Death. He chews on his pipestem as he looks at me, still in costume, his onyx eyes taking in my bare feet, bare midriff, bare arms. The small smile he gives me is the lifeline I needed.
In the topsy-turvy hell my world has become, Than is solid, unchanging. I feel my body shake as the emotions surface, as I start to lose control of them. I make the mistake of acknowledging the pain, and it rushes forward, running me down. I’m past caring if anyone sees me cry. That’s how I know it’s bad.
I lean against Than’s shoulder and sob, wordlessly.
Than folds me gently into his embrace. He says nothing as I bury my face against his chest, drenching his singed cloak with hot tears. His arms tighten around me, and I feel his lips touch the top of my head. The room darkens as his wings fold around us, shielding me from prying eyes until my shoulders stop shaking, and my sobs have subsided to sniffles. Only then does he unfurl his wings.
He stares down at me with his obsidian eyes and asks in a soft voice, “Do you feel better now, Kate?”
“Is that how it’s supposed to work? I wouldn’t know.” His lips quirk at the corners, and it makes me smile. “I guess it’s better than holding it in. Everything’s still fucked all to hell, though. The party…It was awful, Than.”
“I’m sorry I missed it, Kate. I’ve been busy fixing Hypnos’ mess out west,” he says. “Zeus wants me to be the face of the OA during these trying times for the mortals and the world at large. It’s funny if you think about it. The one god everyone is afraid of is now the one everyone is talking to. So, tell me. What happened at the party, Kate?”
He draws me close to him again, letting me curl up against him. I rest my head against his shoulder. Every few moments another shudder rolls through my body. Than strokes my shoulders, easing the tension there. I know he felt me stiffen at the mention of Hypnos’ name. It’s been a long time, but it’s all tangled up with this, too. Thanatos…Dinlas…all of that, so many years ago.
“I don’t even know where to start. The party started fine. Everyone seemed happy.” I look up at him, feeling strangely shy. “Hades came.”
Than nods slowly at the sound of his employer’s name. I can tell the memories are hitting him, too, though his ripples are fewer than mine. Thanatos has always been a deep pool on a dark night.
Than reaches up to scratch the scar on his collarbone, one of the last vestiges from the unfortunate dog incident, as he and I call it. “I see. Do you still have feelings for him, Kate?”
He tilts my face up to his. The scant light in the room seems to gather, glinting off the surface of his black eyes. I know he’s searching for the answer to his question, so I let him stare into me, knowing he will protect whatever truth he finds there.
He strokes my cheek gently. “Tell me, Kate. Tell me everything.”
“Things are…changing with Hades.” I laugh, bitter and dark. “It should say something that he’s the least of my problems this morning.”
I take a deep breath and steel myself, trying to figure out where to start. I know Thanatos won’t judge me. He never has. But what I’m about to say…I know the memory it’s going to trigger in him, because it’s the same one I’ve been running from since Dinlas let me go last night.
“Everything was so beautiful last night. Everyone came dressed up. They were smiling. You’d have been proud of me, Thanatos. I…gave people gifts.” His eyebrows raise at that, but he says nothing. “Three of them were special. Persephone, Clio, and…Eris. I told them I’d grant them each a wish at the party. Anything they wanted, within reason. That was probably my first mistake. Trusting people.”
Thanatos snorts with laughter. The sarcasm in his voice is honey-thick. “Granting wishes? Kate, the Genie. Ohhh yes, Master! Ohhh yes, Mistress! Your wish is my command!”
The threatening look on my face has no teeth. I’m trying too hard not to smile. I punch his arm playfully as he licks his lips and tries to pull himself together. It doesn’t work. Next thing I know, we’re both laughing. It feels good. As good as his shoulder feels beneath my cheek.
He squeezes me tight and smirks. “Kate, the Genie, you may continue your story. That is my wish.”
I resist the urge to punch him again. I’m not going to live that down anytime soon.
“It was a themed party, Than. I was being clever. Just…not in the smart meaning of the word. I’ll come back to the lamps. After the gifts, Eros suggested we play Spin the Bottle. You know, that game mortals play when they need an excuse to kiss each other? Except Eros, being Eros, decided to make it Spin The Arrow. Because he’s a dick.”
“Continue, Genie Kate,” he says in his Master voice.
“Well, it started tame enough, tame enough for an Eros suggestion, anyway. Then, Eros told me it was my turn. I hadn’t planned on playing, but I did, to shut him up. There are few things in this world that make me nervous, and kissing doesn’t make the list.” I pause as a tremor runs through me. I tighten the core of my body, shutting it down. “Or it didn’t make me nervous. Until the arrow landed on Din.”
“Din? Oh, no. Mother wasn’t there, was she?” Thanatos asked.
“No, thank Gaea, Nyx wasn’t there.”
I look down at the floor and grab hold of the words, knowing I’m going to have to force them out of my mouth. Speaking it out loud is going to make it real. Not that it’s any less real for my silence—everyone fucking knows. They saw. Hell, Eros took a goddamn picture.
“Dinlas tried to back out of it, said he wasn’t playing,” I explain. “But Eros just kept egging him on. The longer we argued about it, the more it looked like we were hiding something. Anyway, we decided to just get it over with, and…”
“And?” he asks gently.
And…I’m crying again. Not like before, just hot tears that seem to dry on my face as fast as they fall. “We haven’t…done that…not once s-since…not in all this time.”
Again, Than pulls me tight to him, tucking my head beneath his chin. My arms are locked around him as waves of emotion crash over me. I cling to him like a rock in the storm, so I don’t drown. He rocks me back and forth like a child–and I am a child to him, I suppose, young as I am compared to him.
“I can’t stop thinking about it, Than. I’ve been on the run from that memory for so long, I’ve just gotten used to not staying in the same place long enough for it to catch up with me. And it caught me last night. Dinlas caught me.” I take a shuddering breath. “It’s not his fault. I’m not blaming him. But I feel like someone who’s been sober for years and had a single drink, and all I want is to chase him down and get roaring drunk. On him. Which…given Nyx, would get me killed.”
I look up at him again and scrub the tears from my cheek.
“Hades is partially to blame for all of this. He’s got me so upside-down. He wasn’t there to see that, thank Gaea. By all the gods not us, that would have been even worse.” A sudden realization makes me freeze. “Shit, I didn’t even think about that. I’m going to have to tell him. We…it’s getting too serious…not to.”
Thanatos is silent for a long time. He keeps rubbing at the scars on his collarbone, staring at me strangely. He cocks his head to the side and gives me one of those looks Skía gives me when she’s confused by a command I’ve given her. Than clears his throat and stumbles a bit over his words.
“Kate. Missst…Kate.” He licks his lips and takes a breath, shaking his head to clear it. “I am sorry you went through that. But you’re here. Your strength prevailed, you didn’t pursue Din. Maybe…maybe it’s time to stop running, Kate. Tell the tales. Come to grips with it all. Break the walls down. Knowing Mr. Hades, he will laugh it off as a silly child’s game. Because that’s what it was – Eros and his childish games.”
Than draws me tight against him, and I tuck my head back under his chin, inhaling deeply. His scent settles my mind. The words come more easily for it.
“I’ll tell Hades about kissing Dinlas. But…I don’t think I want to tell Hades…everything about the past. As long as it stays secret, it only hurts me. If I tell, it hurts so many others. And I don’t want his pity, Than. If we keep going like this, if we…if he…falls in love with me, I want it to be because of who I am, for me. I don’t want him turning toward me out of pity, or some misplaced sense of obligation.” I pull away and shoot Than a look. “And you know he’s like that. Hades and his goddamn honor.”
“Honor is very important to Mr. Hades,” Than agrees, nodding his head. “But take it from one who knows…secrets, the past, they don’t stay hidden long or well. I learned that from the dead, from the return of my brother. Your past, our past will come to light as all those secrets do. I am not saying this to be mean, Kate. I’m only being honest. As always.”
I want to tell him he’s wrong. That he and I have kept this secret for thousands upon thousands of years, and we can keep it for thousands more. Besides me, Thanatos is the only one that knows everything, beginning to end. He hasn’t told anyone that story out of love for me. Well, that, and some rather visceral memories of the time I turned him into a dog when he got it into his mind that he was going to tell Hades anyway.
I lay my cheek against his chest again and sigh when I feel his chin nestle in on top of my head. Another long silence passes between us, as natural as breathing.
I look up and smile back. “What?”
“Are we going to discuss the heart of the matter here? Or do I need to tell you to look into my eyes? Make you address me by a more proper title.” He smirks, trying to stifle a laugh.
“Don’t you dare! Unless you want to spend a little more time on all fours,” I warn with a grin. “I did just lose two dogs. It could be a temporary assignment.”
Thanatos opens his mouth to speak, but all that comes out is laughter. Soon, I’m laughing, too. I settle back against him, stretching out on the sofa, content to stay here for as long as I can.
In the haven of Thanatos’ arms, the rest of the story comes a little more easily. How Eris used her wish to put me between the rock of granting the wish and the hard place of my own sense of duty. How Zeus then called that duty into question, ridiculing me for it in front of my family, when all I’ve ever been for so long now is duty. My anger at his hypocrisy for throwing his own obligations on the floor, as his vulturous offspring circled before the Bolt had even had a chance to settle. How the cumulative events of the evening had torn me down in front of Hades, the last person I wanted to see me like that.
“He left me there, Than,” I whisper. “Hades left me there. I know he had to. Eros had the bolt in his hand. Admitted aloud how much he wanted it. There was nothing else to do. Hades was the only one everyone could trust. But I…needed him. And he left.”
“I don’t think he left on purpose, Kate. I mean, he never leaves for no reason. There is always a reason,” he assures me. He squeezes me tightly, his eyes far away. “So, what do we do now, Kate? How do you want to go about this?”
I laugh softly and curl closer to him. “I don’t think I have a plan. I’m somewhere I’ve never been before. Somewhere I never thought I’d be. I’m confused. I’m off my game. Every time I make a move, it seems to be the wrong one. Or maybe it’s the right one, and I just can’t see it yet.”
The sound of work chimes under my shoulder, and I sigh, pulling away. Thanatos leans in and kisses me between the eyes. Death is such a blessing, I think as he rises.
I don’t stop him. When it comes to our duty, no explanation is ever needed. I watch the shadows gather around him, making him one with the night.
“An answer will come, Kate. I am sure of it.”
Peppermint and pipe smoke, grave flowers, and salt tears…I hold onto his scent for as long as I can. I don’t remember drifting off, but I do.
It’s a peaceful sleep. The kind only Death himself can bring.