Thursday Thousand: The Twins

Welcome to the special Halloween edition of Thursday Thousand! In February, I began a short project where I had to post a short story every week, on Thor’s Day, that had only one parameter: it had to be, had minimum, 1000 words long. It could be any genre, any length beyond that, and could even contain mild cliffhangers! Why? Because some of those definitely turned into novels, let’s be honest here. It was in an effort to get myself working, and, suffice to say, it worked. Two of my last posts for the project were first chapters of finished novels that Thursday Thousand helped me get back to.

However, with Halloween celebrations in full swing on the blog, I wanted to bring this back for a special four-week look into some of my spooky stories. In the next four weeks, you’ll get a look at two short stories from my Greek mythology retelling, the first chapter of my faery novel, and another edition of planet people!

This week’s is the fifth in my Greek mythos series. The first, The Ferryman, is about Charon, gatekeeper to the underworld and guardian of the river Styx. The second, The Queen, is about her majesty, Persephone, goddess of spring and queen of the underworld. The third, The Messenger, is about, you guessed it, messenger to the gods, Hermes. And the fourth, The King, is about his majesty, Hades, god of the underworld. At this point, this will definitely make more sense if you’ve read the others. All but Hermes directly tie into this now, though today’s will be the last for this month. Because this week, we’re diving into the twins, Thanatos, god of death, and Hypnos, god of sleep.

Gothic board

Thanatos was six the first time his brother fell in love.  They were still small then, not quite the gods they would become.  They were already starting to settle into their roles a little—Thanatos was quiet and pale while Hypnos was loud and golden—but they were still children, still newly excited about the prospect of their little brother, Charon, still doted on by their parents, still sweet and naïve.

When they turned six, they began their schooling along with a handful of other children.  Charon was permitted to join them, though he was a year younger.  He was already showing promise and initiative, and Thanatos was happy to have him along.  He felt a kinship with his little brother, and he’d long ago pulled Hypnos into a headlock and threatened to kill him once he came into his power if he wasn’t also kind to Charon.  Hypnos tried desperately to send Thanatos to sleep, and when that didn’t work, he conceded.

And so, it was Charon that leaned over at the beginning of class one day and whispered, “Why is Hypnos being weird?”

Thanatos frowned at his twin.

Out of all the children scattered through the class, Hypnos stuck out the most.  Thanatos had pale blonde hair and icy blue eyes.  He frowned more than he smiled, and he liked to keep to himself.  Charon was his opposite in some ways, dark hair and dark fathomless eyes, but he was also quiet, also liked to sit in seclusion with Thanatos.  But Hypnos—though they never went anywhere without the other, people often remarked on how different the twins were.  Hypnos, with his golden blonde hair and his shimmering blue eyes and his healthy glow.  He looked like he belonged in Zeus’ pantheon, not Hades’, but he’d been born in the underworld to Erebus and Nyx, a full two hours after Thanatos, and whenever someone said Zeus’ name, Hypnos scowled and started elbowing Thanatos fiercely.

“We’re going to kill that one, too,” he would mutter when the person walked away.

Hypnos had some kind of list going for people who told him he didn’t look like he belonged here, and Thanatos carefully kept note of it.  He would never actually do anything as serious as murder, but he would remember those who had made Hypnos feel unwelcome.

Now, though, Hypnos was beaming that ridiculously bright smile of his, chattering away with Nereus, of all gods.  They didn’t much associate with their father’s kin, though they were all of a similar age.  But Hypnos had this dopey look on his face, nodding along fervently to whatever Nereus was saying, and several minutes later, when Hypnos flopped down on Charon’s other side, it was to sigh dreamily, “I’m in love.”

.

When Nereus eventually broke little Hypnos’ heart, Thanatos and Charon were there to hold him together.  Thanatos embraced him fiercely, arms wrapped tightly around him, while Charon tried to soothe him, petting his hair back and murmuring that everything would be alright.  In the end, it was all for naught.

Hypnos fell in love with Ceto the following month, and after a few weeks of shy hand-holding and cheek-kisses, Hypnos only cried for an hour when he stumbled upon her laughing with her girlfriends about how silly the whole thing was.  When he was finished, he told his brothers that he was going to be braver next time.

Thanatos frowned.

He dreaded the idea of a next time.

.

They were fourteen the next time Hypnos fell in love.  He’d been careful to guard his heart throughout their childhood, but as they were slowly entering their teenage years, their father sat them down and explained how gods and goddesses made little babies, and a light sparked to life in Hypnos’ eyes.

“Wait, what?” Charon said, cringing a little.

Erebus bestowed Charon with a sweet smile, but Hypnos was already waving his hands.  “Hang on, hang on,” he said quickly, “Let me get this straight.  You can only have kids if you have sex with a girl?”

Thanatos watched his father’s expression falter a little, but he still nodded.

“Okay, good to know,” Hypnos said, and six weeks later, he had a boyfriend.

.

Over the years, Thanatos had watched his brother fall in and out of love like the changing of the winds.  He swayed wildly between boys and girls, whatever seemed to be most appealing at the time, but he was never in love for long.  He got his heart broken over and over again, and though he’d long since stopped crying each time it happened, he was still morose and angry the few days right after.  He had a string of lovers that Thanatos tried to avoid as they came into their adulthood, though some of them still found Thanatos when he was alone and either begged with him to speak to Hypnos on their behalf or swore at him for his brother’s soulless actions.

“Soulless?” Thanatos would always reply, one eyebrow lifting, “I think you’ve got the wrong brother.”

Hypnos was anything but.  He loved fiercely, and he broke in pieces.  Thanatos knew that a solid portion of his failed relationships were Hypnos’ fault, but he also knew that people were careless with Hypnos’ heart, knew that Hypnos himself wasn’t as closely guarded as he should be.

And so, when it came time for them to finally settle into their rightful powers as gods of death and sleep, respectively, their father gave them an option.  “You may marry before you take your role,” Erebus said, “This will give you a stronger bond, to wrap your two gifts together as husband and wife.  Marriage after will just be marriage, nothing more.”

Thanatos nodded, already knowing he would take the journey alone, but when Hypnos quietly took his hand, surprise swelled in him.  He looked over at his brother, who said, “We do not go alone, father,” Hypnos said, “We go together, bound as we always have been.”

Hypnos’ heart had been broken over and over again, but it was still so big, and Thanatos squeezed his hand gratefully.

Thanatos had watched his brother fall in and out love his entire life, and he’d always been there to pick up the pieces.  Bound as they were in taking on their roles together, he would feel that pain, that misery, that ending, but he’d never wanted anything less.  Hypnos was his other half, and he would forever hold his broken heart together.

.

The worst of them was Hedone.

It happened slowly, enough so that Thanatos didn’t notice it until one day, nervously, Hypnos sat down and said, “I like someone.”

Thanatos perked up merely at the like rather than love and asked who.  “Hedone,” Hypnos said, “Daughter of Eros.”  Thanatos started to nod and return to his work, but Hypnos laid a hand over his scythe and continued, “I think it might be serious, brother.”

Thanatos looked into his brother’s golden face, into his always warm blue eyes, into the hope and the uncertainty warring across his face, and he smiled.  “Okay,” he said, “Tell me about her.”  He knew Hedone, had talked to her on several occasions, but always at formal gatherings, and it was different to hear the careful way Hypnos described her.

He wasn’t sure it was serious, but it was certainly different.  They’d become friends first, and Hypnos meant it only as that.  He was dating Nereus—again, which ended about as well as it had the first time—and he simply liked being around Hedone, getting to know her, laughing in the forest with her, bothering Charon with her.

“Wait,” Thanatos said at that, “You took her to meet Charon?”

“Kind of,” Hypnos said, shrugging shyly, “She already knows him, obviously, but she’d never been to the grey shore of Styx.  He’s our brother, so I didn’t really think anything of it.  She was still just my friend.  It was meant as a nice thing you do for your friend, nothing more, and then, as I was leaving, Charon asked me about Nereus, what he would think of it all, and then I realized what it looked like.  I didn’t mean it that way, I swear, but then I couldn’t not think about it.”

Thanatos already knew about his breakup with Nereus.  It had been loud, furious, and the first time in years that Hypnos actually cried over a lost love.

He would cry twice more in his life over Nereus, but that was yet to come, and the last time, Thanatos would react in a way he so rarely did—scythe drawn, shadow sharp, and death in his every bone.

Before that eventuality, though, there was Hedone.

She nearly became Hypnos’ wife, and certainly would have if not for Thanatos.

As their courtship grew beyond casual dating, Hypnos asked Thanatos out to dinner so that they might meet officially.  Thanatos was wary, but Hedone was lovely, and it was hard not to like her.  After a time, Hypnos brought her home to meet their parents, who seemed every bit as in love with her as Hypnos did.  For that was what this was, Thanatos realized.  His brother was in love again, and this time, perhaps, it was actually real.

They dated for a long, wonderful year, and when Hypnos proposed, no one was surprised.  Thanatos found that he was even excited for his brother.  This was it.  This was the end to Hypnos’ heartbreak.

The engagement lasted a full week.

Thanatos, invited to Hedone’s home to help plan a surprise for her future husband, arrived early.  He was wearing blue because Charon had said it would bring out his eyes in a way that would make them warm like Hypnos’. He knew it was overeager to show up early like this, but he’d never been able to celebrate his brother like this. When he knocked on Hedone’s front door, he never expected to hear a muffled shout of surprise.  If not for Hypnos, Thanatos might have stayed there, unsure, waiting.  He might have never seen what lay beyond.  But he knew that kind of noise, had heard it before with countless others, and he pushed open the door with mounting dread.

If not for his brother’s long and twisting history of love, Thanatos might never have seen Nemesis, their sister, hurriedly putting on her clothes and Hedone rushing around the room trying to put it to rights.

He might have never known of Hedone’s betrayal.

Gods,” Nemesis swore when Thanatos’ shadow rippled out across the floor and struck the wall, his scythe curving wickedly up toward the ceiling.

“Lie to me,” Thanatos said, his voice a low peal of thunder as he stepped over the threshold.

Hedone was staring at him, wide-eyed and clutching a gown to her chest.  Nemesis refused to look at him, but instead finished tying the straps of her own gown before she sat down to slowly put on her sandals.  “Nem,” Hedone whispered.

“It’s no use,” Nemesis said.  She pulled the other sandal on, tied it, and looked up at her brother.  “Are you going to use it or not?” she asked evenly.

It—his scythe, the extension of his very soul, the thing that his whole family, the wide expanse of the underworld, everyone feared.

Everyone but Hypnos, the only person who had ever held it besides him.

Thanatos yanked the scythe back, rolled his shadow back, let it all fade away until it was just him, and not the god of death.

“Why would you do this to him?” he asked, his blue eyes still fixed on Hedone.  “He loves you.”

“And I love him,” Hedone tried to plead, “It’s just—”

“There are no halves with these two,” Nemesis said before she stood up.  She glanced over her shoulder.  “Call me when you’re ready.”  And then she was gone, brushing past Thanatos, who twitched out of her way, not wanting to touch her.  He’d never really gotten along with the rest of his siblings, but he’d never expected this.

“Thanatos,” Hedone whispered, “Please don’t tell him.”

Thanatos went still, cold flickering through him.  Somehow, a smile fit itself across his face, and he meant it to be sad, but he was sure it came across as demented and cruel instead, for Hedone flinched under it.  “It wouldn’t matter if I tried to keep it a secret,” he said.  He thought of Hypnos holding his hand, of promising they would always stand together.  “He knows everything, and I know everything.  He’s my twin.  In every way.”  He waited a moment longer, hoping, almost, that Hedone would say something further, but she just wrapped her arms around herself and looked away.

Nemesis was nowhere to be found when Thanatos returned home.

He thought about going to Charon first, of trying to understand how he should broach the subject with Hypnos.  He thought about going to their father, of asking for help.  But, in the end, all he had to do was step inside the room they shared, and Hypnos knew.

“What did I do wrong?” Hypnos sobbed in the hours that followed, and Thanatos swore to never let his brother’s heart go from him so lightly again.

“Nothing,” Thanatos promised as Hypnos clung to him, “You did nothing but love her, and that was not wrong.”  Hypnos cried like he hadn’t since he was six and little and in love with Nereus for the first time, and their room grew dark and furious as Thanatos’ power leaked out of him, as his scythe swung out of his shadow and clattered harmlessly to the ground, as his rage became a tangible thing.  Hypnos could never, ever be touched by his power, not bound as they were, but the rest of hell was not so lucky, and it took their father bursting in to wrap his twins away to shutter Thanatos’ swell of death and Hypnos’ heaving sobs.

Never again, Thanatos swore.  Never again would someone hurt his brother and come away unscathed.

And years later, when Nereus broke his heart a final time, Thanatos’ scythe cut a sharp arc through the air and was quelled only when Hypnos screamed for him to stop.  Nereus would forever bear a scar across his chest from the very edge of it, but he lived, and his bargained life became a warning.

Hypnos was not to be trifled with.

*

Hypnos was ancient the first time his brother fell in love.  He’d stopped counting the years ages ago, and he couldn’t honestly recall how long it had been, despite Charon’s eyerolling that they weren’t ancient, they were barely even old.  “Father is ancient,” Charon said, “You’re barely a splash in the water of time.”

“The water,” Hypnos repeated slowly, “of time.”  Charon scowled at him.  “Have you been drinking the river again?” Hypnos teased, to which Charon rolled his eyes, again, and walked away.

Hypnos thought of that exchange as he looked out along the grey beach, wondering.  They were old, Charon couldn’t deny that, and all this time, Thanatos had never shown interest in anyone.  He kept to himself mostly, or to his brothers, but he’d always seemed happy like that.  And yet, here they were.  Hypnos, his pockets a little light from bribing both one of the guards and Cerebus to help him get on top of the black wall.  It surrounded the underworld, and the massive gates where Charon’s ferried souls were brought through was a few yards away.  The guard had warned Hypnos to sit a little ways off from the gate proper so that he wouldn’t be thrown off when it opened.  They were wary about letting the god up there, but his bribe had been steep and Cerebus willing to help him up to such a height, and they’d eventually given way and promised not to tell anyone.

And Thanatos, far below, walking the narrow stretch of beach with purpose, yes, but also with caution.  Hypnos could see it in the way he carried himself.  His brother was tall and foreboding, but he always walked with quiet footsteps and downcast eyes so that no one looked at him.  No one noticed him, or perhaps they meant not to, for what notice might be gained from the god of death but something hideous?  Hypnos had done his best to dispel rumors about his brother’s power, but Thanatos didn’t help matters when he did things like threaten legends in the middle of the castle.

It had all been a simple misunderstanding.  The queen had long ago asked Hypnos to help the king sleep in the weeks after she left.  Thanatos had gotten it into his head that his brother was sleeping with the king, which was ludicrous on all fronts, but not entirely out of the realm of possibility considering Hypnos’ past.  Icarus, for whatever asinine reason led him to think falling for the god of the sun, also thought it was a good idea to lurk in the shadows near the royal chambers.  And when Icarus stepped out of those shadows to interrupt Thanatos threatening Hypnos with death he couldn’t actually carry out if Hypnos was really sleeping with the king, the scythe was out faster than Hypnos could exhale the gold of his sleep.

In that moment, watching his brother’s shadow grow huge and death creep into his cold eyes, Hypnos remembered him with Nereus, remembered the very real fear that had nearly swallowed him whole as he lunged after his brother.

He knew his twin was the god of death, but he’d never actually seen what that meant.  He’d seen the scythe, held it, even, and he knew that most of Thanatos’ power came from his shadow, but to actually see him wield that power?  It was a thing unimaginable, and it reminded Hypnos, startlingly, of Hades in the long months without Persephone.  Thanatos was a dark, terrifying figure, a sharp-edged shadow of death, and someone to fear when provoked.

The Thanatos Hypnos knew was currently walking down the beach, but the Thanatos that threatened those who came too close to Hypnos was lurking just beneath the surface, and Icarus had already been granted a partial view of that version.  Hypnos wondered if the legend would even show.  For after he’d stalked away from his brother in a huff, Thanatos led Icarus away from the royal chambers and up to the great hall, advising him not to go wandering that deep again and giving him directions to the library.  Before they could part, Icarus laid a gentle hand on Thanatos’ arm and asked if they might walk somewhere again.  Hypnos waited for Thanatos to say no.  And when he said yes, something terrible occurred to Hypnos.

He might be about to watch his brother fall in love, and if history was good for anything, it was for caution.

Below, Thanatos came to a stop, and Hypnos followed his brother’s gaze.  Standing at the water’s edge about a half mile on was Icarus.  Charon had already made it very clear to Icarus what stepping into the water would do to him, so he wasn’t that close, but the river was rippling against the shore like it wanted to reach out to him.  Icarus’ golden white wings were still covered in ash and soot, his shoulders slumped a little under the weight of them, but his smile was genuine when he turned his gaze toward Thanatos.

You came, Hypnos saw the words reflected across his mouth.

Thanatos swallowed visibly, and Hypnos felt his brother’s nerves alight alongside his own.

Hypnos drew one of his knees up against his chest, wrapped his arms around it, and set his chin on it.  The other leg dangled over the edge of the wall.  He wanted to hope that this would be okay, that he would not have to witness his brother’s sorrow, that his own tortured history would not plague Thanatos.  He had to hope it wouldn’t.  His brother had always been better than him, stronger and more resilient to pain.  Thanatos was always there to hold him together, and though Hypnos would do the same, he wasn’t sure he could bear witness to it.  Thanatos’ sorrow would crack across him in a way nothing else ever had.

And though Hypnos tried to assure himself that Icarus would not do it knowingly, not after all that he’d gone through with Helios, nothing was ever set in stone.

With fear in his every breath, Hypnos closed his eyes to the sight of his brother and the legend walking down the grey beach.  Icarus, with his burned wings, and Thanatos, with his too sharp scythe.

Zeus, he prayed, for Icarus was of his pantheon, please don’t break his heart.

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Mary RYT 200 Tibetan Buddhism Gryffindor Part-time witch, full-time novelist. Lover of words, planets, dragons, and mountains.

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