The moon was full and illuminated any figures below, including Thanatos, Death, for those who cared to look. Not many cared to look, but he slunk noiselessly through the shadows all the same. He preferred dark places to the silver light of the moon, both for its own sake and because of his dependence on the dark to walk the earth.
His pale features paused a moment on the door to the tomb. For a moment, he could have sworn he heard the shuffling of something alive. When the movement ceased after a moment or so, however, Thanatos dismissed it for a mouse and opened the door.
The night air had been cool, but inside the tomb the atmosphere was even colder. Thanatos's icy breath was always too cold to crystalize, but in the darkness he was able to make out someone else's breath doing so. Startled, he turned to the man standing in the shadows, his excellent night vision picking out the man's features.
"What," he asked finally, "brings a son of Zeus to a tomb in the middle of the night, Heracles?"
The man stepped from the shadows. He was taller than Thanatos by barely an inch— but as Thanatos was taller then most mortals, this was still a feat— with a wild mane of dark hair, and dressed only in a lioncloth. "How did you—"
"Heracles," Thanatos answered finally, resisting the impulse to laugh, "you have left your mark on too many dead bodies for me not to recognize you." Ignoring the man's flinch under the unintentional blow, he continued. "Why are you here?"
Thanatos glanced at the newest body in the tomb. It was that of a woman, robed in black, and nearly the human ideal of female perfection— as Thanatos could note quite objectively, having never been human himself. "Ah, her. She's dead, you know. Not even Asclepius could do anything for her now, let alone you." He shrugged, running his tongue over his vampire like fangs. "The only one who can do anything for her now is me."
"That's not quite true."
Thanatos sighed as he looked the hero over. "What do you care if she dies or not?" he demanded. "She's not your wife, and she's mortal. Like all mortals, she must die."
"She's a friend. And if the stories are right," Heracles added in a growl. "She doesn't have to die now."
"If it's a contest you propose, you've forgotten one thing," Thanatos snapped. "No one has ever beaten Death. No one." He caught Heracles's raised eyebrow and knew what he was thinking— Thanatos was tall, yes, but very thin, pale, and not quite a god. Far too many people had let their thoughts wander down that path.
"No one has ever beaten me, either."
Thanatos sighed. Against all logic, he sort of liked Heracles. The man had an unbreakable spirit, despite Hera's best efforts, and he certainly never gave up, if the twelve labors he was now halfway through were any indication. "Oh, very well. One of us is going to loose our title of invincibility tonight."
Heracles smiled slightly.
"But when you wrestle Death, you have to raise the stakes," Thanatos continued. "If you win, Alcestis goes free. If I win. . . ." A grin spread across his face, although it was forced and didn't quite extend to his red eyes. "If I win, both of you come to Hades with me."
Heracles flinched, and for a moment or so Thanatos thought he might back out of it. Death almost hoped he would. He didn't like making the decision he was about to make. After a moment or so, however, the man nodded. "Very well."
Death sighed and removed his cloak, discarding it by Alcestis's coffin. He wore a simple black tunic beneath it, which he didn't bother to remove before assuming a wrestler's crouch. They were not playing by the ordinary rules of wrestling, nor the ordinary conventions,after all. He waited, very still, for Heracles to make the first move.
It came with speed some men wouldn't have expected from a man his size, and it knocked Thanatos's thin frame to the floor. With another equally quick movement, Thanatos righted himself, pulling Heracles underneath him.
The fight continued, making a ruckus within the tomb Thanatos would normally have hated. This time, however, he allowed for it— it was a fight against death to Heracles, and desperation called up a brute force rather than the measured blows he would use at a gym. Thanatos fought like he always did, with speed and strength his thin frame shouldn't posses, his icy breath washing over his opponent. He knew from previous opponents that Heracles must feel as if he was wrestling a snowstorm.
Finally, however, Heracles managed to lock his arm around Thanatos's chest. The minor god braced himself for what he knew was to come, while still putting up the illusion he had no clue.
Heracles squeezed, slowly at first, but eventually with great force, on Thanatos's rib cage. Finally, while Thanatos was atop of him, putting pressure on the man's lungs so he could hardly get any breath out, the ribs were crushed, caving in like a hollow plaster wall might under Heracles's mighty fist. Both of them felt it, and the man released Death.
Thanatos rolled off of him, dizzy with the pain. Every ragged breath he took hurt and made him feel yet more lightheaded, and against all logic he still needed that air. He sat up slowly, his glassy vision focusing on Heracles with effort. There seemed to be two faces, both of them worried.
"Are you all right?"
"You . . . broke . . . my ribs. . . ." Thanatos panted. "What . . . do you . . . think?"
"Yes, I know that," Heracles answered, still anxious. "But still, I didn't think it would hurt Death." He reached out and grabbed Thanatos's shoulder, steadying him as he stood up.
The pain was greater on his feet, but Thanatos ignored it. There was pain worse than a few crushed ribs, and he had felt some of it.
"I'm sorry," Heracles apologized, a bit late in Thanatos's opinion, as the god leaned against the wall. "Are . . . shouldn't you be coughing up blood, though? You look as if you should."
"No . . . blood . . . to cough up," Thanatos replied, shaking his head. From the feel of it, though, one of those ribs had punctured his lung. It was probably only who he was that allowed him to stand at all. "Nothing . . . that Persephone . . . can't heal."
Heracles still looked unconvinced, but Thanatos waved him off and ordered him to retrieve his cloak. To Thanatos's mild surprise, the man got it for him, and helped him get it back on.
"You won," Thanatos pointed out as he stumbled towards the door of the tomb, and paused for another difficult breath. "Alcestis goes free."
With that, he continued out into the night, leaving a startled half-mortal man, with a stirring young lady who, moments before, had been dead. . . . .
Alcestis sat up. She was obviously shocked, and her lips formed words that weren't coming out of her mouth. She had seen death, after all, and so it would take some time for her speech to return. Heracles did have a good idea what she was saying, however.
"It's all right," he said soothingly, coming over to help her out of her coffin. "You're safe now."
The young woman gave him a look that plainly asked him how this had come to be.
"I came here and Admetus didn't tell me it was you who was dead," Heracles admitted. "I got drunk and I caused a bit of a ruckus. This was the best way I could think of to make it up to him, rescuing you."
Alcestis's inquiring eyes still searched him for answers.
"I wrestled with Thanatos himself," he told her. A slight smile spread across his face. "And I broke his ribs, so I won. I beat Death, and I brought you back from limbo."
Alcestis held up a hand, obviously to silence him. She shook out of his supporting grasp, standing on her own for the first time since she had decided to give her life for her husband's. "But," she whispered, her voice hoarse, and it obviously took her effort to get it out. "He's . . . Death."
"I know," Heracles answered with a broadening smile.
Alcestis shook her head and held up her hand again. "I think . . . he . . . let you . . . win."
Somewhere halfway to the underworld, Thanatos, who had kept his consciousness near enough that conversation to overhear, grinned in spite of his pain. That was one smart woman.
He continued toward the Underworld, pleased against all of his own logic.
Author's Note: I realize how long it's been since I updated, and would like to take the oppertunity to apologize --- most of what I've been writing lately has been offline. And I apologize for the literary liscence. Thanatos, however, deserves his chance to be fleshed out, too. So, please click the lovely little review button and tell me what you think! Cheers! --- Loki