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Hunger

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In Elysium, Asterius isn’t hungry anymore. Though he’s never been anything but grateful for it, for some time it felt... odd. Like he wasn’t quite himself. It took quite a while for him to get used to not spending every waking hour with a hollowness deep inside his belly, threatening to eat him from within. A few Athenian youths were barely enough to whet the palette for a creature of his size, and so he had grown accustomed to that insatiable hunger.

He recalls the first time he saw Theseus, and how in the haze of emptiness he’d forgotten how to recognize what was beautiful. His hair was long and golden, his body lithe and toned, and his face shone with a nobility Asterius couldn’t recognize.

To Asterius, the prince only looked like a piece of meat. A snake to quiet the rumbling of his stomach for an hour or two at most. He would have swallowed him, barely even taking the time to chew and savor him, if he’d had the chance.

Most of the sacrifices were tough and bitter, from the fear. He wondered—he still wonders—if Theseus’ bravery would have made him more tender.

 

Asterius nearly wept when he learned that the shades of Elysium ate only fof pleasure. And when he realized he would be able to look upon his king, always and forever, without the urge to take what he did not deserve, he did weep.

(Teary-eyed, he explained to Theseus that he’d just realized that here, he could be happy.)

Still, he does not eat. His place in Elysium is still so new, and it feels delicate even though Theseus has assured him there’s nothing to fear. It’s good to know that there is food here to enjoy if he so desires.

Theseus is a voracious eater, and a true connoisseur of wines and cakes and cheeses and so many other things that Asterius is only now learning the names of. Shades come to Elysium from all walks of life and bring all manner of traditions. Many of them have tools to eat, but Theseus prefers to use his hands whenever possible, tearing into breads piece by piece and plucking grapes one by one to deposit into his mouth.

The sight of the king enjoying his meals makes his own mouth water, though whether he envies Theseus for being able to eat so comfortably or the meals themselves, he can’t say.

 

“You make it look so delicious,” Asterius comments one day. He’s still avoided food here, but watches Theseus eat whenever he can.

“’Tis! Don’t you enjoy grapes, Asterius? Dionysus' greatest blessing! Have some!” And here he thrusts the platter toward Asterius, who politely pushes it away.

“I shouldn’t.” At best he deserves a cow-cake, and should leave the sweet fruits grown by human hands to humans.

“Why not?” Theseus asks, frowning.

Asterius can think of a few explanations, but for all of them it’s just as easy to imagine how Theseus will counter them. “They’re yours,” he says, finally.

“And I offer them to you, for all that is mine is also yours! Or... are these not to your taste? Would you prefer the green ones? Nectarines, olives? Come, friend, what's your favorite fruit?

Asterius thinks of lying, but only for a moment. He’s never lied to the king. “I don’t know,” he says. “I was never given a chance to find out. As you well know, my body is... atypical.”

“Cows can eat grapes,” Theseus says. He wrinkles his nose. “Probably.”

“I can’t. All that my mortal body was able to digest was meat.”

“Is that so? Or were you fed improperly when you were alive? Even the most docile of bulls will act out if he’s not treated with care,” Theseus says, and Asterius recalls his simple origins.

The meat tasted good, though. Asterius isn’t ready to admit that.

Theseus turns to him, a grape in hand. “Would you try it?” With Asterius sitting and the king on his knees they’re about the same height, and Theseus takes the opportunity to press the grape to Asterius’ lips, asking him to indulge. Daring him.

It’s a risky move. Asterius could easily take both the grape and his fingers in his strong jaw and crush them both, entirely. They both know that his jaw is strong enough.

Asterius thinks of the way the sweet juices of the grape might taste mingled with the tang of blood and the sickening crunch of bones, and he thinks of how Theseus would cry out the same way his peers did when they became Asterius’ dinner. The mere thought of it makes his stomach churn, and that he can imagine the situation so clearly is disgusting, despicable.

Asterius thinks, too, of the sweet-sour smell of the wine that flows freely in Elysium, and how the grape, the very heart of it, might taste. He thinks of the flowers and grasses that cows dine on and of crusty bread dipped in oil and how all of it could be his if he wasn’t so afraid of his own strength.

And he thinks of Theseus, who hasn’t moved his hand. Theseus, who shows him his back outside of combat in a way he doesn’t for other warriors. Theseus who sleeps beside him, face burrowed into Asterius’ chest. And now he expects him to eat from his hands, which aren’t exactly small but certainly seem like they are against Asterius’ unnaturally wide head.

He thinks of how Theseus’ skin would taste if he ran his tongue across it just so. Just enough to barely tickle.

Finally Asterius opens his mouth, just enough to pull the fruit into his mouth. It elicits a soft gasp from Theseus. From the surprise, Asterius knows, not fear. The king isn’t afraid of much of anything.

The grape takes only a second to chew and swallow. Asterius thinks it’s sweet and juicy but in truth barely notices the taste, because all that matters is Theseus.

“Good?” asks the king, seemingly unaware that Asterius is having a personal revelation.

So he’s able to eat now. He’s allowed to eat, and nobody will suffer for it. Something simple, that he ought to have known all along, but it’s only now that Asterius truly realizes it.

“May I have another?” he asks.

“It’s good, isn’t it?” Theseus asks, sounding slightly breathless. He plucks another plump grape from the bunch, not even looking at it, lest he drop the eye contact between his partner and himself. There’s a certain energy between them, inexplicable

When they fight together they are like an army or perhaps a well-oiled machine, all carefully practiced moves and tight strategy.

But when Theseus places the grape between Asterius’ lips it seems almost clumsy in a way that Asterius isn’t accustomed to.

He won’t overthink it.

Asterius is more forward this time, and allows his tongue to poke out from between his lips, taking the grape from Theseus’ fingers. It quickly snakes back inside, and Asterius suddenly feels quite sheepish.

“Too much tongue,” he says.

Theseus eyes widen. “No! No, it’s fine.”

Theseus plucks a third grape without asking and rolls it between his fingers, licking his own lips. Contemplating. This one he puts into Asterius’ mouth directly, and doesn’t draw his fingers away like he did before.

Asterius, confused, offers him a small extra lick, and Theseus laughs.

“Is something funny?” Asterius asks.

“No, no! I was just thinking of how strange it is that I ever feared you.”

“That’s interesting. I was thinking of how strange it is that I ever thought of eating you.”

At another time Theseus may have taken offense at this, but now he only smiles. They were different men then, and they’ve learned to be better. He offers a fourth grape, a fifth, a sixth— and each time Asterius gets a bit bolder, until he’s practically licking them out of Theseus’ hand. It’s occurring to him that this is a wildly impractical way to eat, but he doesn’t want to stop.

“I wouldn’t taste good,” Theseus says. His hand is getting wetter, but with sweet juices, not blood. “My muscles are too large to chew properly.”

“You would,” Asterius replies. Something deep down inside of him still feared hurting Theseus; now that barrier has been broken. What was he ever afraid of? The way the king’s eyes light up when he laughs?

“I think you, my friend!” He pauses to pluck more of the fruit, now several at once. “When I was young, my noble friend Pithirous and I would toss olives at one another, challenging each other to catch them in his mouth. The things that the young come up with!”

“Is this the same thing?”

Theseus answers instantly. “It isn’t,” he says. “I enjoy this more.”

 

They lose track of how much they eat. Theseus never flinches, and Asterius learns that he never needs to.