He didn’t really remember being swallowed, so that was all right.
“It’s not all right,” said Dis.
He also didn’t remember before being swallowed. That was maybe less all right, but there was nothing he could do about it. So.
“Bullshit,” said Dis.
Sisters talked a lot.
He did remember love. It was why he did what he did: someone had to help them. The dead. His job was to gather the souls, and so he gathered them.
Hades knelt down, gently mismatched gaze studying the soul sprawled before him. It had been flayed, shredded into suffering ribbons, and he had to think carefully about how to handle it right.
Thinking took time. That would be why he froze time while collecting.
If time moved along while he did his job, there would be dead souls floating everywhere, needing to move on and unable to do anything but wait, so he simply pushed time aside like a curtain and held it there, just with his will, until he was done and could let it go again.
Dis shook her head. She almost always joined him when he froze time. The monochrome air and striped sky seemed to fascinate her. “You’re scary sometimes, big brother.”
Hades looked up at her. They shared the same coloring, the same purple-gray skin, the same shock of white hair, but his amethyst eyes didn’t match – one was startlingly lighter than the other.
Dis’s eyes matched just fine, but then, she hadn’t been swallowed. “What are you going to do with this mess?” she said, pointing at the shredded soul. She had been wise enough to wait while he thought, and so he had an answer.
“First, find all the pieces.”
“Solid,” said Dis, with absolutely no sign of sarcasm.
“Then, I will bring the pieces together,” said Hades slowly, because the next step was difficult. “When I am certain I have all of them, I shall try to reform them into the shape they once had.”
“And how can you be sure of the shape they once had?” said Dis, who was either genuinely interested or faking it very well.
Hades knew she mocked him sometimes. It wasn’t personal; siblings did that sort of thing. At least, his did. “I will see if I can encourage them to stick.”
Dis sighed. “That thing’s trashed, big brother. I think you should get rid of it. It would be kinder.”
Her sigh could mean anything, but it had little to do with his job. “Not yet. First, I will try.” And so he proceeded to step one.
Each sliver of shredded soul felt like nothing, like a breeze on the lips, like the gentlest stream of water sliding over on skin. He exerted will, and the shreds did not tear, but instead lifted with his hand to let themselves be gathered against his chest.
“A lot of dead here,” observed his sister.
“Yes,” Hades agreed.
“It’s going to take you a while if you’re this slow.”
Dis rolled her eyes with another sigh (this one must mean displeased) and vanished, letting herself be caught back up in the river of time.
Hades let her go. This was his job. He would do it well.
He didn’t remember being swallowed. He didn’t remember the one who’d swallowed him, either – Cronus, their father – other than the fact that Dis somehow bled him until he died.
That saved Hades. Dis had done it. And although his thoughts were now slow and he felt just a little melted all the time, not quite as solid as he could be but as if his wobbling-jello form barely held together, he could still do his job.
It was a form of love: souls needed to be gathered, shepherded, and taken to their next place. After that… well, he couldn’t remember what happened to them after that, either, but that was all right. He could still do what he needed to do. What they needed him to do.
The shreds of soul seemed to sense one another and twisted in his arms, slowly, like undersea things, and he held them together and willed them to be whole with silent tears like priceless adhesive. If this wasn’t love, he wasn’t sure what was.