Lords of Time
Standing in the darkness, he watched the woman sleeping peacefully. She was beautiful—unlike any other mortal he’d encountered before.
Something drew him to her. Something so much more than her physical beauty or her odd ability to see him. Her soul called to him. He was the god of death, and yet this woman’s life demanded his attention. She consumed his thoughts.
He envied mortals their sleep. If he could sleep, he’d dream of her. She was the only thing that had inspired him to feel joy. In all his centuries of existence, nothing had made him feel alive before her. He wanted to stay near her longer, but his dark duties called him.
Thanatos placed a tender kiss on her brow. She frowned in her sleep and muttered something unintelligible before rolling over. A soft snore escaped her. He grinned. He wanted to make her his, but his existence wasn’t meant for someone like her. Even a god had to accept what was right and what was wrong. Making someone as good as Nyssa part of his darkness was wrong.
They couldn’t be together. She had a single human lifetime, and he had an eternity to long for her. He hurt, but he accepted the pain. Not loving Nyssa wasn’t an option. Before he felt this constant torment, he didn’t understand why humans truly mattered. He understood now. Love. He loved her more than anything or anyone else in creation. Even if he could never have the kind of relationship mortal men and women had, his heart claimed her as its own.
* * * *
Nyssa Summers hurried into work.
She rushed past Pattie, one of her best friends, without a word.
“Hey woman, what’s up?” Pattie called.
“Late,” Nyssa replied sharply. Pattie stuck out her tongue.
Nyssa hated being short, but she really didn’t have the luxury of pausing. Her evaluation needed to be flawless. Her least favorite doctor, a lecherous creep, had blamed her for a medication mix up, and the real culprit wasn’t going to speak up. Her need to prove herself was more important than when she’d been a newbie; her reputation was so terribly tattered.
“You used to be cheerful,” Pattie said.
Nyssa noticed her friend’s frown. “I just really need to prove myself. I’m a good nurse. I’d never put my patients at risk, no matter what has been said. I’m not the one who mixed up the medication.”
Pattie’s eyes softened, and she looked sympathetic. “Well, see you at lunch.”
Nyssa nodded yes and kept going.
She tossed her coat over a chair in the nurse’s station and washed her hands. Doctor Benn walked past her. He patted her on the shoulder affectionately and gave her a smile. “Good morning Nyssa,” he said.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Doctor.”
“I didn’t notice.” He glanced at the clock. “You’re only five minutes late, dear girl. I wish we had more dedicated staff like you around here. This ward is a depressing place. It makes most of us lose something of our motivation. Well, now that you’ve arrived, could you go and check IVs?”
“Of course. Right away,” she responded, rushing to the task after she washed and dried her hands.
The row of silent patients was a depressing sight. She could understand how year after year of seeing those poor, trapped souls lying helpless and still could make even the most caring professional give up. Nyssa took her notebook out of her scrub pocket to write down what solution she needed to get from the stockroom.
“Hello Mr. Thompson,” she told the comatose man in the first bed. “Looks like you’re getting low.” She scribbled a note.
As she stepped around his bed, she looked at the teenage boy who’d arrived earlier in the week. He’d been in a terrible car accident and would likely never wake up. A movement caught her eye. She turned. Nyssa gasped and dropped her notepad and pen. “What the hell are you doing here?” she yelled.
Her heart pounded, and each breath was a short little gasp. Adrenaline spiked, and she felt a bit light headed. The shirtless blond intruder was huge and scary. His arms were tattooed with strange symbols. There was no way she’d be able to stop him herself. He was touching the teen’s forehead. It seemed as if he’d come out of nowhere. If he wasn’t accosting her helpless patients, she’d have decided he was hot as hell. His hand dropped away, and he looked as surprised as she felt. His expression made her feel like the interloper.
His eyes widened before narrowing. He shrugged and turned back to whatever he was doing, focused on the boy completely.
“Don’t you touch him!” Nyssa said, glowering with outrage. “I’m calling security.” She rushed toward the call box on the wall. The man was quick. He grabbed her arm before she could depress the button. They glared at each other. In the back of her mind it occurred to her she should be terrified, but that just wasn’t who she was. Nyssa refused to be afraid.
“You’re hurting me,” she stated calmly. Screaming or freaking out would make him more likely to act rashly and really do damage to her.
He frowned, as if he didn’t understand.
“Do you speak English?” He had many languages tattooed on his arms. Maybe English wasn’t his native tongue.
“I speak everything,” he replied cryptically in flawless English.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded.
“No, I’m here doing my job. You don’t work for the hospital. I can’t even believe they let you in here dressed like that.” She made a mental note to ask Pattie what she was thinking. Oh yeah, he’s hot. No wonder she let him in. I’m going to have a talk with her about letting her hormones run her brain again.
Humor replaced the anger on the behemoth’s face, and he snorted. She glared harder, pursing her lips. She hated how much taller he was. She’d never been fond of having to crane her neck up at men—it always made her feel inferior. He smiled. The more he seemed to enjoy this, the angrier she became. What kind of nut job sicko goes around messing with people in comas?
“I wasn’t messing with anyone. I’m just doing my job, the same as you are.”
Now she was freaking out. How the heck was he doing his little trick?
“Oh, and what is this job you do while sneaking around the coma ward?” Nyssa knew her life could be in danger, but she couldn’t stop the caustic question from popping out of her mouth.
Blondie chuckled. He grabbed both of her arms by the wrists and held them over her head, pinning her to the wall. He moved closer, until she felt her breasts pressing against his bare chest. He smelled strangely like fresh ocean air. She hadn’t been to see the actual ocean since she was a little girl, so the sudden connection felt very disconcerting. Blondie smiled at her, but somehow the expression was more sinister than friendly. Nyssa didn’t want him to see her fear. Men who bullied women were the type who’d get off on scaring her. She resisted the urge to meltdown and cry. He didn’t deserve the satisfaction.
He threw back his head, laughing as if he’d heard the most amazing joke ever told.
“Blondie?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. She gasped. He couldn’t be … reading her mind could he? It had to be some sort of trick. She just wished it made sense. What possible benefit did he get from pretending to read her mind?
Nyssa tried not to think, which she quickly realized was incredibly difficult. His face was so close to hers, she could see the stubble on his chin. Imprisoned under his grasp, all she could do was stare at his unnaturally gorgeous face. Hot-o-rific. Good grief, this guy was probably a male model before he became a lunatic. When he looked at her, again she noticed how amazingly blue his eyes appeared. Beautiful.
Blondie snickered again, and the warm sound made her shudder. He was like a shot of good brandy, pure heat. The sound of his amusement trickled over her like warm rain. She felt strange. A sigh escaped her lips. She couldn’t see him clearly anymore, as if she needed glasses.
“You amuse me,” he said. Then his tone changed. His new cadence reminder her of a hypnotist. “You will not remember me.”
She flinched. Hearing him speak was startling, and his words felt a bit insulting. “Why not?” Her voice was soft and her pitch higher than it usually was.
His eyes widened, and his nostrils flared. Then he narrowed his eyes at her, and his lips twitched. “You will not remember me,” he repeated with annoyance.
“You’re unforgettable,” she murmured quietly, still held in the odd grip of compulsion. She felt as if a physical force was pushing on her mind, insisting she heed his words. Stubbornly, she resisted. “No.”
“What are you?” he questioned, and there was a dangerous edge to his tone.
“Just a nurse,” she replied, still held in the sleepy warmth of the dream-like state.
“No. Why can you see me, resist me? I have not encountered another like you.”
She didn’t say anything. His question confused her already addled mind.
“What are you?” she retorted sleepily.
He snorted. “I am Hypnos, god of dreams,” he replied.
Nyssa couldn’t breathe for a few seconds. She knew another god, the god of death, so his declaration wasn’t completely unbelievable. That meant she saw and spoke to gods. She was going to hyperventilate. She’d convinced herself Thanatos, the god of death, was just an isolated thing. Now she was seeing another one. He glared at her for a moment before he disappeared. She rubbed her wrists.
Calm down. You’re freaking out. Get a hold of yourself.
She tried to shake off the craziness, but she couldn’t stop shaking.
* * * *
For the next few hours, she couldn’t stop thinking about Hypnos.
She just wanted to be normal. She’d gone for a walk at lunch break to clear her head, but it hadn’t worked. She was busy giving one of her patients a sponge bath when the temperature in the room dropped.
“Are you hurt?”
She shrieked and whirled around, still jumpy from Blondie’s mischief. Thanatos stood in the center of the room, breathing hard, his scowl fierce. Her heart pounded. He was beautiful—as he always was—and he seemed to be drinking her in with his brown eyes. His face relaxed and he took a step toward her. He reached out and tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. She shivered at his cool touch, not because his skin was cold, but because he made her hot.
This being was the most sensual creature she’d ever meet. No other man could compare, and that’s why she’d been single for so long. Every time she was out with a man, she couldn’t help secretly comparing him to this god. There has to be something wrong with me. He’s Death! She tried not to think about that aspect of him, but he was the god of peaceful death. He took people away from the ones they loved. Even if she found herself drawn to him, she couldn’t forget what he really was.
* * * *
Thanatos gazed at Nyssa. She was unique among mortals. There were many hospitals in the world, but when he had an appointment here, he felt—happy. He was Death, and there was no joy in his world unless he saw this woman. She could see him, without his choosing it, and that made her fascinating. He felt the strangest sense of familiarity with her. Touching her gave him an overpowering surge of possessiveness. Her big, innocent, brown eyes gazed up at him, and he wanted to lean down and kiss her. The sensation of her silky, long, brown hair under his hand made his cock hard. If these were ancient times he’d have spirited her away and kept her as his woman, but the gods no longer had the same power they once had. Modern mortals no longer believed, and without their faith, the gods suffered. Each generation weakened them more than the next.
Thanatos wanted to crush her against him and feel her curvy softness against the strength of his body. He wanted to make love to her until she screamed his name. She stepped back out of his reach and his moment of forgetting he was nothing but darkness ended.
* * * *
“I’m fine. Why are you here?” Panic rose inside of her. His appearance at the hospital was never a good thing.
Thanatos stood silently. He looked—regretful. Her heart pounded frantically. She’d be calling a code soon.
She felt so drawn to the dark and handsome being. She still couldn’t believe he was real. Strangely, she was the only one in the hospital who ever saw him, and whenever she saw him it made her wonder if she was crazy. She’d even had herself scanned in the MRI to be sure she didn’t have a brain tumor. She’d checked out with a clean bill of physical health.
Every time he appeared to her, she felt her heart race. For days afterward he was all she could think about. It wasn’t just that he was supposed to be a mythical being—it was how attractive he was. The sadness in his face only intensified the poignant sorrow of his duty. She knew he didn’t hate life.
There was something inexplicable between them. The fact he didn’t relish his duty, and yet he had done it for millennia only made her more fascinated by him. His seriousness didn’t detract from his handsomeness. He was so beautiful she found it hard to rationalize he brought death. There was a deep sadness in him, and her empathetic heart ached for this supernatural being. She’d only seen him infrequently in her last position, but here she saw him at least once a month, which only added to the stress of this department.
She hurt as she looked into his sorrowful eyes. Her mind filled with the memory of the first time she saw him.
“It’s all right, Stephanie. Your grandfather is in a better place. He was ready to move on. Remember what he said last night?”
The older woman she consoled choked out a sob, but she nodded her head. “He … he said he was ready to see grandma again.” The woman hiccupped.
“That’s right. He was one of my favorite patients. Every day he gave me a reason to smile. Even when he was suffering, he had a joke or a story for me. I can’t imagine how many wonderful memories you have, but don’t forget how much he loved you. You came every day, and he always seemed brighter after those visits.” As she hugged Stephanie, she noticed a man entering the room out of the corner of her eye. “You go down to the family lounge and have a cup of coffee and make the calls you need at the reception desk phone. You tell Maude I said to do it. I’ll go make sure we treat him with all the love he deserves.”
Stephanie nodded and wiped at her wet face. “You’re a good nurse, Nyssa.”
Nyssa gave her a sad little half smile. “I’ll miss him too.” She watched Stephanie walk down the hall toward the family lounge, and then hurried back into the room. She hadn’t wanted to upset the poor woman further by having a confrontation in front of her, but that man had no business in the room.
“What are you doing?” she demanded. The man was tall and pale, and he had the brownest eyes she’d ever seen. His dark brown hair was cut short, and he wore a neatly trimmed beard. His black turtleneck and jeans were casual, and yet there was a dignified air about him. She’d never seen a more handsome man.
Since that time, Nyssa still hadn’t found a more attractive man, but there was something about the sad dignity in which he carried out his duty that appealed to her. He was beautiful, even if he was one of the most feared beings of all time.
She didn’t hate him for what he did. She’d seen people suffering at the end of their lives, and sometimes death was a blessing. He cared about life. It was weird, because he was Death, but Thanatos always seemed to have a reverence for what his so-called appointments were losing. She lost herself in the memory again.
The intruder looked at her with surprise. “Can you see me?” he asked.
“I’m asking the questions. What are you doing in the room? Are you lost?”
“Leave, mortal. You shouldn’t be able to see me. Only the dead can see me.”
Oh, great the psych ward let another one wander off. He was so good-looking. It was a terrible shame he was insane.
“I’m calling security. Are you a tenth floor patient?” she demanded.
“I’m the guardian of the dead, and I’ll have done my work before security arrives. You’ll be the one they deem mentally corrupt.” The stranger walked casually over to the bed. He reached for the deceased elderly man on the bed.
This was definitely a matter for security. She hurried over to press a button on the wall.
“Don’t you dare touch that man. He’s dead.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Mr. Goodson’s soul stood, leaving the body behind. His body lay still, but she could see him standing there looking healthy and peaceful, albeit transparent. She reached out to touch him in awe, but her hand went right through him. She gasped, stumbling back against the wall. Her arm flailed, pushing a tray table away with a clatter.
“I don’t know how you can see me, but I promise you this man’s soul will be cared for with respect. His place in the afterlife is good. He’s lived an exemplary mortal life,” he said as he reached out to steady the dead man’s soul as it stood. Mr. Goodson looked up at the man/being with a strange, thankful smile on his wizened face. Then his elderly faced morphed into a youthful version of the man she knew. Nyssa gasped. His body was still old, but his soul looked vibrant.
“You’re really Death.” she gasped. “How can I see you when no one else does? Am I going to die?”
His only response was a smile, and it made her shiver. They stood for a moment in silence.
“No, you’re not dying, but I’m really Death. I have no idea how you see me, but the ability fascinates me.”
“Will … will I see you again?”
He smiled at her, and her heart slammed into her chest. She knew the unspoken answer was yes.
When she thought about that first simple plea, she realized she’d known deep down there was a sense of familiarity about him even then. There was more to him than just his duty. She couldn’t help remembering the rest of that first fateful meeting.
He glared at her. “I’ve had many appointments in this hospital. Why would you want to see me again?” He looked immeasurably anguished. She’d never seen such a dark look in the eyes of another person … being.
“I … You just look so sad. I’m sorry.”
Mr. Goodson’s soul smiled at Nyssa. “Thank you for taking such good care of me and my family. The other nurses never paid any attention, but I know you brought my Stephanie snacks and asked her how she was doing. It made knowing I was going to leave her a little easier. Tell my girl she made me proud.” He turned to the being who’d proclaimed himself a god “Will I see my Justine again?”
“Everyone’s eternity is different, but I have a feeling she’s waiting for you,” he said comfortingly.
The dead man nodded, though she saw a tear in his eye. “I’m ready.”
“Goodbye, Edwin. I’ll tell her. Take care of him, Death. Is that what I should call you?” Her question seemed to surprise Death.
“I am Thanatos.” He stood a little taller, as if his name should mean something to her. “You modern mortals no longer remember the old ways and the ancient truths.”
“I’m sorry. I really didn’t know death was a person. I thought people just died. Thank you for taking care of Edwin.”
He flinched and looked uncomfortable. “What is your name?”
“Take care of yourself, Nyssa Summers. I hope to see you again, but not as an appointment.”
“Yeah, me too,” she said quietly.
Death—Thanatos—chuckled as he gently led the old man’s soul away. He glanced back one last time and their eyes held for an instant.
In that moment, Nyssa had felt almost ashamed of her deep attraction to him. Every time she had seen him since, the same tingling went through her. She loved life, but found the embodiment of Death to be kind. The more she’d talked to him and interacted with him, the more she’d come to know about him, not just what he did. He seemed to truly care for people—especially her, which she found strange. She hadn’t been one of his appointments, so far, but he sought her out every time someone died at the hospital. She’d come to both look forward to, and dread, his appearances.
“Are you sure you are fine?” His voice startled her out of her memories. “I felt your fear, Nyssa Summers, and I didn’t like it.”
He paused and sucked in a deep breath of air. His eyebrow rose. A strange, angry look replaced his normally sad expression. “He was here?” Thanatos demanded. As if she knew what he was talking about, or should know.
“How many gods do you see a day, Nyssa?”
His harsh tone made her flinch. “Blondie said he was the god of sleep.”
Thanatos scowled. He closed his eyes a moment and seemed to be concentrating. Then he drew in a long sniff. She found his smelling thing very strange. “So Hypnos was here?” He was at her side with just a few long strides.
“Yes. He was messing with the coma patients,” she replied.
Thanatos scowled. “Did he hurt you? Tell me now!” They gazed at each other for a long moment. He stroked her cheek gently. She felt electricity. He didn’t touch her often, but when he did it made her instantly wet. There seemed to be so much intensity in the simple act she had to bit her lip to keep from begging him to kiss her. “He touched you. I can smell him on you.” Thanatos grabbed her wrists and scowled at the slight discoloration from Hypnos’s rough treatment.
“He did this?”
He pressed her wrists to his lips. The contact was brief, but it sent butterflies fluttering in her stomach. When he glanced up to meet her eyes she shook her head yes and compressed her lips. She’d never heard him sound so upset. He normally had an unusual calmness about him she found comforting. His eyes looked different, unnaturally bright. Thanatos’s expression darkened further. He looked so fierce he was scary.
She took a step back, afraid. Before her eyes, he lost all trace of the appearance of humanity and turned into a seven-foot tall winged creature. His muscular chest was covered with strange symbols. His eyes blazed red. The massive scaled wings unfurled and she could see almost nothing of her friend in this being. In a flicker, he was back to being just a man, albeit a handsome one. Nyssa almost couldn’t believe what she’d seen. She was torn between asking him to turn back so she could get a better look and running away from him.
“My apologies. My brother has a way of … irritating me like none other. If he ever leaves a mark on you again, he will be the first god to experience death!”
“Ah, no, I’m fine. He didn’t hurt me, but I think I made him angry. Am I in danger?”
Thanatos’s expression changed from angry to reassuring. He shook his head. “No, sweet Nyssa, he has never been vengeful. I do not truly believe you are in danger, but I do not want him to touch you again. Hypnos is the god of dreams. You have not seen him here before?”
Nyssa let go of the breath she was holding. “No.”
He watched her face carefully for a moment.
She put her hands on her hips, annoyed with his scrutiny.
“I see you have a new patient. Was this the one my brother was ‘messing’ with?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“This one will recover. He dreams. I am here for this one,” he said as he pointed to Mr. Thompson.
“Oh, no! I was hoping the poor man would recover. His wife visits every day. He’s only been with us a week.”
“I am sorry Nyssa. He is my appointment. You have a tender heart and a pure soul. Being with you is … refreshing. If it were in my power I would restore him just to see you smile.” Thanatos walked over to the bed and touched the comatose man. Nyssa watched as Mr. Thompson’s soul stood up, looking confused. He flinched when he saw Thanatos.
The dead man turned to Nyssa. “Tell my wife I love her.” The alarms on his monitors began sounding. His dead body lay on the bed. They were gone in an instant, and Nyssa quickly called for the crash cart. She began CPR, knowing it was futile, but it would look strange if she casually accepted a patient’s death.
Doctor Benn rushed in, and they attempted to resuscitate him for another fifteen minutes. When the doctor gave up, Nyssa noted the time on Mr. Thompson’s chart. Doctor Benn took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. She put her hand on the doctor’s arm lightly. When he looked at her she gave him a small, understanding smile. His face relaxed, just a little, and he patted her hand affectionately.