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Hades had trouble concentrating on his duties. Each time he cleared the gates of souls and convinced himself he was free to make for home, another one would show up. He hadn't yet given Ink the opportunity to stand at the gates alone, but Hades was seriously considering it as he walked a young soul down the path toward Charon's boat. Hades was just starting to entertain the soul with his favorite birdsong when Charon came charging up the path like a wild man. This caused the soul to cling fearfully to Hades' robe.

"What has gotten into you, Charon?" Hades chided as he stroked the head of the frightened soul.

Charon offered a curt bow to the soul before addressing Hades with the gaze of a lunatic. "Pardon my irregular greeting, your grace, but your babies are being born. Right now. In Elysium."

"What!"

Hades urged the soul forward but the innocent refused to release his robe. This did not stop him from taking the path at a trot. It also did not stop Charon from continuing his oration.

"That is not the only news, I am afraid. Your mother is there as well. Lexi and her pet minotaur went into Elysium to search for her."

"Rhea? What is she..." Hades stopped as a cold chill rushed his body. The life strand. The prophecy. Hades felt certain he was now wearing the same wild-eyed look as Charon, but he could not let his thoughts of dread derail him. He had to get to Lexi and the babes, and he forced his legs to carry on. He wanted to be angry with Lexi for leaving the palace, but he knew it was in her nature to think of others before herself. How did she get there? She would have needed a horse. Dammit. Where were the nymphs when all this happened?

Spartan met Hades at Charon's boat, releasing an anxious snort from his muzzle. Clearly, Hades' urgent stride had triggered Spartan's radar. Hades pried the soul loose from his robe, but the frightened thing clearly did not want to be left with Charon, and he bolted away from them.

"Use your sash!" Hades shouted through a rigid jaw. This was not a good time to test his patience, and it was all he could do not to shout a curse as he watched Charon chase after the soul. Charon untied his sash, and in doing so, his robe flew open, making it clear he had not dressed appropriately that morning. The innocent became so agitated, he quickly jettisoned up and out of Charon's reach.

"Why do you insist on remaining nude under your robes, Charon! These souls are not used to seeing such displays where they come from. I have told you this, how many times?"

Charon appeared indifferent to his heinous oversight, chuckling as he tried to coax the soul away from the rafters of the dock, but Hades had no time for foolishness. He conjured a vapor and released it from his mouth into the innocent's face. It took only a moment for the soul to succumb, and he floated down into Hades' arms. Charon reached out to take him, but Hades was already leaving the scene with the soul clinging to his neck.

"Put some clothes on, Charon!"

Hades whistled to Spartan, who quickly kept pace beside him. Hades felt compelled to explain why he was not taking advantage of Spartan's superior speed. "I cannot ride you, Spartan. The soul would not survive the trip. He is too fragile."

Fortunately, the trip was not that far, and soon they were crossing the bridge to Elysium together. It wasn't until Hades reached the other side that he noticed Rhea's spirit. She appeared to be expecting him, and it took him several deep breaths and a clearing of his throat before he was able to address her.

"Mother."

"Hurry, my son. Your mate gives birth as we stand here. Follow me."

Hades hurried to follow her, occupying his thoughts with Lexi and their babes, and not the vision of his mother in spirit form as she ushered him through the forest. Lexi's cries echoed clearly amid the trees, followed by the wail of a babe, and Hades worried that Lexi was alone. Then there came the distinctive cry of a minotaur, and Hades remembered Charon's comment about Lexi's pet minotaur being with her. They arrived at the river, and Hades was stopped by his own legs when saw Lexi naked in the water, her legs spread wide while Lars sat in front of her holding a bundle wrapped in Lexi's dress.

"Oh, Hades. I'm so happy you're here." Lexi reached out to him as she growled through a contraction, and Hades set the young soul down at Rhea's feet. She immediately bent to stroke his head.

Lars stood from the river, gesturing for Hades to take his place. As they passed, Lars unwrapped the fabric of Lexi's dress to reveal the squinty red face of Hades' newborn. Hades did not ask the sex, but he was impressed by the baritone of the babe's wail.

Hades stepped over the riverbank and into the water, bending to wash his hands. "How are you, my love? Have you taken in liquid?"

Lexi nodded as she pointed to a satchel on the shore. "I packed fruit for Lars. He fed me an orange while we waited for baby number twooooo."

Lexi shut her eyes tight as she groaned, and Hades saw the head of his baby crown. Unlike the first, whose head was nearly bald, this head had a healthy amount of dark hair. He coached Lexi through the next four contractions, the last of which produced his perfectly pink newborn daughter. Lars joined Hades in the water and gestured for Hades to trade babies.

"Lars is going to suction the fluid from the baby's mouth," Lexi explained as she panted into her chest. "He did it for our son."

"Our son?" Hades felt like he had been swept into a dream as he handed over his newborn to Lars. A few moments later, his daughter was voicing her displeasure at being manhandled as Lars wrapped her in the other half of Lexi's dress. Lars then turned over his knife to Hades, which Hades used to cut the umbilical cord.

"You are not done," Lars said to Lexi.

Lexi nodded. "Yes, I remember. The placentas are next."

Macaria and Heracles arrived to take in the show, floating over to Rhea and the soul in her charge. Hades was surprised more souls hadn't taken a morbid curiosity in the uncharacteristic screaming coming from their resting place, but Hades was glad The Fates stayed out of it. Births were not their forte. When the placentas were delivered, Lars took each one and inspected it carefully before tossing it into the forest. Hades didn't question his methods, he just appreciated having someone there to do it, allowing Hades to sit with Lexi and support her while she rested. When the babes were suckling at Lexi's breasts, she leaned over to kiss him.

"Our babies will have the best birth story ever," she said.

"Oh, there are some doozies out there, but this should make the top ten. Tell me something, my love. I heard Lars cry out when Rhea and I were approaching. What was that about?"

Lexi looked sheepish as she and Lars made eye contact. "That was my fault. During a particularly painful contraction, my foot slipped off the rock and landed in Lars' groin."

Lars flinched at her retelling, and Hades did the same. "Sorry, I asked." 

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