Hypnos had been minding his business, which was probably the problem to begin with—the most juicy of disasters usually start just so, with the easygoing victim being courteous and minding themselves before calamity strikes most indiscriminately. Or, very much discriminately. One might say specifically targeted, in this particular occasion. Or ‘lucky,’ (Hypnos applies finger quotes liberally here) as his tormentor would definitely coo with a smile that would be at home in any nightmare.
And Erebus is meant to his haven, that eternally dark plain of refuge that no wretches traverse through on account of it being generally dark and inhabitable and therefore Hypnos’s impeccable place of dwelling. He had a date with his bed. His ebony cot that he had been destined to entwine passionately within, his day off one that he intended to exploit to the fullest extent to give mortals some lovingly vivid dreams; it’s a shitty winter up there, they deserve it.
And such was the catalyst, perhaps. Minding his own business, planning to be altruistic, delightfully handsome, he was a perfect target; that ultimate trifecta that encourages oppression from unsavoury characters and he makes for a most apt protagonist in some low-level, bottom of the barrel tragedy.
He stops when he sees it, in the halls of Erebus. An abrupt halt, and he was suddenly brought to an uncomfortable wakefulness. There was an oddity blocking his path, sitting most inconspicuously in the middle of his pathway like it had belonged in the infinite murk of Erebus, despite the stark contrast of white it held that marred the delicate inkiness of darkness.
A feather. A white feather. Plucked straight from some blanched fowl and dreadfully mundane. Except for the fact birds do not reside within the realms of Hell, especially one’s coloured a distinct non-Hell-esque aesthetic of snowy ivory. Hypnos squints at it. Suspicious. Cautious. A healthy air of paranoia because he does possess a sense of self-preservation, and while the realms of Hades are not known for being conventional, there are limits. Abnormalities such as an ominously misplaced feather have even Hypnos, purveyor of Dreams (and mortals do dream some questionable things), pause in his step.
He had planned to step around the offending feather, providing it with a respectful distance to edge around as to not incur it’s wrath. He was sure stepping near the thing would have given him an all expense paid trip back to the Pool of Styx, and he isn’t Zagreus. So he would’ve given it the esteem it commanded, but things are never so simple. Because there’s a reason there was an ill-suited single remain of some bird that appeared to him, specifically, and it had indeed appeared specifically to him.
There are eyes upon his back, and his shoulders slumped as he conceded. He turns on his heel, brandishing a bright smile that was perfected only by someone who’s forced to deal with shades on the daily, hiding away the sudden weariness that engulfed him.
“Lady Aphrodite," he greets as amiable as he is able to when all he feels is mistrust. “To what do I owe the most honourable pleasure?”
There’s little reason an Olympian would present themselves in Hades, and it becomes wholly more concerning when it is him they seek, and theirs is the attention he’d rather avoid. Nothing particularly good ever comes out of their scrutiny, no matter how fun the stories of their temperamental prides may be, because the fun factor is removed when he could be the topic of it.
Aphrodite does not appear through a limited gateway as she does with Zag, she does not breach the realm of Hell herself because she isn’t an idiot; as a white feather rendered him to a halt, the owner of that feather presents itself: a white dove, sat as nonchalantly as the feather and the most terrible minion of the Goddess of Love that he would love to throw a kick at, if that didn’t mean incurring her wrath and then being transformed into a dove himself.
Aphrodite’s voice comes from her puppet, its eyes distinctly more pink than it should be—her voice does not come through the movement of its beak like some sort of terrible automaton, merely emanates from the bird as some ghostly voice like a particularly terrible automaton.
“You hold a heavy heart, dearest,” she says in a way that sounds like she’s pouting. “It pains me to feel you so, for there is nothing more heartbreaking than…well, heartache!”
Spoken like a true poet. Hypnos was not deluded enough to think she wouldn’t feel his… heartache (oh, what an embarrassing thing to admit), as the Goddess of Love (of Lust, too), obviously she would have been made instantly aware of his certain… wants.
Gods, heartache, and it really is that, isn’t it. He can’t escape that, the feeling that he has a stone in place of his heart and how decidedly exasperating it is that she was able to have him become so bare with a mere sentence. He’d be impressed if he wasn’t disturbed by her presence. Of course she knows his amorous woes, probably felt it as a chariot to the face and one she hooted about with her retinue as she no doubt felt his fumbling, he’d imagine. And he’d gladly be that source of clownery for her to guffaw at if she’d do so, y’know, away from him, atop of Mount Olympus and distinctly distant. But Aphrodite does bring with her a specific brand of sadism, doesn’t she, Hypnos thinks despairingly as he continues to smile at her dove.
“Allow me to applaud your predilection, dearest, the Prince is a most fine specimen, is he not?” Aphrodite finishes the statement with a giggle and her dove preens when she does so.
“I do feel the most greedy when I gaze upon his body, certainly.” Hypnos says mildly, because he doesn’t really have a choice but to entertain her. Olympians want things, and he knows she isn’t merely here to chat.
She giggles again, this time more coyly. “Immaculate tastes.” She says, and, well, at least he can agree with her. “His face appears sculpted from marble by the finest of craftsmen, a body you wish desperately to explore and taste, and you don’t want to share, do you?”
Well of course he doesn’t, it’s fucking—Zagreus. Fucking. Zagreus. Mister ‘ooh look at me, my ass looks impeccable in these stupid red tights, I’m so pretty, and if that wasn’t bad enough, I’m the most likable person ever to exist and Hypnos has no chance, literally none, and he sure is an idiot for falling in love with his friend, teehee!’ Absolutely unforgivable. Like being chained to the wall starving to death with a feast that is just out of reach, and he can only lay on his bed with an aching chest like some lonely idiot.
“And I do so enjoy indulging in dreams where he beds me.” Hypnos flashes a bright smile, mentally prepares himself for Aphrodite to then interrogate him on what his spank bank is made out of, considering the direction she took this.
Her dove practically glows (in fact, it literally does), pink eyes piercing as a blade as she speaks with glee. “And of so much more, I’d imagine! You are a weighted soul, burdened by your love for him as a man thrown into the ocean who is tied to stones, drowning in your deep desire for him to not only take you, but to hold you. To keep you safe, to protect you from that loneliness that strangles you, to share a bed with so you no longer feel the need to curl around a cushion to satiate that ache within you.”
Sheesh, alright, no need to put him on blast. He already knows he’s been pathetic with this, and he’s forever thankful Zagreus is daft enough that he doesn’t notice Hypnos’s—yearning, oh, geez, he’s been yearning, and so openly too.
“May I be so bold as to ask what it is you desire from me, Lady Aphrodite?” He asks, subconsciously readying spells of comatose to his fingertips, just in case. Might as well get this over with, he still has a bed to go to.
“I only wish to aid you.” Aphrodite’s voice is innocent, and Hypnos doesn’t trust that. “It is true what I said, it aches me just as much as it aches you. And I simply cannot stand by and feel you stumble as a fool in melancholy when you could be claimed by Zagreus. The difference in size between you two is reason enough to urge you to closer.”
Well, she isn’t wrong, not really. The perks of being a God on the smaller scale is that Zagreus could overpower him really easily and shove Hypnos into the bed with ravenous hunger and—well, anyway. Size difference is cute. Yup.
Aid, she says, and he doubts it’s the sort of boons she bestows upon Zagreus. Unless she honestly expects him to—spar, or something, to garner Zagreus’s attention and ugh, ugh, yet another reason Hypnos’s romantic plight will bear no fruit, because Zagreus would enjoy a good sparring session. And while Hypnos wouldn’t mind being wrestled into the dirt with Zagreus on top of him radiating a certain smugness (this is not a fantasy he has entertained, nope), Hypnos knows he wouldn’t make for a very engaging scrapping partner, and Zagreus would be bored, and he wouldn't feel the need to continue detaining Hypnos underneath him and claim his prey and—anyway. Strength, it's—pretty neat, too.
He can feel her ego, clearly delighting in his sudden lust, and he knows she’s to blame for that.
“Well, I must admit.” He starts, purposely thinking of dove droppings so mini-Hypnos doesn’t make a sudden appearance. “You have me interested. And you honour me, of course, to offer what I’m sure is flawless aid.”
“I’m going to bestow upon you a gift. Motivation, as it were, for you to act upon your feelings, as I dread feeling more grief from you.”
Her voice is deceptively sweet in the way that promises unsavoury things happening to him. Hypnos feels his face twitch as he gazes down at this frightful little fowl, promising a gift that is most certainly foul.
“Ah, a curse—?” He starts, because why dance around it.
“A gift, an incentive to gain Zagreus’s affections, for the longer you dawdle, the greater the pain will become.”
Nice. Threatened with violence. His favourite pastime. The tips of his fingers itch, his instinct to defend himself rearing its head from slumber. But if he were to put her to sleep now… No one wants to deal with scorned Olympians, and Master Hades would just toss him upwards through every plain of Hell to breach the surface for Aphrodite to unload her vengeance upon if she were to make a stink. Because why would Master Hades inundate himself with Aphrodite and her wrath when he merely needs to throw out the actual reason for the problem and let Aphrodite have her way with Hypnos. He would find no sanctuary in Hades if he were to rattle Aphrodite's ire so, there's only so many times he can put Olympians to sleep before it eventually tears him limb from limb. And, more importantly, if Hypnos does think to do that most selfish act of self-defense, she might feel the need to tell Zagreus his little secret as revenge. Oof.
So. He’s going to be cursed. Delightful. Aphrodite’s dove makes a rolling chirp, trotting closer with talons that scrape against the tiles of Erebus like a screeching from a banshee, and it takes a physical effort to not step back and good Gods he’s being threatened by a stupid bird. This is embarrassing.
Aphrodite continues, “You’ll only have yourself to blame, if things get excruciating; your heart withered inside you, your lungs eaten from the inside, your ribs turned to dust—Why… I just want to encourage you, dearest, you won’t receive Zagreus’s fondness if you don’t try. The greatest deaths are those that suffered from a broken heart, and I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t support you. But death will ultimately be your fate if you do not have Zagreus reciprocate.”
Oh ho ho, threatened with murder. Doubly nice. And is that a pinch of victim-blaming? Love a multi-talented Goddess. Going to fan a fire under his ass, and at this point he would have preferred her to have imprisoned him and demanded to know what his sexual fantasies regarding Zagreus are. Reciprocate, and he’s completely doomed. She clearly doesn’t know the man.
“Unfortunately, your gift may come to naught. Zagreus only views me as a friend, most despairingly. It’s why I wallow.”
That shouldn’t have hurt to say as much as it did, with a sudden pang in his chest. Aphrodite’s a bad influence. He’s made peace with this. Okay, that’s a bold lie he hasn’t, not yet, but he’s getting there.
Aphrodite tsks. “With such a defeatist attitude, you won’t get anywhere, dearest. It’s not a flattering look.”
“Well,” Hypnos’s voice is its usual cheer, his smile it’s exquisite self with dimples that he really, really needs to charm the Goddess right now. “How very considerate of you. But I simply—must decline, if you’ll allow me, I’m sure there are mortals above that would benefit from it far greater than I could. I’m afraid I might just waste your most gracious gift, and I would simply hate to do so.”
But it’s fruitless. Of course it is. And it matters not how charismatic he is because Aphrodite was set on this, and she’ll get what she wants. Erebus is a place of shadow, but with that stupid dove looking at him with pink eyes that remind him of a preying manticore, the gloom of the dark extends then as circling beasts as the bird tilts its head at him.
“Oh, Hypnos,” Aphrodite purrs and it makes his skin crawl. “Hasn’t your dearest mother ever taught you it’s rude to turn down a woman’s gift?”
The dove unfurls its wings, and Hypnos wishes he could say that he took a defensive stance and valiantly diverted her curse elsewhere and disappeared into the darkness, because he knows he has the upper hand in hiding in the dark and becoming unseen. But he can't, because he doesn't react in time before he is blinded completely with a flash of Aphrodite's pink smog. There's a flash, bright and headache inducing, and he stumbles back with an unfortunate squeak. Something forces itself within him, he can feel it traverse into his lungs when he takes a sharp inhale on impulse. He blinks when he's finally gifted back his vision, blearily attempting to make sense of the vague shapes in front of him. The dove is gone. Erebus is returned to its silent and dark self and Hypnos is left sniveling his nose, bringing a hand upwards as something distinctly worm-like feels as through it burrows itself into his chest, and—
His sneeze echoes through the endless corridors, leaving his head ringing and he emits a small 'ugh.' He sniffs. Ethereal dust from some celestial vapours birthed by Aphrodite's departure, and there's something in his chest. Could feel it settle, knows it's there still even though he can no longer sense it as he raises a hand upwards to absently rub at his chest.
He sighs. Throws his head back, groans.
Cursed, just what he needed.
Well, at the very least Aphrodite is kind enough (for lack of a better word) to make this… a slow acting curse. If that’s kind. He doesn’t shrivel up and die like he’s taken a good long whiff of the satyrs’ poison up top like Zagreus did, and it’s been what he assumes to be a full day. Night. It’s been a good couple of hours.
“I hear taking an antidote will cure that poison business for you. Just a thought.” Hypnos quips with a twirl of his quill in his hand, as Zagreus stands before him.
“Hadn’t thought about that.” Zagreus nods, purses his lips. “An antidote, having remedial properties? Sounds pretty out there, mate.”
The Prince gives a small wave before he turns and leaves, no doubt with the intent of tackling Hades once more, and Hypnos watches him go. Twirls his quill again, ignores a shade trying to get his attention at his peripheral and gazes (lovingly, longingly, like a hopeless mortal youth, oh gees) at Zagreus’s retreating form.
Zagreus may only share a few words with him each time after his deaths, but it’s a constant regardless. One Hypnos knows he can reliably count on, and he dreads the day Zagreus won’t return, like some sort of looming monstrosity that he fends off and shoves into the further recesses of his mind because he’s not going to think about that. No more little chats. No more guessing on what was the entertaining way Zag had died this time. No more Princely smiles and royal snark that can match his own and oh, he’ll miss this. Anyway. Not thinking about it, but he does wonder if Zagreus would react at all if Hypnos edged his post closer to the Pool to wait at the top of the steps for his return. Would he think it cute if Hypnos greeted him at a closer distance—?
There’s a rumble in his chest, a cough that dies mid-way through and presenting as a grunting, as Hypnos brings a hand to clutch at his chest in reflex. Well, that’s decidedly unflattering, as he gives out a scoff when he feels the need to reassemble his throat after the sudden onslaught. His palm is flat against his chest, and he ruminates on the continued disturbance within him; right, something’s in him that doesn’t belong.
Oh, is widdle cursey-wormy angry? Probably snickering nefariously among his ribcage from making shades eyeball him weirdly from his impromptu pig imitation. Hypnos blows a breath through his mouth, hammers a fist to his chest in unenthusiastic succession, stretches and lets out a yawn. His yawn is cut when he winces—a sudden sharpness in his chest, and that must’ve been whatever it is inside him getting back at him for providing it a mini-earthquake when he struck his chest.
Well. Annoying, for sure. But nothing… unmanageable. If Hypnos were the idiot Thanatos believed him to be, he’d hold onto a desperate hope that perhaps, Aphrodite had a skewed idea of torture, and assumed inconvenient prickles in the chest to be the most grave form of it. But he isn’t that idiot, and cannot be bliss in ignorance.
He briefly wonders how much worse this’ll get, when he curls in on himself to sleep.
He wakes to the familiar, and ever welcome, sight of Zagreus. A quick glance to his handy-dandy list reveals how the Prince took an express detour back to the House.
“You know, usually when a person sees an overgrown skeletal snake with multiple heads and very, very sharp teeth, they dodge out of the way!” Hypnos cheerily greets as Zagreus stands before him. “That way, you don’t get torn apart by an overgrown skeletal snake with multiple heads and their very, very sharp teeth.”
Zagreus lets out a scoff, hands on his hips. “Next time, I’ll bring you along so you can show me how to properly dodge, mate.”
Hey, Hypnos would take that offer, any excuse he can get to have a merry stroll through the smelting plains of Tartarus with Prince Charming. Even if he would be made as snake bait, he’d be helping. Watching Zagreus duke it out with a monster in the boiling heat with sweat glistening upon his body like twinkling stars, coupled with taut muscles beneath his skin, a vision of splendor that would bring any other to certain shame is—well, that’s just secondary, of course.
Barring how enticing Zagreus’s glazed breasts would look from his mind (an especially difficult endeavour, considering Zag bares a tit to the wind), Hypnos notices immediately that Zagreus doesn’t leave as he usually would. Waiting for Hypnos to respond, and maybe it should be worrying that Hypnos finds himself instantly straightening where he floats in a way that is suspiciously similar to how Cerberus perks when Zagreus approaches him, but it is Zagreus, so. Now if only the man would pet him, too, as he pets Cerberus. (Sigh.)
“I think I’d rather stay where I am, as alluring as being snake chow is. But know I totally cheer you on from where I sleep, and I absolutely do not have a score of your deaths to keep track of.” Hypnos does not have a tally he bets with Skelly, nope. “Now, scoot, you gotta show that Hydra who’s boss! You’ve killed it before, just don’t let it kill you! You can do it!”
Zagreus lets out a considering hum, brow quirked. “You are always such a flatterer, Hypnos.” He says dryly.
Oh, I can be much more than that, said flatterer thinks, and Zagreus takes his leave. Not in his usual way, though, as in turning on his heel and promptly leaving for another lovely encounter of death (both as Thanatos and his literal demise). Zagreus does leave, but not before reaching up and patting Hypnos on the shoulder with a, “Cheers, mate.”
And Zagreus is gone, and it’s—not quite like a pet, as much as Hypnos would absolutely be willing to roll over like Cerberus, he’ll take what he can get. And stopping that train of thought before it gets out of hand (woof), Hypnos instead focuses on how Zagreus’s light pat on his shoulder still feels physically present on his skin; a tingling at his flesh, and oh boy, good Gods, he should really just face the fact he’ll probably never get over this man but he’s still beating that notion over the head with a metaphorical stick so he doesn’t have to face it. Yet. Hopefully never. He rolls his shoulders and he’s still thinking about Zagreus’s little pat and, that’s new. Their little chats are usually just that, little chats, because Zagreus has a full itinerary of dying to do and he hasn’t… leaned forward to touch Hypnos’s shoulder and it was just a pat but. But.
He can (dejectedly?) pinpoint the exact moment he realized his feelings for Zagreus transgressed the line of strictly platonic friendship. His head against Zagreus’s shoulder, body slumped into the Prince’s side as he slept upon his royal pillow when the two had wasted time in the lounge. And it had been a regular, ordinary occasion. Sleeping on Zagreus. Because Zagreus is a charity and allowed Hypnos the luxury and Hypnos had dreamed a specific dream, then, one that felt as though he was embraced by the sun with how he was filled with a certain warmth and Hypnos remembers every single dream he curates. Cradled, he had been, in the dream by the man he had slept on, with Zagreus’s arms curled around his body and it felt as a greater comfort than his own cape, and the feeling of Zagreus’s lips pressing themselves onto Hypnos’s forehead was a thunderbolt that brought Hypnos into instant awareness.
He awoke with a stiffening on the body, still posed against the Prince and he thought, ‘oh.’ Zagreus had fallen asleep where he sat, Hypnos could feel his slumber (had probably put Zag to sleep inadvertently), and the smaller God grew tense against the Prince while ruminating upon the confused flounders in his chest that can be eloquently described as butterflies making a mess inside him. ‘Oh,’ indeed, and Hypnos had fallen in love with his friend, had probably been so for years, maybe, before he properly understood it, and he left Zagreus to continue rest with a quiet departure.
And he hasn’t indulged in sleeping on Zagreus since. Hasn’t been able to, physically cannot, because the fact he feels a cavernous hollow sensation when he wakes alone on his bed is proof enough such a thing will only be made tenfold if he were to entertain their little quirk any longer. Laying on the man’s chest and listening to his heartbeat (pretending they’re cuddling because Poseidon’s balls he wants to be held) probably wouldn’t help matters and Mom had the right idea, with the whole weaning thing. The ‘deliberately do not speak with Hypnos so he’s forced to get his own footing instead of clinging to the edge of her dress’ strategy that Thanatos makes his own spin of, that absolutely doesn’t feel like the two of them are leaving him to freeze to death. So. Just as that helps him mature through feeling like he has open wounds that won’t heal, he’ll do the same with Zagreus; distancing, because that’s a plan that hasn’t failed so far, and feeling like the only emotion he has is shame is just that unfortunate side effect he’s gotta power through.
Sure, one could say it was difficult to do that distancing thing when Zagreus still offered himself as a place of rest, one might say it felt like a punch to the gut when Zagreus eventually stopped because Hypnos could make an endless slew of excuses to avoid things and Zagreus wasn’t the picture of disappointment each time, nope, because that was just Hypnos projecting and Zagreus—pets. Pats. Maybe he’ll keep doing that. Maybe Hypnos is a little pathetic for hoping he would. This is going to be a long road, isn’t it, he feels like he needs to dunk his head in cold water (or blood, some available liquid that can act as a slap to the face) just to ward away his body’s traitorous ache to curl around a cushion and pretend it holds the relief that sleeping on Zag did. Maybe Zagreus misses it too. Maybe that’s why he gave a pat, and if only he extended that further with fingers that curled around Hypnos’s shoulder and coaxing him forward, greeting him with a strong embrace that promised safety—
A cough interrupts his deluded thoughts, Hypnos having intended to drift off, but then he’s coughing, then he’s practically hacking, little wheezes that accumulate into a trembling of the chest. He winces at the rude awakening, missing how Hades’s incessant scribbling has ceased as he gives Hypnos a mighty stink-eye.
With one particularly rude frog in his throat, Hypnos gives out a final rough rasp as his golden gorget suddenly feels too tight around his throat. Freedom is given with a bleary grunt as he blinks where he floats, the rumbling within calming itself as things twist and writhe inside him. Multiple worms? Feels like. Aphrodite should patent this.
Hypnos nearly gags again when he becomes aware of a presence at the rear of his mouth, seated upon his tongue and he makes a delightful ‘eurgh’ sound when he spits the offending thing into his hand.
He squints down at it. Looks at it. Moistened by his saliva and made tattered through its rough expulsion from his lungs, lays the meager remains of a—flower. Small and taken before it could properly bloom, and apparently there’s flowers growing inside him and that’s more like Aphrodite’s brand, he mildly thinks, as he moves the thing in between his fingers and causes further deterioration at its brittle form. Would be just like her to have him be eaten from the inside out from ferocious flora.
And it’s a poppy. Aphrodite must think herself really fucking poetic. Roses would have been too predictable, maybe. Just sprinkle that wound with salt by using his own emblem to ravage him, why not.
Okay. Not worms. Flowers. That’s a plus, right? Right. He flicks the crumbled poppy to the ground, and decides he’s not going to think about it.
Okay, he’ll think about it, because he has to think about it. Because there’s a trail of red beginning to follow him in the form of really disgusting spit and mucus covered flower petals. At least there’s already flower petals decorating the halls of the House, thanks for Zagreus’s recent renovations, really spruces the place up and hides the fact Hypnos has spit and mucus (the slime of it is going to make him hurl on its own) covered flowers in his wake. An entourage of intrusive guests that make their presence known with a gag and a hack and there’s shades that are looking at him when they think he doesn’t notice. He’s a real spectacle. Coughing behind a hand and then glowering at said hand when he expels more flowers into his palm.
So, he’ll think about it: it’ll get worse, has already gotten worse, and there’s only so much ‘allow me to discreetly wheeze into my fist’ he can do before Master Hades decides he has to do a vivisection on him as punishment for creating such annoyances.
He already made the mistake of attempting to curb his flower expulsion by attempting to swallow it back down, and that just resulted in him nearly heaving his entire stomach outwards with a gag that had him stumble into the wall behind him with such a force he nearly cracked his head open. That one was especially viscous. He shudders at the thought of it.
Okay. It’ll get worse. He won’t be able to hide it. He’ll use a half truth; cursed, yes, but by some persons unknown instead of Aphrodite. Maybe he ate something that had been labeled as ‘blighted with blasphemy - do not consume,' that sounds like something stupid but also sympathetic enough to be him. Thanatos would say it’s his fault. Which is sorta correct anyway. He’s not going to think about Thanatos telling him he deserves this because that feels like he has a scythe blade at his throat.
So he’s going to die some horribly painful and slow death via flowers and hey, at least that’s unique. The cure’s hopeless so he accepts that fate with a slump in his shoulders and he hasn’t died for a good hot minute. The last time that happened was when he tripped over his own cape down a set of stairs and broke his neck, and Thanatos yelled at him afterwards to the point he thought his brother was going to kill him next for embarrassing him by association (floating is a good alternative to walking, turns out) and—Gods, he still has residual humiliation from that, with how he’s accosted with a full body cringe at the memory of it, yuck.
It’ll get worse. He’s definitely going to die from massive internal gardening. He stares despondently at his list with a smile on his face simply out of habit, and the schmuck in front of him died from poison and buddy, he relates.
Ah, Elysium’s Exalted putting in some work, this time round.
“I’d say make yourself less of an enticing target to shuck a spear through, maybe jump out of the way and you won’t become a skewered corpse!”
Before he can rightly stop himself, the thought of ‘I’ve got a nicer spear to impale you with,’ flashes unbidden in Hypnos’s mind and he feels his eye twitch (he blames Aphrodite’s residual fuckery for that one). Zagreus gives his routine smirk, thankfully not a mind reader, and says, “Hadn’t thought of that. I’ll keep that in mind next time, mate. Be seeing you.”
And the Prince leaves, but not before giving Hypnos’s shoulder another pat and that’s probably their thing now, isn’t it. It’s nice. Hypnos needs to forgo his cape and pauldrons so that Zagreus can touch his shoulder properly and for him to feel that warmth of skin against skin and Gods he has issues what the fuck. He already has a cushy, comfortable cape to cuddle in and he is one selfish little bastard.
Zag’s gone, but he doesn’t go towards his room yet. He heads the opposite way, and there’s only two people stationed around the corner he regularly speaks with and that’s Achilles aaaaaand... good old Thanatos. His brother that has his own fanclub and—Well. Than’s the star employee of the House alongside Megaera for a reason. Just that—That insurmountable shadow Hypnos can only take residency in because thinking he can escape it is as hopeless as thinking he can cure this inconvenient curse.
Sheesh. Focus on the list. Do the ledger. Go to sleep. Shepherd the Dreams. Mull over how Thanatos is infinitely closer to Zagreus than he is and his two favourite people are better off together (better off without him he doesn’t think) and he really is just that greedy cretin that deserves to be shoved at the sidelines, whew.
Listen. It’s no secret Hypnos is a teensy… envious, is the nice word, of his brother. It isn’t a fact he’s particularly proud of nor is it one he wants to broadcast but he’s heard the whispers, the gossip, and shades and daimones aren’t as subtle as they believe themselves to be. Thanatos is effortless at his job, has had his portrait plastered on employee of the month more times than he can count, and has the privilege of schmoozing with Zagreus on the daily. Nightly. And reciprocity is an absurd fantasy when Thanatos is the better twin.
It’s a blessing, actually, when Hypnos is forced into a coughing fit. It halts him from taking certain jealousy ridden thoughts any further and those are effectively dispelled when he bends over and becomes a flower canon. Previous poppy weeding sessions possessed an ache, as bruising one’s lungs through a fit will do, but this current adventure in uprooting gifts Hypnos with the delightful feeling of having a hammer bludgeoned square into his chest. As his sternum shatters where it sits, he’s clutching at his chest as he heaves broken rasps that cut through him as a rusty knife.
He prefers if he were vomiting straight up acid, as a particular clump of mushed up poppies becomes lodged in his throat and he needs to de-summon his gorget with a shaky spell to have it pass outwards. He lands on his feet, brought down from his floating, with such a sudden force he receives ground shock, and the mound that leaves him feels suspiciously like a clump of rancid meat exiting his mouth. Sounds like it too, with an unappetizing wet splat when it hits the floor.
He looks down at it, where he stands in a daze as small hiccups leave him as his body attempts to recover from the onslaught. A clump of wet poppies, congealed into some terrible soggy mass and prior, these fits only accumulated into a tattering of petals, a full shredded flower or two at the most. This is a—chunk. A mucous heap of desecrated flowers and he still feels the remainders of its presence in his chest, with a heaviness and a wince as when he attempts to straighten himself there’s a sudden spasm behind his ribcage.
The headache that was birthed from this fit was one that appeared remarkably quickly. His skull feels too tight. He hopes he is imagining the sour smell that radiates off the clump. Shades have given him a wide berth.
“Clean that up, or I have it forced back down your throat.”
Hypnos squeaks at Hades’s sudden booming voice. He whips his head towards his Master, sees Cerberus looking at him with all three of his heads titled in apparent confusion, and Hades glower is as severe as his voice.
Well. He did make a mess.
He gives a weak smile, accentuated with a thumbs up as his other hand wipes the residual drool from his mouth. “Janitor Hypnos coming right up, Master.”
And messes he will make.
He can’t exactly have a dedicated maid to follow him. Well he could, technically, basically does, because Dusa has become a lingering presence that stalks him at a distance to ensure muggy flowers do not become a staple. Coughing is just his soundtrack now. Embarrassment is just a fact of existence when one becomes a sudden florist whose products look like they encountered a flooding. Petals and flowers at least have the courtesy of being somewhat manageable, spit those out and have Dusa clean them. But abominable clumps that infrequently purge themselves are just so—nasty, for starters, painful, too, like his chest is splitting open, and simply not a good look. The amount of ‘eurgh’ and ‘disgusting’ comments he’s gotten has made him feel as though he’s become the God of Revulsion.
‘Can Gods become diseased?’ The whispers say, and Hypnos thinks, no, Gods don’t, at least not in the same way mortals do.
‘It is not contagious, is it?’ Pah, if it were, Master Hades would have already punted him into Tartarus to be feasted upon by manticores.
‘Definitely cursed. How long do you think it will last?’ And we have a winner.
He’s got a dedicated barf bag he keeps on speed-summon. Got an unspoken alliance with Dusa, too, as all he needs to do is extend his offering of emancipated flower blobs and suddenly, he no longer has a used bag to worry about.
He wonders if she’d appreciate a proper bouquet of poppies, one that’s dry and appealing and one she can use to brighten wherever it is she lays residency at. And Hypnos sure is cursed, and Hypnos sure is a confused topic of conversation to make theories about.
It’s a constant ache. A tickling in the chest he can ignore but roots establishing themselves into his lungs and ribs and heart as constant needles through flesh is decidedly harder. His breath has become more ragged. Through each inhale and exhale his lungs become increasingly laboured through fragmentation, his heart strangled through wiry stems that feel as though they possess thorns, and he can feel each and every root like claws sinking themselves deep.
Hypnos is always tired but having a garden of carnivorous poppies slowly devour him from the inside out is quite the remedy of perpetual exhaustion. His ledger is always an unappealing prospect but it becomes literally impossible to even grace it any sort of attention at how there’s a consistent sense of stabbing in his chest. Constantly whoozy isn’t a feeling he likes, he finds.
And mortals dream of serpentine appendages that wrap and imprison their bodies before burrowing beneath their skin to drink greedily at their cascading blood. Indulging in their flesh as their skin becomes stripped away as smooth as a disrobing and they are fixed firmly into the ground with no recourse of escape as strings of their sinews become infused with the dirt as the roots for the new host to claim the body. Flesh is mangled into moist clumps for leaves to grow vibrant, for petals to flourish, bones snapped and turned into fine soot as his lungs still rasp their last, a heart forced to still circulate, and they can only continue to feel as their body is consumed to produce a most crimson set of flowers.
It’s going great.
There’s something new at Hypnos’s post. And isn’t that exciting, something new, as much as the monotony of watching over the Pool of Styx creates the perfect atmosphere to sleep in, a small break in routine is always welcome. Enrichment, as it were.
And today’s (tonight’s?) thrilling form of stimulation is a wonderfully crafted sleeper-seat at his post. Wonderfully golden and cushy and absolutely not there the day/night prior.
It’s new, it’s thrilling, it’s at his post and a sleeper -seat so it’s definitely for him. It totally exists and is physically there and it’s a gift. A gift for him. That’ll never stop being weird. Like being pulled into debt except there is no debt because it’s a gift but that doesn’t stop the fact he feels like he gets baited each time Zagreus gives him nectar (and he totally doesn’t keep the bottles as some sort of collection because he’s absolutely thrown them out after he’s had them) but this —isn’t nectar. It’s a full piece of furniture complete with some really nice looking cushions, and the invitation to sink in and to sleep on it is a strong temptation. So he’s instantly weary, as he looks at it skeptically while he has a manageable coughing moment behind a fist.
But it is a really good looking sleeper-seat, he thinks as he picks petals out from between his teeth. Untouched and unused, elegant and really, really bewitching, and he can feel his eyes droop just by looking at its velvety coverings, its snug cushions, and it’s totally for him (because who else could it be for) but he brings himself to a float just above it, so if there is some sort of nefarious fine print, he can say he hasn’t used it.
Hypnos wakes when he feels Zagreus’s presence approach, bringing his eye mask to his forehead to properly greet the Prince with a smile that is interrupted with a puff of petals becoming expelled through his mouth.
Zagreus looks at him, and Hypnos speaks before he can rightly discern the concern on the other’s face. “You’re back pretty soon! Ah well. You’ll do better next time, I know it.”
“Thanks.” Zagreus’s voice is casual, he looks at Hypnos a moment longer before his gaze appreciates the furniture Hypnos floats over. “So....” He muses deliberately. “That’s new.”
“It sure is! I have no idea why it’s here, though! Maybe... delivery got confused! Took a wrong turn, or something!” Hypnos cheerily states because Zagreus spoke in such a way that was clear he expects something. “Hey, I don’t suppose you know who could have gotten it, right? Because from where I’m floating, why, this looks like it could be for me!”
“You’re very observant, Hypnos.” Zagreus’s voice is suspiciously toned as if he speaks with a small child. “It looks like it's for you because… surprise! It is! I do hope it is up to your standards.”
Hoh hah. Oh hahaha, Zagreus got him a sleeper-seat. A full on sleeper-seat that he had delivered to his post and he gives Hypnos nectar on a (vaguely unsettling) consistent basis and that’s just so —Hypnos doesn’t have any more purses to give the guy, he’s out of his element here. He has at least six gifts he owes the man but Zag has never made mention that Hypnos is bound to him and he’s going to have his own treasure trove at this rate oh boy. The materialistic part of him sings and the ‘You have no chance with Zagreus idiot’ part of him (as in, the reasonable part of him) presents itself with a sharp pinch in his chest.
The pinch is a segway to a small cough he curbs behind a hand. “Oh, oh ho ho, that’s—You got this? For me?”
Zagreus and his penchant for gift giving. Hypnos needs to consciously remind himself he’s not special in that regard because that’s just a character trait of Zag’s, but it’s a sleeper-seat and it is comfy when he brings himself downwards to properly sit on it, and his rear is caressed most gently upon its surface. It’s nice. It’s from Zag. He likes it.
“Indeed.” Zagreus says and he almost puffs out his chest in smugness while doing so. “Just a little something. When you no longer feel like floating.” And then he looks at Hypnos again, with that considering look that’ll have Hypnos squirm if he did it any longer, as Zagreus steps forward and reaches out, has his hand place itself upon Hypnos’s shoulder. “You’ve been unwell, lately, mate. I thought I would give you this so you may rest while on the job. Well, rest easier.”
Oh. Ah. Zagreus’s face is both weirdly soft and serious at the same time. And it’s not a mere pat this time, his hand stays at Hypnos’s shoulder and Hypnos’s smile is stuck on his face through habit as he looks up at the Prince and that Princely investment he has in literally everyone’s troubles. Handsome and kind and this really isn’t fair.
It was really only a matter of time before this; before Zagreus took notice and said something (and he got him a gift, too, specifically for this, oh gees), Hypnos’s coughs have become wheezes, his grumbles something disgustingly guttural and he has a barf bag and he hates that he has a Godsdamned barf bag.
This sleeper-seat is really soft. He doesn’t even need to float. Hypnos is now an established spitter and that’s gross. His ribcage feels as though it's too small to encompass his lungs and heart. Dreams of ravenous plants that consume with a vengeance continue, and, and, Thanatos and Mom haven’t approached him about any of this. Which is a stupid thought that comes completely unprompted because why would they, they’re busy, and this whole situation is one Hypnos brought on himself anyway and they’re—Busy. Busy busy and they don’t have time to waste because of it, and Zagreus’s thumb is rubbing circles on Hypnos’s shoulder, Zag’s hand is prickling a fire beneath his skin with eyes that hold a clear sense of underlying worry underneath that face of sympathy. The sleeper-seat is an embrace in itself, but Zagreus’s hand on his shoulder coaxes him to list towards the Prince and he wants that, he wants to lean against Zagreus so desperately it feels like a knife to the chest.
And then there’s an actual knife in his chest. Well, not actually, but it’s sharp, it's piercing, his flesh is diced entirely and he can only react by bending at the waist and heaving. A glob escapes and paints the floor before he can remember his barf bag, as he summons it through clenched fists and he is straight up vomiting. Feels like it, anyway, with—fucking clumps traversing through his throat and cascading over his tongue, the feeling of it alone will have him actually vomit. Petals and flowers and wiry stems, all saturated in a healthy helping of saliva and mucus, leaving his body through splintering his chest into pieces and crushing his head in a vice.
His hacks are impossibly loud to his ears, a cacophony that shatters his hearing to the point his ears might be literally ringing. His skull feels too tight to house his brain, simmered in a boiling heat and he’s hurling up the entirety of his lungs and heart and strings of his innards, as he grips onto his bag with white knuckles. And there’s too many things inside him suddenly, his ribs too small, his skull too small, his innards too small, and the flowers and stems expand at an impossible rate and they’re going to burst outwards as worms and snakes like a terrible, writhing mound.
It feels like an age of maggots feasting upon his insides but the moist lumps eventually stop, the expulsion of his guts eventually stops, and there’s still claws gripped into his lungs and heart and his brain still needs to boost back up but it stops.
And when he’s able to blearily focus through moistened eyes, downwards at the mess he’s made and expecting to see himself disemboweled, there’s only a mouthful of desecrated poppies that meet him, amalgamated into his stupid fucking bag. He stares it, dumbly, blinks to ward away the wetness of his eyes and that wasn’t very nice. One might say it was positively awful. Somehow, unfathomably, it’s made entirely worse due to the fact it isn’t his body weight worth of soggy flowers, as much as it felt like it was. It’s a mere mouthful. He feels hollowed by that, feels dread by that, and he continues staring at the wasted crimson before him, before his eyes can take notice of a certain oddity.
Poppies don’t have thorns. Though, poppies also usually don’t grow inside people, and he would know. And yet.
Upon a section of stem exists a small, almost insignificant nub; the beginnings of a thorn. Well. Aphrodite did promise it would get worse, after all, as Hypnos gives a comical dry gulp that makes him wince, with how it prompts sharpness to present itself in his chest and throat.
“Hypnos,” comes a distinctly Zagreus sounding voice from above him and it startles Hypnos into reacting, as he jolts where he sits with a weakened ‘huh?’
Shit, Zagreus is kneeling on one knee in front of him, with both hands secured at Hypnos shoulders. His eyes are as piercing as they are pretty and Hypnos really just hurled a flower fit in front of the guy, that’s embarrassing.
“Are you alright, mate?”
And there’s those words, like a sword to the throat that press into Hypnos’s skin and promote a healthy amount of bleeding when Zagreus looks at him with furrowed brows and obvious concern.
"Peachy,” Hypnos wheezes, like a liar. He grunts when he straightens himself, feeling like he nearly dislodges his head in the process, and Zag’s hands vacate his shoulders as they fall to float within the air between them with uncertainty. Hypnos winces when he moves, a series of stings occurring inside him as he does so as if he’s suddenly a beehive.
Zagreus makes a face at him. “Don’t know why I asked, when it’s clear you’re not alright. How long has this been happening?”
Hypnos brings a hand upwards to wipe at his mouth, as to bring himself to some level of cleanliness as a small cough passes through him. When he speaks, he attempts for his usual lively tone, but it comes out a teensy bit too raspy for that. “I keep track of souls, I don’t keep track of my body’s propensity for flower eruptions.”
“Please don’t downplay… whatever this is. You’re clearly unwell.” Zagreus sighs, lifts himself to his feet to stand. “Who was it? What was it? Assuming you have an idea on what bestowed this upon you, of course.”
Right, Hypnos is totally cursed has gotten around, hasn’t it.
“Oh it’s just. Uhm.” Hypnos starts, winces again at another stinging in the chest. He waves a hand in what he hopes is a nonchalant manner. “It’s just… a little. You know. It’s just a small curse. No biggie. Just—Uh, said the wrong thing to the wrong person, I guess! You know me and my big mouth."
Hypnos extends the hand that clutches at his sullied bag, to have it be vanquished with a scuttling of scales, and Dusa is gone before Zag (or Hypnos) can say ‘thanks’. He should get her something more practical, actually, instead of a bouquet. Maybe a self-working broom.
Zagreus purses his lips. “Do you know who it was? Any clue? A servant of the House that I should expel into Tartarus so I can properly vanquish them?”
That would make him feel those warm and fuzzy feelings, because wowza. But because there’s a ferocious flowerbed inside him, he instead lets out another cough behind his palm.
“It’s not that big of a deal. Just a cough.” Hypnos manages, and Zagreus looks unconvinced. “A tickle of the chest. And I get a free bouquet each time.”
“It’s been getting worse.” Zagreus says flatly.
He says that with more squeak than he would’ve liked. Another cough, shielded this time behind his elbow.
“Recently. You haven’t been your usual self.” Zagreus says. “I’m sorry, I should have asked if you were alright sooner.”
And isn’t that just like Zagreus, speaking with an actual, genuine sense of guilt because he’s committed to this whole Prince Charming schtick. Infuriating, with how it makes Hypnos’s heart swell. Well, it makes his heart constrict via rude plants instead, at that moment.
Hypnos breaks a smile, speaks as cheerily as he’s able with a croaky voice. “Well, you got me a sweet sleeper-seat, so! You’re definitely forgiven.”
And that’s totally true, not that Zagreus had any reason to be forgiven in the first place. Zagreus huffs, a small smile on his lips (and isn’t that precious, argh ), and he lifts a hand and—
Zag’s hand is suddenly in Hypnos’s hair, actually petting him. Hypnos automatically freezes, stiffens, brain effectively suspended from any thought, and it’s over before he can rightly compute any of it, because Zag is speaking again.
“Don’t overwork yourself, Hypnos. It could make it worse, I’d imagine. Think about taking some time off until it passes? Or until we can find a curse-breaker.” Zag’s smiling, and he leans forward, whispers a most conspiratorial whisper, “I’m sure with some careful sifting through the admin room, you’ll suddenly find yourself with so much free time you won’t know what to do with yourself.”
This isn't fair. It isn’t. His fucking head is still tingling from Zag’s hand, and now the guy’s promising to pilfer through his Dad’s records for his sake and this isn’t fair.
He’s got no chance. And that’s just a fact that mocks him more cruelly when he is forced to cringe at how his chest is compressed like he has a boulder squishing him, bringing out another assortment of tattered red petals as he splutters most unflatteringly.
“You-You should go.” He mutters, just in time to stop Zagreus’s mid-way motion of reaching out again (to touch his shoulder? To pat his back? To hold him?). “You’re distracting me!”
He whips out his ledger in front of himself as a shield, brought close to his face in a desperate attempt to bar away the vision of Zagreus (of his obvious concern, of how he so clearly cares), and Zagreus’s hand falls to his side, and the Prince’s fingers sift through Hypnos’s curls, lazily playing with his hair as Hypnos lays his head in Zag’s lap and he knows, can trust fully without fear, that he can sleep peacefully with the Prince—
Another cough interrupts that thought, and Hypnos is actually thanking Aphrodite for that one, as petals fall into his lap.
“Take care, Hypnos.” Zagreus says (softly, arrrgh!). “I’ll see if I can’t give you time off. You shouldn’t have to be forced to work in such a state.”
Zag tilts his head in farewell, before he makes his leave, and Hypnos slumps in his seat when the man is safely out of view. This is walking through a minefield, at this point.
This is going to kill him. And Hypnos already knows that. Already accepted that. But that doesn’t—stop the fact he’s literally being eaten from the inside out (literally, literally!), destroyed in every sense and maybe he’ll become nothing but dust when this is all over, maybe he’ll be free then when there’s nothing left of him.
Hypnos is—and Zagreus says this as nicely as he can—a pathetic picture.
The smaller God acts with a perpetual dark cloud hanging over his head, although the classic Dark Cloud of Gloom that Rains on You Inconveniently is definitely the more favourable curse. This isn’t just a mere disturbance brought on by some cantankerous trouble maker with a passable degree in cursing, this is —a well seasoned steward of misfortune. And Hypnos the most lamentable target, and Zagreus can’t rightly fathom why someone would have it out for Hypnos, of all people.
Though, then again, not everyone is gifted in understanding Hypnos’s sarcasm as he is. Thanatos had believed Hypnos’s ‘just stop dying, idiot,’ to be a genuine form of mockery that he legitimately bristled at, before Zagreus told him it was, in fact, that foreign thing of humour (‘it’s true, Than, Hypnos jokes!’), and that Zagreus enjoyed it. So. Not completely out of the realm of possibility that Hypnos did indeed say ‘ the wrong thing to the wrong person.’ And an easily riled proficient curse-maker stalking the halls of the House cursing Gods is a worrying pest concern. Zagreus doesn’t hesitate in admitting that his first suspect of this curse was Father himself, because that isn’t an absurd accusation and Father’s lack of a reaction only incriminates further. But Father would have proudly taken the credit if he were to blame.
But the fact that Father does not take immediate action after an apparent curse-maker within his halls means at some level, Father accepts and agrees with the infliction. Otherwise he would have shaken the foundations of the House with vanquishing this curser-maker for the mere gall of thinking of giving such sanction under his roof to his servants without his permission, regardless of the fact he isn’t particularly fond of Hypnos. Assuming this was without his permission. Which is still a questionable subject, considering at most Father glares at Hypnos’s coughing interruptions and effectively orders Hypnos to silence himself because he’s creating a bad look.
Predictably, Father expertly brushes over the subject entirely through creative dismissive gestures and insults, both aimed at Zagreus and Hypnos, before ordering his son to shut up when Zagreus so dares broach it. Zagreus can only hope Nyx can wheedle at him, as she’s the only person in existence with such a power, truly.
Hypnos’s wheezing is… concerning. The growing raggedness of his voice is concerning, how his shoulders are in a persistent state of slumping is concerning, how he winces before and after each cough is concerning. How it has worsened is concerning.
It seems ultimately harmless, for now, the expulsion of flowers from Hypnos’s body clearly upsetting but not — agonizing, at the very least? At the very least. Definitely arduous, though. But it’s gotten worse, and could get worse still, and Zagreus always trusts his instincts. It is a development to keep a dedicated eye on.
Thanatos meets with him as he usually does, and when the plains of Asphodel are cleared of wretches, Thanatos speaks with a dry voice.
“I don’t suppose, with your inclination to shove your nose into other people’s business and the fact you are inexplicably friends with Hypnos, that you know what this curse is and who did it?”
He rests his scythe against his shoulder as he regards Zagreus with a raised brow. Zagreus de-summons Aegis, as he sighs and places his hands on his hips. “He is obviously minimizing his condition by saying it is, quote, ‘just a cough.’ Likewise, he said he must’ve incurred the ire of some person inadvertently.” Zagreus says.
“Typical.” Thanatos scoffs with a raised lip. “And what do you make of it?”
“Clearly miserable and having difficulties. He shouldn’t be working.”
“That is for your Lord Father to decide but—I agree with you. Expecting productivity from Hypnos was already a desperate endeavour.” Thanatos rolls his eyes, predictably. “At least this can be a teaching moment, for the fool.”
Zagreus wrinkles his nose at that. Thanatos has always been… stern, shall we say, in his approach with Hypnos. Has been, for as long as Zagreus can remember, a trait shared with Nyx likewise, with the two delivering their own brand of ‘tough love’ (which is the nicest word he can use for it) for the man. But to insinuate a curse, a literal curse, could act as a tutor when so far Zagreus can only surmise the cause to be of unfair circumstance... well. It seems a little grim, even for Thanatos. Maybe a little too tough.
Zagreus speaks with that skepticism, allowing it to swim freely across his face as well. “And what could wallowing in gloom possibly teach him, mate?”
“That his actions have consequences.” Is the answer, spoken with a sudden heat, a subject matter Thanatos clearly scrutinizes upon already. “That he isn’t untouchable. That he should sometimes keep his mouth shut.”
“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?”
And it is, Zagreus would happily argue, will happily argue, if Thanatos is going to open such a door. Tension between the brothers isn’t exactly a secret within the House, considering Thanatos will openly squabble with Hypnos about his tardiness even when his brother has grown smaller. It isn’t a topic Zagreus enjoys knowing (or seeing, for that matter), but he knows Thanatos has Hypnos’s best interests in heart. But that doesn’t mean he has to approve of Than’s methods. So Zagreus shows his displeasure on his expression.
Than mirrors it. A classic Thanatos ‘I am annoyed at you,’ face.
“Zagreus.” He says, after a moment, heaving a sigh. “I appreciate that you care for him, I do. But please do not feel the need to coddle him. He already has enough ego as is, evident enough by the fact he’s cursed in the first place. He needs to come to terms that he is not invincible to being disciplined.”
It’s a difficult thing to believe, like an absurd fantasy, to think Hypnos was intentionally callous to some secret curse-maker that prompted this whole debacle. He’s too —likable for such a thing. Hypnos doesn’t have the proud title of being the ‘mildest God’ by the mortals for no reason. It reeks with a distinct air of being unfair, and, sure, Zagreus will readily admit he has bias because he knows Hypnos, but he’ll also freely defend that Hypnos was not at fault for any of this.
He’ll readily defend that it isn’t fair regardless, even if it turns out Hypnos is at fault, because making it seem like Hypnos is withering more each day(/night) is cruel, at best. Perfectly appropriate for a denizen of Hell but cruel regardless, and Zagreus loathes to see it. Especially on Hypnos. His cheer is one that has always brightened the House. The generous shouldn’t be punished so wrongfully.
“Have you seen how he gags like a dying animal? Heard him?” Zagreus asks, accusatory, and he cares not for how critical he sounds. ‘He’s your brother, Thanatos,’ remains unspoken, for now, alongside a series of choice words Zagreus is willing to employ.
Thanatos scowls at him, voice uncompromising. “If it takes vomiting flowers for him to realize that there exists repercussions, then so be it. It is better than him being fired and banished from the House.”
And Zagreus will argue. Is more than willing to do such a thing, because ‘tough love’ can only go so far before it breaches the line of needless unkindness. But true to Thanatos form, he disappears in his usual ink before Zagreus can open his mouth again and Thanatos can be unbearable in his moodiness.
Fine, Zagreus gets it; Hypnos isn’t particularly productive. Has never been. He’s always late at arriving at his post, extends the time of his breaks, and Hypnos being on time with his work is literally unheard of. But he’s Sleep, Thanatos has the luxury of his job also being his aspect, but Hypnos does not. He’s expected to hold a measly ledger on top of maintaining the slumber of mortals, and Zagreus finds little fault in him for taking priority of his literal incarnation over record keeping. Who wants to do fucking record keeping. Zagreus can sympathize wholeheartedly.
But—despite Thanatos’s propensity for jumping to conclusions, he does have a point in this. Father’s patience can only be tested so much. Hypnos can be replaced. Father could easily fire him. Nyx could, as much as that thought makes Zagreus’s chest to clench, it is also not out of the realm of possibility, strict as she is with Hypnos just as Thanatos is. And Hypnos does not possess the luxury of stay, as Zagreus did after he was unceremoniously discharged by Father, because he isn’t the Prince.
Ugh. Hypnos shouldn’t be gagging on flowers regardless, though. And Thanatos needs to find ways to deal with his exasperation with Hypnos in ways that doesn’t make Zagreus want to throttle him.
“Nyx.” Zagreus greets when he returns to the House. “Please tell me you have conferred with Father to allow Hypnos time off.”
If anyone could, it would be Nyx. If not, then he’s going to do some healthy ransacking through the records.
Nyx hums. “Your Father has conceded that he will give it consideration, but as it stands, Hypnos is expected to work.”
“That isn’t fair!”
Zagreus feels as though he’s the only sane person in this damn House.
Nyx sighs. “Unfortunately, many things are not, child. While I agree with you he should not be working in such a state, I am thankful that this ailment presents itself as a mere cough, and not as something worse.”
And so, Zagreus is rendered to staring dumbfounded at the woman in front of him. It reminds him, fiercely, of the time Nyx literally fired Dusa. Baffled, bewildered, betrayed, angry. As much as he loves Nyx, she too (like Thanatos ) can possess an ability to sour the air extraordinarily quickly.
“And what if it gets worse?” He asks, incredulously.
“Then I shall order him to rest regardless of Lord Hades’s wishes. But currently, Hypnos has demonstrated that he has the energy still to maintain his station, and I think I speak with us both by saying we can find pride in him for such a fact, yes?”
“I’m not proud of him.” Zagreus scoffs, astounded, and he hates having any sort of heat with Nyx, but he’ll gladly simmer when he needs to. “I’m worried for him! He’s miserable. He’s growing feeble. He shouldn’t be working at all.”
Nyx speaks as if he’s a child, which merely makes his blood hotter. “Hypnos has little choice, child. His record thus far hasn’t been acceptable, and I fear Lord Hades refuses him his rest as a way of punishment.”
Well, that’s like Father, isn’t it. He does not glare at Nyx, because he has manners, but he makes his displeasure known on his face with a muted expression.
“I’m going to find Hypnos’s contract.” Zag states with promise, and he would have promptly done so, if Nyx hadn’t spoken once more.
“Do so, and you will null the sanctuary he has within the House. His privilege of residence is tied to his employment.” She says flatly, and Zagreus finds he needs to clench his fists.
“—is not fair? I am inclined to disagree, child.” She interrupts, her tone level. “Those who take part within the halls of the House are expected to do their part. I do so, Thanatos does so, Dusa does so, and employment is labour, Zagreus. In exchange of service, one can receive security. Perhaps there may be an advantage to his malady, by showing his tenacity now, Hypnos could prove to Lord Hades that he may keep his post yet. Because regrettably, Hypnos thus far does not have much to show with regards of his worthiness in holding his position.”
Man, she sure is Thanatos’s mother, and Thanatos sure is Nyx’s son. Zagreus has been angry with her before, with regards to her dismissing Dusa so abruptly, and it’s never a feeling he enjoys. Not at her, especially not at her, because Zagreus trusts her indefinitely, and to hear her say such words leaves him with something distinctly bitter in his mouth.
“Would you fire him?” He asks in a low tone.
Hesitation, at first, which shouldn’t make Zagreus brighten as he does. “If it would come to it.” She says, after a moment, and Zagreus decides the feeling he feels is, in fact, disappointment. “And you may think me cruel for such a statement, and I am not interested in hearing your complaints of such a fact. Hypnos must learn, child. And he will receive the same treatment as any other employee, regardless of the fact that he is my son.”
Another small pause, too short for Zagreus to continue, but Nyx does. Her voice has turned soothing, the same resonance she adopts when she comforts him. “Your affection for him is one that fills me with joy, child. But do not have it make you—”
“—’coddle’ him?” Zagreus mutters. “You and Thanatos have interesting definitions for coddling. And here I thought I was giving him basic decency, for being concerned for him.”
“I do not appreciate your tone, child.” And her soothing tone has vacated, turned dry as Thanatos’s. “And I do not wish to argue with you, you must accept that Hypnos’s position within this household is precarious, at best, and you must also accept that such a fact is not because of some outside force you can remedy as you do with others. It is Hypnos’s own fault, he must learn responsibility, and he has shown repeatedly he needs a stringent hand.” That produces a greater ache in his chest than he thought it would. “His ailment brings me no pleasure. He will be permitted rest when he needs it, and know that I do search for a curse-breaker at this time.”
Her inflection is clear that this conversation is finished, and he takes his leave with pursed lips and a march through his room to throw a few rounds at Skelly.
The sleeper-seat is like being seated upon a cloud, an all encompassing caress, and sleeping as an action is a reward in itself, Hypnos happily brags. Eases the coughing, just a smidge. Soothes the ache. Makes him wanna melt.
Zagreus just as a concept makes him wanna melt, but when the guy approaches him and gives him more nectar (the collection grows and Hypnos has never felt like a king before), it makes Hypnos just dissolve entirely.
“Here,” Zagreus says, offering a new bottle of nectar and Hypnos lets out a small cough as he stares at the glow of its amber. “Perhaps it will soothe your ache?”
More coughing, held behind an elbow, and the nectar is warm when Hypnos takes it. Warm, but not as warm as how Zagreus’s hands feels, because despite the nectar being transferred fully into Hypnos’s hands, Zagreus does him one better; his own hands curve around Hypnos’s, and it effectively makes Hypnos’s brain frizzle to a halt because Zag’s hands engulf his. Blankets his own with fingers that caress his wrist, palms that hold a certain roughness in texture that indicates his combative lifestyle, and it produces a quilt of prickling to spout upon Hypnos’s skin because he can imagine now how it would feel to hold the man’s hand, how it could make him fly without floating and Zagreus might’ve said something else, he thinks, something about how he died this time, but Hypnos is still too busy staring at how Zagreus’s hands just completely overtake his own pair and boy, size difference has never been so sublime than at this moment.
And just to further complete this—let’s see how to render Hypnos into some dumbstruck idiot, Zagreus’s thumb moves. Massaging a slow circle onto Hypnos’s hand and Hypnos is literally going to short-circuit and implode.
Hypnos retracts his hands and the nectar on impulse, suddenly given an electric shock that has coursed through his entire body to the point Hypnos thinks Zagreus still has a boon from Zeus. He jerks with such a sudden force that Zagreus startles, and Hypnos clutches the bottle of nectar tightly to his chest, the glow of it felt through his clothing and ribs, nuzzling at his heart that is squeezed with coiling serpents, and he winces.
Hypnos smiles, his chest trembling as he produces another cough, a petal falling from his mouth. “Oh you,” he starts, as another wheeze and petal mar his words. “Keep this up and I’m gonna—I’m gonna start thinking you’re dying on purpose, out there!”
He de-summons the nectar into indefinite storage to be indulged upon when he’s alone in Erebus (alone and free to think of Zagreus’s hands, on where else he could touch him), and flexes and unflexes his fists to ward away the persistent ghost of Zagreus’s skin. He isn’t even given the chance to think you’re completely pathetic, because a wheezing cough does it for him.
He spits out more petals from his mouth and digs out a particularly stubborn leaf from in between his teeth, trying to very casually avoid Zagreus’s gaze as he does so and why is this man still here. Hypnos absolutely does not make a pretty picture, with a hand half way down his mouth trying to dislodge a stupid flower, and it must be like looking at some rare specimen in a zoo.
Which is the interpretation he uses to make sense of Zagreus’s lingering, as his chest eventually ceases in feeling like it's been run over by a chariot. His smile twitches minutely when he sees how Zagreus looks at him, holding a (fond? Is it fond?!) smile.
“I have a secret, Hypnos.” Zagreus says, and it must be really juicy considering the tone he’s using. “I’ve died on purpose every single time, just to see you.”
What the fuck.
Oh, there’s that ‘I’ve been trampled by a herd of centaurs’ feeling again. He looks up at Zagreus, like an idiot, his smile frozen on his face, like an idiot.
“Hah-ah?” he says, like an idiot, speech suddenly a foriegn concept altogether. Who the fuck just —says things like that. Absolutely ridiculous. Zagreus should instead just reach forward and spear his hand inwards to crush Hypnos’s heart, because it would feel the same way; crushing and piercing and his face winces as his ribs splinter inwards, stabbing at his lungs and heart, and he throws himself forward in a sudden keel.
The noise that escapes him is deafening, reminiscent of the cacophony he experienced once pursuing through a mortal’s nightmare, the howls and squeals of slaughtered swine the pestilence that festered throughout. And just as the pigs were strung up upon hooks that split flesh in two, so too is the blade that twists through Hypnos’s chest. He coughs in rhythm to a hammer being thrashed at his breast, at his head, and he assumes the wet splat he hears through his peripheral is the dripping of his brain, the ejection of his lungs, the hurling of his heart.
He heaves, attempting to breathe, but it results in the ravaging of his lungs. The feeling of something leaving his nostrils, slime or mucus or a string of his intestine, almost supersedes the feeling of claws at his shoulders, white hot and scalding.
He cowers immediately, instinctually throwing a hand outwards to bat away his foe and feels the vacating of the claws. Hypnos heaves once more, purging the entirety of his stomach outwards through his mouth as the last of the weeds eventually leave him in a congealed heap alongside all his innards.
He blinks desperately when he is able to inhale air once more, wincing at how it prickles inside him as piercing icicles. His vision is hazy, tears having been brought forth during the incursion, his abdomen still wrung with an impossible weight as every breath is a labour that only brings the crushing of bone. His arms are curled upon himself, fingers clenched tightly into the fabric of his robe he may tear it, as he is seated still on the sleeper-seat, bent at the waist.
It smells like bile. Acidic and vile. Curdled in a mass of red, the sullied petals of poppies greet him in a most unappetizing sludge that has him give a small gag at the sight and smell of it. He sniffs, wetness of his nose prompting so, and underneath the smell of illness perverts the familiar scent of his emblem; the smell of earth, and there had been some fragment of his flower that exited through his nostrils, and he ruminates on that, some desperate thing to focus on as his brain slowly rebuilds itself, gazing at the moist heap of tatters flowers below him (the thorns are growing, he sees them, feels them prickle against his lungs), and he has no idea why he thought this was an ailment that would exit only through his mouth. His lip trembles at the thought of where else the flowers will find their exits.
He grunts, doesn’t want to think about it, will have to think about it, and winces when he brings himself upwards like a corpse rising from its grave. He’s going to stain this sleeper-seat and that’s unforgivable—someone’s asleep in front of him. He feels his slumber before he sees him.
Zagreus’s head is listed forward where he stands. And suddenly, Hypnos is reminded of the feeling of intruding knives at his shoulder, and realizes, like a punch to the face, that Zagreus had been attempting to stabilize him through his fit before Hypnos forcibly put him to sleep. At least his self defense was on point.
Hypnos shakily brings his hands to a clap in haste, releasing the awakening to jostle Zag into wakefulness, and the Prince does so with a startle, stiffening, before proper awareness is returned to him as he blinks in bewilderment.
“S-Sorry!” Hypnos squeaks, giving a small wheeze, cringing at how Zagreus looks down at him disorientation.
“It’s—don’t worry, it’s fine.” Zagreus mutters, rubbing his face. “You should be in Erebus, resting.”
Not even angry, the gentleman. Okay, no swooning, not now, as proper understanding is returned to Hypnos and he’s still on the sleeper-seat, still at the procession line and—still has a crowd of shades persisting at a respectful distance around them. Ah. Oh. Hm. Yeah, that’s a little embarrassing, as he glances back down at the spoiled cake of ruined poppies beneath him, all red and gooey and… gross. He recoils physically when he sees how he’s stained the lower edges of his chiton with inner poppy goop, and that’s every antonym of flattering he could ever think of.
“Hah!” Hypnos responds, remembering then that Zagreus had said something, looking back at the man to avoid the eyes of the shades that still crowd (disgusted? Curious? Concerned? He feels their sights like knives to the skin). “M-maybe. Now there’s an idea I wouldn’t be opposed to!”
Thank every cosmic being (sans Aphrodite) for the fact Master Hades is currently absent. Ah, oh, that’s how Zagreus died, then.
“Come on, mate.” Zagreus says, and then offers something absurd. “Let me carry you?”
Hypnos vaguely hears the bustling of snakes that indicates Dusa cleans his mess, as he looks at Zagreus for any hint that he’s joking, and finds that the Prince is not. He is completely genuine in his offer of hauling Hypnos to his abode and Hypnos’s mind rapidly filters through the images of Zagreus hoisting him to his chest, an arm beneath his knees, a hand bracing his back, Hypnos’s head cradled in the nook of Zagreus’s shoulder and suddenly there’s a growing fire in his gut as his skin tingles at the mere thought of it (and this time, Hypnos can freely think you’re completely pathetic without interruption). Zagreus lifting Hypnos in one effortless motion, slinging him over his shoulder. Oh.
“You—No, no no no!” Hypnos starts, wheezing as more petals make their presences known. “I’m still on the clock, silly!”
A poor excuse, and obviously Zagreus knows it, as he scoffs with a smirk. “Like that’s ever stopped you before. Let me help you, mate.”
And Zagreus reaches out, and Zagreus touches at Hypnos’s neck (and his hand could curl so easily around his throat, no, stop, stop), and Hypnos’s body sure is a traitorous little thing, because it produces a tingle where Zag’s hand is despite still wearing his gorget. And then there’s a burning in his throat, then there’s more heaving, and more splatting.
A mauling at his slumped form, teeth and claws tearing at his flesh—Zagreus attempts to soothe him by wrapping an arm around Hypnos’s back, coming to sit next to him on the sleeper-seat and he possesses a body of quills with the stabbing that Hypnos experiences, and he cowers away from it.
“Stop it!” Hypnos wheezes, shuffling off the seat with wobbly limbs as the taste of dirt and mucus perverting his mouth. “You’re making it worse!”
He stands with uncoordinated legs, brings himself to a shaky float as he still spits out clumps with his chest convulsing. Peeks at his surroundings when he's finally given a respite during. Zagreus has lifted himself off the seat, hovering with hands outstretched in concern, shades congregate as a sea of emerald, and when he turns, fucking Achilles has vacated his post to look around the corner with face of unease and how loud is he being?
He's a showy exhibit for all around, like a man being flayed, and feeling the part.
“You know what?” Hypnos says, voice higher than usual, nearly delirious, looking back to Zag. “I’m gonna pull a Thanatos. Cheers!”
It's been a while since he's teleported. Thanatos has that down to a tee, and does it with little to no effort, but for Hypnos… just a teensy bit more energy needed, energy that is currently being ravaged by plants, and he hasn't indulged in being a disappearing act in a while and it... shows, when he arrives in Erebus and immediately drops to his hands and knees to keel. Splat.
He groans, nausea brought on by both the stupid flowers and the sudden displacement, and he's alone with some ugly flowers with an equally ugly smell but at least he's alone. Alone. Free from eyes and the indignity of hurling sticky flowers out and— alone.
Doesn't feel all that comforting.
Zagreus smells as if Hypnos was stuck in a stuffy, terrible room and was suddenly given freedom through a cool breeze that releases all tension within his body. Hypnos relaxes against the sturdy body of the Prince like a cat made boneless in its relaxation. He could probably purr like one, if he really tried, as he nuzzles like one into the crook of Zagreus's neck. Zagreus sighs, a contented sound, as Hypnos delights in his residency in Zagreus's lap, as the Prince's arms are curled around him as an impossible sanctuary.
Zagreus leans his face into the cushion of Hypnos's soft bed of hair, his embrace tightening, which prompts Hypnos to let out his own soft exhale. Which then morphs, becomes mangled, as his exhale becomes ragged, because then he's wheezing. His chest constricts, convulses, and he moves as his chest is ravaged as it is crushed, and Zagreus is no longer there, because Hypnos wakes from the dream, and he moves himself to lean over the side of his bed, and hurls.
Yup. Splat. Cough. Hack. Splat.
More wheezing, more sounds of a slaughtered pig resound throughout the previous calm of Erebus. The coiling of his gut tightens with increasing weight, and through one great, guttural bark that has his entire body fragment, he is forced to give a frayed hiss.
Talk about a rude awakening, Hypnos humourlessly thinks, as he is finally able to bring his eyes open to blearily gaze downwards at his expulsion, his eyes wet from the violence of it. He gags, on reflex, when he becomes properly aware of something still present at the back of his mouth—down his throat, down his gut, downwards still.
He heaves, dryly, once more gagging, wincing as his tongue attempts in vain to dislodge this thing. He shifts, trembling, feeling something invasive, something sharp, cascade down from his mouth, and he takes a quivering hand upwards to grab at it.
He pulls at it, a string that is anchored somewhere in his gut, and heaves. The sound he makes is pitiful, some dying cat, and his hand has curled into a tight fist as he attempts to slowly pull this string out of him, feeling its resistance as it becomes tangled with some parts inside him. He sits at the edge of his bed, hunched over as he peeks his eyes open to look at this thing he is tugging out of him. Moist from his saliva, from his fluids deeper within him, and he almost expected his intestine coming from his mouth.
Instead, it's a stem. A thorny stem.
Well, that explains the terrible stinging that accosted at every inch of his innards everytime he coughed, everytime he pulled. Like he was being stabbed, because he is being stabbed.
The thorns are great in their size, and clearly sturdy in their strength, as when Hypnos attempts to give himself a centering inhale, he winces at the mass of needles that pierce him.
Well. Blood and darkness. And Hypnos can't even give a hearty gulp because he's holding a string of thorns that still cascade downwards in his gut.
Well, shit. Well fuck. This is hardly nice. Was hardly nice since the beginning. He sits there, weighted, numb, only static in his head and he's going to have to pull out some absurdly long string of thorns from his mouth. Fabulous.
He had planned on a count of three, but it takes him a full minute before he moves again, tugging on the stem. And it's an immediate ripple effect, as his gut constricts as a twisting snake. Another heave, another gag, the burning of tears produced by his eyes, the shredding of his insides.
It doesn't take long before he tastes it at the back of his tongue; the sweetness of his blood. And it doesn't take long, before his mouth is doused, before he sees the coagulating of a rich cyan, his blood thickened upon the stem and the thorns as he pulls at this tug o' war, choking as he does so, drooling saliva and blood at equal measures.
The stench of copper is a permanent one within the halls of the House, the colour red likewise, but Hypnos's blood is sweet. A blue syrup that is poisonous to mortals, and it makes him let out a strangled sob as he tastes how it wells in his mouth. At how he continues pulling through desperation alone, at how he feels each and every thorn stab and tear as he drags the stem still, seemingly no end in sight as the start begins to collect at the floor.
His palms prickle, the skin breaks, as he grips with helpless fists as he continues pulling. And pulling, and his mouth is stained blue with his blood, the front of his tunic likewise, as it has poured over his chin and onto his chest. Just as it feels as though the thorns snarl against his innards and pull them upwards with them, there's no longer stem to pull on.
He splutters wetly when he’s suddenly given a reprieve, the feeling of barbs vacating his system suddenly foreign, as the lingering burn of their tears still linger, and Hypnos swallows thickly on reflex when his mouth is free to do so. A mouthful of blood goes down, prompting another heave as a result, and the string of thorns dangles from his hand as a dripping serpent.
He releases his fist, fingers trembling but the stem does not fall to the ground in an unceremonious heap; a thorn is lodged into the flesh of his palm and is held still, so he has to wave his hand in jittery motions to have it be released. It falls to the floor with little fanfare, and Hypnos is left is blood still swimming within his mouth, with blood still sullying his hands, still acutely feeling the tears within as regeneration begins sewing his wounds back together. And he sits with ragged breaths, hiccuping on tears as he occasionally cringes as he feels himself be forcefully mended as flesh is stapled back together. His eyelids are stones, his shoulders weighted, the taste of his blood persistent, his face embarrassingly wet with tears and mucus and blood, and he thinks:
Have you tried just not being cursed? Would do wonders for your condition.
Well, that gets a snort at him (he’s still got it, oh yeah), and that immediately has him wince because it matters not if he can regenerate, he still has plants growing inside him. Whoopee.
If, perhaps, the requirements for this curse was to just confess—why, he likes to think he would have done so, then. Embarrassed himself for all eternity and having to deal with the resulting unbearable disgrace of Zagreus (oh so gently) turning him down? Yes. Absolutely. Thorns in the gut are a fantastic motivator. But Aphrodite was quite clear: reciprocity. He must have scorned her in some way. Maybe having mushy feelings but never acting on them acts as scorning, for the Goddess of Love, like a direct insult at her, and clearly this whole thing is just some personal vendetta she had out for him. It’s not like he can seduce Zagreus now when he’s coughing up lungfuls of flowers. It’s not like he can seduce Zagreus when—Thanatos exists.
Ouch. Okay. Think he just broke a damn rib with the sharp ache that gave him, sheesh. He rubs at his chest absentmindedly, remembers how he saw Thanatos smile for the first time… probably literally forever, when he was with Zagreus in the lounge as Hypnos walked past once. Literally uncanny, seeing Thanatos without some scowl of annoyance, and maybe Thanatos is just like that with other people (smiling, without a permanent sense of irritation), when he isn’t talking to Hypnos. And that, oh, another broken rib. Thanatos likes Zagreus (although really who doesn’t, considering), Zagreus likes Thanatos (which… again, who doesn’t, considering) and… blight, Meg’s in there too, and they’re a trio that Hypnos has no chance with. Zagreus is a charity, actively helping those who are deemed ‘lesser’ (otherwise known as ‘mortals’) but expecting him to lower himself to such a degree to entertain someone like him… Fine. Hypnos will admit it; he’s selfish, he’s greedy, he’s entirely self-centered because he wants Zagreus for himself, feels sour when he sees the Prince schmoozing with his brother and/or Meg.
He should view this whole cursed business as a punishment, for that. Yeah. Yeah, he needs to get over himself, needs to find somewhere he can dump all this sticky, suffocating feelings. Maybe, hopefully, when this curse tears him apart and he’s some mutilated corpse that plants feast upon, will Aphrodite realize that this is a hopeless endeavour and find it within herself to give him some pity. Back up the curse where the requirement is just to confess, because he’ll do it. Get it over with. He’d imagine, with how things are going now , that confessing at this time would only result in—thorns. Lots and lots of prickly thorns. That would be just like Aphrodite, he thinks.
Thorns, congealed with a darkening blue that lay on the floor in a barbed elliptical, and he stares blankly at it. Feels the residual sting of it. Zagreus, and how he’s so handsome, Zagreus, how he’s good humoured and Zagreus, how he’s so kind and good and Hypnos was so doomed at the start.
He’s already accepted he can’t have him, isn’t that enough; Zagreus will be happy with Thanatos or Meg or both and Hypnos wants him to be happy, because Zagreus deserves nothing less. Friendship is a type of love. So what if he can’t secure romance (and then some) from the man, Hypnos just wants—
He just wants—
He just wants to lay his head on Zagreus’s shoulder and rest on him again, without interruption. Just that. That’s not too much to ask.
He sighs, predictably winces at how it feels like something is gnawing inside him from the action, and brings his face to his hands.
You know, the walls of the House are fascinating.
Very clean. The grain of the material is finely crafted. It feels cool upon his forehead, a refreshing reprieve from how it feels like his body is boiling, as he stands in some hallway, leaning against a wall, forehead firmly glued to it.
Worms and snakes and maggots and whatever traditionally wiggly writhing thing, all convulsing within him with a terrible wrath and his jaw has been clenched for so hard and so long he’s pretty sure his teeth have been grounded to dust.
He had halted himself, on his habitual journey towards his post, to lean against the wall with a sticky, sweat infused forehead when the things inside him decided they were going to stew as a rankled porcupine. Stopped, waited for it to pass, but the flowers within appear quite content in making him just. Lean against the wall.
He doesn’t know how long he’s been standing there. Hasn’t exactly been keeping count on the seconds or minutes or years. He’s always late to his post because no alarm can wake him in time, but he’s definitely later than usual. Wonders if anyone will notice. Decides he’s not going to think about that one.
As his lungs shrivel up into some spoiled prune, he becomes aware that there is someone watching him. No halls of the House are truly empty, and he has already had his fair share of side-eyes from those who walked past considering he’s just face-planting a wall. But someone has lingered to watch and he feels his nose wrinkle at that, feeling like some circus act.
He turns his head, forehead still planted at the wall as he attempts to give this person his best stink-eye he can manage, with how it feels like his skin is melting off his bones. He wants to make some witty remark, ‘enjoying the show?’ or something similar, but his tongue is a dead weight and the words die before they can come into conception.
It’s some shade. Their features are indistinct as any other, their previous living form altered into a generic shrouded figure, indicating the newly deceased and those that do not have the funds to maintain their previous corporeal state. Their shoulders hunch when Hypnos looks at them, their hand raised and—what, reaching out? Shades, especially those who have just died, usually have the automatic assumption that approaching a God or touching them is strictly forbidden, so he can commend this person for having the guts for both. Or, had the guts. They quickly disperse, disappearing into the further recesses of the House with a haste and Hypnos is left standing against the wall looking at where they stood.
(She, her name is/was Euanthe, another victim of starvation from the harsh winter above, died at age thirty-two; Hypnos checks his list later when he is able.)
Gods, he must look particularly pathetic, huh. Feels the part. And he already knows he gains pity from shades with his coughing and hacking and vomiting flowers as he looks, ugh, frail. People don’t usually get to see Gods act so ill. He’s a phenomenon. A real riot. He thinks he should be insulted by their pity. Though he cant find himself with the energy to do so, not when his skin is turning to acid.
His mood and state affects the slumbers of mortals, so it's hard to escape the nightmares of feasting plants. The humans die in droves because of an unusually harsh winter (and a war, no less) and he can't even spare them a peaceful rest because of this stupid curse. The guilt of that gnaw at him just as the plants do. He has no temples in his name, no grand sacrifices, but by Gods, he still has a reputation to maintain. He holds pride in his work—his actual work—the sleep of mortals a carefully maintained thing he meticulously curates and humans can only go for so long before they need rest, and owning half the lives of every single mortal isn’t something Hypnos takes lightly. He wants their rest to be soothing. He wants to be kind to them. Doesn’t want them to be fitful during rest, dreaming of their bodies being ravaged by hungry flowers. They’re already experiencing a mass die off. Doesn’t want to feel—so helpless, when he wants to help.
He swallows thickly, feels it go down like thorns (or literally thorns, considering), and fuck his post. He’s going back to Erebus. Back to bed. Gonna try and give at least some humans a peaceful sleep, Master Hades can come find him if he wants and crush Hypnos in his hand as punishment, what-the-fuck-ever.
He has a job to do. Gotta clean up Aphrodite’s mess.
He’s absolutely going to die on his bed. His literal deathbed. And that’s fitting, he thinks. Usually that’s a way he would be okay with, because that implies he died in his sleep somehow, and that’s chill. Almost happened once, when he had to fend off a Night Terror that grew to a preposterous size from festering off the fears of the mortals and had amalgamated into a hydra of every fear imaginable for each head. An aggregation of every spider to exist formed into one terrible writhing dune, before it then turned to snakes, then insects, then the walls were closing in, then it was Death himself, and Hypnos had literally snorted when he was greeted by Thanatos’s image and that was delightfully dramatic, having him fight his own (fake) brother, but win he did. Nearly died in his sleep doing so but he acted as a most supreme exterminator and he was proud for vanquishing such a Night Terror—and then real Thanatos found him to yell because he skipped his post for the entire day/night and the victory was distinctly soured.
That is to say—he’d take fighting over fake Thanatos than feeling like a corpse in his bed. Sinking into the covers of his bed like a stone, unmoving and prone, and he gets it, now, he totally knows how it feels to be a decomposing corpse, now. It’s not exactly a feeling he was missing. And it’s totally a feeling that should remain for the dead bodies that can’t feel.
Every component of himself is breaking into pieces. Split and torn apart, feasted upon and broken down, and it’s too hot, too cold, his sweat perverts upon his body as an ill-fitting suit but the places where his skin is bared feel as though its surfaces freeze while simultaneously stewing beneath. Where his body is covered, by his chiton, by the covers of his bed, flames lick greedily to melt his flesh in curdled heaps to expose his musculature underneath. He can’t move to free himself from that, from desperately removing his clothing or fleeing from the flames and blizzard, because any twitch of his body are needles in his flesh as any movement encourages more roots to pierce at him with barbs. He feels the maggots beneath his skin, in between every ridge of all his soft tissue and within the corridors of his bones, and he feels each and every gnawing of their mandibles upon him. His innards must be a fantastic red, despite bleeding blue, because the blossoming of poppies within him wither each part of him where he lays, and regeneration, actually, sucks right now.
Too slow to actually kill, the roots delight in dining on him at a leisurely place, allowing for regeneration to merely give seconds, thirds, a continuous fucking buffet, and his innards liquefy, rebuild, become liquefied again. And he lays in his bed, his sanctuary turned into a prison, and that’s just the most despicable thing, isn’t it, having his bed become such a tomb. His body is going to merge into it as his flesh desiccates and finally dissolves after the passage of time, his flesh waned into mold at last, when his body is broken down to its most elemental form after his flesh can no longer contain the garden with him, and he’ll burst like a bloated corpse during putrefaction and smell the part.
(Hah. He’s going to become a literal flowerbed. That’s pretty funny, at least.)
Hypnos wants to turn his head, lay his face flat against the cushion and let gravity do its thing and suffocate against the pillow. Cease this whole debacle entirely and regenerate properly back to the Pool of Styx and just—clean himself. Cleanse his body from thorns and roots, come clean, physically and metaphorically, tell Zagreus he loves him. Bare himself fully and wholly and explain this whole mess but—But—
He can’t move, for starters, like all his blood vessels are clogged with pebbles. The roots are so ingrained within him, so intimate with every piece of sinew he possesses, and even if he were to die and regenerate, there’ll be pieces left. Seeds, worms, maggots, whatever, Aphrodite would not be so careless as to forget to instill a safeguard in the event that Hypnos just decided to off himself and restart. The curse will persist still, he knows it, it’s a promise he doesn’t need to be told to know. Escaping, if only just for a time it would take for his body to regenerate and for him to respawn, is a tantalizing prospect. Maybe it’ll start over as only a tickle of the chest, and he could move, speak, corner Zagreus and declare his love like some maniac.
But he isn’t so lucky to have an escape route through such a thing, as he lays in bed, is devoured by some shitty flowers, and he can barely think, only feel. Roots and thorns and wiry stems, and he’ll bloat before bursting outwards, and he wonders, peripherally through this misery, if there’ll be any part of him that could regenerate. If every part of him becomes fertilizer for some carnivorous shrub, could he feasibly return to the Pool of Styx, when he’s been broken down so thoroughly by literal plant digestion?
Can’t believe he’s going to be compost. Maybe his remains will smell nice, if anyone finds him, if anyone comes looking, as he tastes his blood at the back of his mouth.
How does Aphrodite expect him to fucking do anything when he’s literally actively decomposing is beyond him really. Sure, allow him to salaciously offer up leg by lifting his skirt up to seduce the Prince as he vomits flowers, that’ll get him. Doesn’t seem like she thought this through, really, unless he’s gotten to the point of no return and he’s—really fucked up this time, huh, whew.
His nose is bleeding, he’s stained his pillow with droplets of his blood as he can feel his sinuses become a greenhouse. A persistent, never-ending sharpness at the back of his nose, and the only smell he’s been graced with is the one of smoked nuts of his tormenting flora and the sweet sugarness of his blood. He’s going to have a stem grow out of his nostril, he surmises, maybe his ears, too, and why not ravage his eyes, while he’s at it? It would be like Aphrodite to have flowers sprout out of more—sensitive areas and no, no no no, not going to give her ideas, in case she can feel that one.
Maybe Zagreus would think he’s pretty with both eyeballs having been expunged from their sockets and bouquet replacing it.
He’s going completely insane but he needs some way to entertain himself as he waits for the end, not like he can sleep when it feels like all his bones are breaking.
He can’t believe he allowed this to get this bad what is wrong with him why didn’t he just say something—?
Zagreus would have helped, because he’s Zagreus. Matters not if Zagreus wouldn’t reciprocate his feelings of love, he would have cared, regardless, because he’s Zagreus. Why didn’t he say something?
He wishes Mom was here. He hasn’t spoken to her in what feels like eternity. It feels like he’s forgotten her voice, he can’t clearly envision in his mind what she would sound like to him. She last spoke to him with a hint of frustration, carefully maintained underneath motherly authority, and he didn’t want to disappoint her. He wonders if she would be disappointed in him now. He can imagine that. Why didn’t he say something?
He wonders if Thanatos would be disappointed. He can definitely imagine that. Would have plenty of reasons to be, he thinks. But that’s fine. It would be okay, if he was loudly grumbling at Hypnos about all of his failures, because then Thanatos would be speaking with him. Why didn’t he say something?
Something something, he’s an idiot why did he allow it to get this bad, something something. He can definitely envision that one in Thanatos’s voice, nice. It’s like he’s really here!
Have you tried just, oh I don’t know, owning up that you’re cursed and seeking help from your loved ones? Hear it helps!
He hopes Zagreus notices he’s missing.
Maybe regeneration has some perks, in this situation. He can move. Slightly. Just barely. An arm, that’s progress, even if it’ll only result in another round of unbearable stiffness when roots re-establish themselves but maybe he can do something. Not a lot but maybe something.
He was right, he bled from his mouth, nose, ears and eyes and now his face is insufferably sticky with it, both moist from its wetness and crusty from dried pools alike. His left eye, especially, is affected, glazed entirely over with just the most sparkling of cyan blood, he’s sure. Very aesthetically pleasing, as he’s able to shift himself (through much, much agony, of course) to lay supine and stare at the infinite darkness of Erebus. Gods, his pillow is so ruined.
He feels the wetness of his left eye traverse over his cheeks from the movement, ruminates on the prickling sharpness in his mouth and assumes sooner, rather than later, he’s going to have sprouting flowers erupt from in between his teeth and dislodge his jaw, or something. That’s fun to think about.
There’s pressure, behind his left eye. A heavy, persistent presence that won’t let up, burrowing worms and feasting insects, roots that pierce and invade every inch, and no matter how many times he blinks on instinct, his blood perverts still at his eye, the pressure continues. Stinging becomes present on the surface of his eye, like stubborn dust, distorting until it becomes heavier, less easy to ignore, and that pressure is a clawed hand gripping through the rear of his eye.
He knows what is expected of him, and maybe that’s why he’s been given allowance to use an arm, as he raises it shakily to his face. He feels how swollen his eye has become, how wet the surrounding area is from his blood staining his skin, and he finds it: the beginnings of a stem, peeking from the corner of his eyelid, curving beneath the eye itself, and—yeah, he understands, he remembers the long thorny stem he pulled out of his mouth, and they do say love is blind, don’t they?
He squeezes a fist around the stem. Stares up to the darkness with his good eye. Can’t even prepare himself with a deep inhale of air, because that just makes it feel like his chest is collapsing.
He jerks his arm with the stem in hand.
And that’s how Thanatos finds him, with Hypnos pulling a long string of something through a ruined eye, first assuming the stem to be the inner anatomy of Hypnos’s eyeball, before he can discern a series of sharp, blood soaked thorns.
It’s very, very bright, is the first thing that Hypnos thinks.
Blinding, one might say, as it feels like his eyeballs are shriveling inside their sockets as he has a raised arm to shield himself with the rays of the sun with a wrinkled nose. Tone it down a little, Apollo. He’s without his cape, merely his chiton gracing his body, and feels the rays of the sun cuddle at his skin.
It takes him a hot second to discern where he even is. A dream, he knows at an instant, an excessively sunny day in a field of golden, the air crisp and clean and by all definitions pleasant, if one doesn’t mind the headache inducing brightness of the sun. It’s all the complete opposite of how the Surface actually is at the current moment, with that persistent winter, which is cold, gloomy, and fantastically dead. The grass of this rich field of amber tickles his feet, as he takes stock of the scenery, the bright blue of the sky with no cloud in sight, the quiet chirping of birds in the surrounding trees nearby, Zagreus sitting with his back facing Hypnos some paces in front of him.
The Prince is seated with his arms bracing his body for support, leaned backwards with hair that is gently jostled among the breeze, soaking up the sun. Hypnos had an idea it was Zagreus’s dream, even before seeing the man, the feeling of him—warm, like the sun, a gentle caress—is a familiar one.
Just as mortals call Death an eternal slumber, regeneration is something similar, just not eternal; a moment of rest, as the body and soul rebuilds, a moment to dream, and Zagreus must’ve died again. God of Rebirth, the title that becomes more and more likely, Hypnos thinks.
Dreaming of the Surface, and maybe that’s a little predictable, but it’s nice. Brightness of the sun notwithstanding, but it is… delightful, sure, some respite during Zagreus’s trials of continuous death.
Hypnos will admit it: he’s biased, he definitely has favourites, and he absolutely gives a certain Prince special treatment. He’s made it a conscious effort to make sure Zagreus’s Dreams behave. Only agreeable Dreams, only refreshing Dreams; the guy just died, and he will not allow Nightmares to fester when Zagreus could be dreaming of open fields of relief. Hypnos is very strict on his ‘only nice Dreams for the Prince’ policy.
Zagreus, predictably, senses Hypnos when he strides closer. He turns his head to face his visitor, and Zag’s face instantly breaks into a grin, which Hypnos cannot help but mirror.
“Hypnos.” He greets, voice honeyed (which immediately produces goose-pimples to accost Hypnos’s body, oh my). "What a pleasant surprise."
"I could say the same. So I will! What a pleasant surprise indeed, Zagreus." Hypnos chirps.
Hypnos doesn’t make it a habit to—intrude, shall we say, on Zagreus and his slumber. He’s got other things to do. Like curate mortal slumber. Hypnos also doesn’t count himself as a squatter and Zagreus’s dreams are… private. That, and he also doesn’t want to risk Zagreus remembering Hypnos visiting because his presence alone had the very real risk of inadvertently affecting Zagreus’s dream to become something distinctly more… indulgent, considering what Hypnos dreams of, concerning the man.
But he stays, this moment. Approaches Zagreus, because it’s Zagreus, and there is no worry here, not with Zagreus, not within this field. Not when Zagreus shifts, opening space beside him, as he pats on the ground next to him.
"Come, sit with me. My shadow will shield you.” He says, and how fantastically considerate.
“My saviour.” Hypnos drawls, taking to his place next to Zagreus like a king to his throne. Zag’s shadow proves an adequate enough shield, providing him that much needed shade that instantly does its work as Hypnos merely slumps. His cheek becomes acquainted with Zagreus’s shoulder, as he leans heavily into the Prince’s side, body made entirely tranquilized and yeah, yeah, he’s missed that. Just slumping. That Zagreus would just let him, would be that sanctuary Hypnos could depend on, and Hypnos could melt entirely. There’s a sudden tightness in his chest that arrives like a spear impaling through him, as his body grows limp against Zagreus and how he’s missed this, at how Zagreus has always been a refuge and Hypnos could be free with him.
He manually quells that treacherous feeling inside him, calm down, idiot, and he leans against Zagreus, and Zagreus allows him. A cool, comforting breeze, the fresh smell of the open meadow and he breathes; deeply, richly, expanding his chest to its full capacity and it felt like an age since he could do that so freely. If this wasn’t already a dream, Hypnos would have fallen asleep in an instant. He doesn’t even need his cape, the quilted mantle weighted as to embrace him fully, because Zagreus’s presence mimics it precisely.
And they sit, and they don't need to fill the air with needless filler, and Hypnos’s eyes have long shut themselves to simply immerse himself in this. He hears Zagreus sigh, satisfied, and Hypnos feels a sense of pride in that: yeah, this Dream is good, and Hypnos sure is an artist, no need to thank him. He smiles to himself, nuzzles close to Zagreus’s form, indulges to the fullest extent, because who knows when he’ll get another chance for this.
And, huh, that’s a thought. Zagreus is leaving, after all. Someday he’ll feel the sun and air physically, he’ll breach the surface and—Hypnos will continue making sure his Dreams are only of the highest quality. Maybe they’ll be able to speak together in Dreams when Zagreus sleeps. Hang out. Zagreus would let him.
A trill of a bird, that is remarkably similar to a bat’s than any actual bird, rings out at a distance, littering the breeze. The long grass sways around them. Hypnos should probably add actual bird sounds, he thinks peripherally. Zagreus would appreciate it.
“I’m going to miss you, you know.” Hypnos murmurs, suddenly, that he surprises himself. And that’s a true statement, if there ever was one. “When you actually stop dying, for once. What else am I going to look forward to, if you don’t get felled in some grand, comical way?”
Zagreus snorts, and Hypnos raises his head to see Zagreus look down at him with an amused expression. Hypnos already knows red is his favourite colour, it’s what his wardrobe is primarily made up of, after all, but he could add green to that coveted title.
“I’ll come back. Eventually.” Zagreus says softly, and Hypnos believes him. “I’ll make sure to die in some ludicrous manner just for you, mate. Perhaps I’ll run into a wall with such force, I break open my head.”
“Will you run at it, thinking it’s a door? Because that’ll make it better.” Hypnos smiles, purposely teasing. “Would be perfectly you.”
“You know me so well, mate.” Zagreus rolls his eyes fondly, and Hypnos snickers. “You do make dying easier, for what it’s worth. Always made the House bearable. I dare say seeing you is the best part of being there.”
“Well, I am just the most pretty wall decoration. At least I know that I’m doing my job right.”
What a glowing review. Hypnos’s cheeks have swelled at that, he feels like he could puff his chest out in smugness because, hell yeah, he’s pleased with himself that’s—well, it’s a glowing review. He certainly feels like he’s glowing.
“Your job, being handsome?” Zagreus muses, leveling Hypnos with a certain look, and Hypnos thinks this dream may morph into something distinctly rose-tinted if he doesn’t keep himself in check. “And here I thought it was to give me advice each time I died. Silly me.”
This is Zagreus’s dream, not yours, Hypnos tries to scold himself, which really doesn’t work because all Dreams are his, if we’re being technical, he’s the one who shepherds them like the cosmic sheep that they are. Zagreus is the one being mushy, so the glimmer in Hypnos’s chest is completely his fault, anyway.
"Just trying to help you out. I’m a gentleman!” Hypnos rests his chin on Zagreus’s shoulder and smiles brightly at him.
Zagreus says, "Thank you, you're too kind. Where would I be without you?"
"Not very far, I'd imagine."
"True. I wouldn't have been able to get anywhere, if you hadn't put the House to sleep." A pause, Zagreus considering him, really looking at him, before murmuring, "I never did properly thank you, for that. Literal treason, at my behest. You're mad, mate." Zagreus chuckles on his last statement, nearly incredulous, and Hypnos would assume Zagreus’s literal awe on his face to be him projecting, but he doesn’t ignore it.
Hypnos shrugs. "I trust you. So maybe I am a little cooky, yeah."
And that was just an effortless, easy thing to say. He didn’t even need to think about it. Yeah, literal, actual treason, and he’ll happily do it, because he trusts this guy. Why wouldn’t he?
Zagreus looks at him a little longer. His face falls from its previous amusement to something a little more serious, something a little more—concerned.
"I'll miss you too, mate." Zagreus whispers, and Hypnos doesn’t have time to think about how weirdly weighted Zagreus sounds, because the Prince’s face changes again, like he remembered something important. "You’ve been missing from your post. I’m beginning to get worried."
His face fits his words, brows furrowed, eyes focused, and Zagreus is perturbed, it’s clear on his face and in his tone and Hypnos… has been away from his post, for however long. On his bed. Getting crushed, or something, he can’t really remember, if he’s being honest. Bone splintering, getting mended, before breaking again, his insides squirming like he had nothing but worms inside him, thorns and flowers and stems, the gleam of a scythe blade, and this is death dream, Zagreus just died, did Hypnos—?
The golden fields, the blue sky, Zagreus’s visage, it all becomes marred with a deep crimson and sullied with the stench of copper. Blood, lots and lots of blood, perhaps adequately described as pool, there's just so much of it! A blood pool. A specific blood pool.
Hypnos opens his mouth, produces an adequate ‘eugh’ noise as blood, not his, thankfully not his, red red blood, pours from his mouth from where he inadvertently had it pool between his teeth. Hypnos cannot profess to being a fan of the metallic taste blood has, or, really, any taste of blood, whether it’s the weak taste of mortal blood or the richness of immortal blood because blood should really stay inside a person. He brings himself to his full height, the pool’s depth at waist-height as he shakes off the thickness of the sanguine fluids off him, feeling it dissolve from his body as he properly wakes up.
Ah, the Pool of Styx. Hypnos blinks the remainders of lethargy as best he can, brings his palms upwards to rub at his eyes as the smell of clot and, well, blood, invades his nostrils. He feels the slumber of mortals, how his death caused numerous individuals to suddenly drop into impromptu comas (there’s a shade that exits the pool next to him that was probably a victim of an ill-placed surprise coma, with the look they give him, whoopsies) and the rates of insomnia have just skyrocketed, and he should really avoid dying next time—
Zagreus’s voice holds a distinct twinge of alarm, and Hypnos blearily looks to see the Prince having regenerated alongside him, standing with a look of confusion on his face next to Hypnos. Hypnos blinks at him. Blinks at him again, before smiling.
“Wow,” Hypnos giggles, and he probably shouldn’t be giggling. “We died at the same time. Talk about synchronicity!”
Zagreus stares at him in apparent bewilderment. “Why did you die? What happened?” He splutters, brows furrowing.
Hypnos snickers, snaps his fingers, and gives Zagreus a considering point of the finger. “You know, that is just an excellent question. You’re really asking the good questions, it’s been a while since I’ve had to walk out of there and boy, let me say I don’t envy you!”
Hypnos has no memory of his death. Just an open field of golden, and a shoulder to rest upon that still creates fissures of warmth to cascade upon his body. His actual death is still barred behind closed doors somewhere in the inner recesses of his subconscious that he’d need to manually excavate.
“Hypnos,” Zagreus starts, moving closer. “You—You haven’t died in… well, I’ve never seen you die, why did you die?”
Zag, always asking the correct questions. Hypnos would ask him the same thing, but Master Hades’s desk is empty again, so. Quite the hurdle, clearly.
And Hypnos’s own death?
Sharp, piercing, worms and flowers, broken apart and mended, only to be broken again as he decayed, his reflection present upon the violet iris of a scythe, the sharpness of a blade.
You know. Hypnos doesn’t like the direction of this.
"As much as I enjoy merely standing in this lovely odious basin of death, why don’t we step out to somewhere a little more dry, and we can investigate our murder mysteries together, yes?” Hypnos suggests brightly, floating himself to skip the stairs entirely as the remaining liquid evaporates off him, as Zagreus follows.
Murder. A scythe. Not looking too good!
“Good thing my handy-dandy list can unravel this mystery for us, huh!” Hypnos floats at his usual post, momentarily forgetting the sleeper-seat exists—his bed stained with his own blood, tattered and ruined flowers adorning the frame, and his bed was his sanctum, defiled so greatly—he’s been absent from his post, right. On the account of dying.
Hypnos would be lying if he wasn’t just a teensy bit… cautious, as he summons his list. There’s not many people who use a scythe, actually, no matter how flattering the weapon style is. It’s only because Zagreus is staring at him like he could raze the entire House that Hypnos is given the motivation to actually look at his cause of death.
Hypnos — A blade through the heart, a mercy kill delivered by Thanatos.
Oh, a mercy kill. Phew! Okay. That’s infinitely better than straight up murder! In fact, it’s considerate. It’s—charitable! Kind, even! So Thanatos hadn’t finally lost all tolerance and straight up killed him, that’s neat. Mercy kill. He hadn’t wanted Hypnos to suffer… whatever it was, just couldn’t bear Hypnos in anguish, and this really is the nicest thing Thanatos has done for him. It really was so polite of Than so Hypnos has little reason to feel so hollow, and yet.
Zagreus attempts to weave a tone of mellowness in his speech, when he says, “so, what was it? Perhaps I could give you some advice, as to how to avoid it in the future, mate. I’m quite knowledgeable in that area.”
Hah, okay, that one was pretty good, as Hypnos snorts at it, missing completely how, despite Zagreus smiling, his eyes hold a promise of vengeance.
“Oh, I’ll have you know I’m quite the wealth of death avoidance knowledge,” Hypnos shrugs, trying to quell a growing sharpness in his chest with a wince. “Guess I should start taking my own advice! Just—” thorns coated in his blood, maggots beneath his flesh, flowers growing in between his teeth with a mouth and tongue that would soon find themselves as destroyed just as his eye with roots and stems. Flowers attempted to expel his teeth, and relief was given when his brother looked in him in shock, and Hypnos had the strength to ask him for a good death, “ —Just don’t get cursed! Don’t get cursed, and Thanatos won’t need to mercy kill you!”
Hypnos finishes that remark with a giggle, and is suddenly accosted with the fact he probably should have delivered that with a little more tact, as Zagreus is staring at him in an exciting blend of confusion and horror. Well it’s true, what he said, none of this would have happened if he hadn’t gotten himself cursed, and he wouldn’t have to ruminate on how he can feel the ghost of Thanatos’s blade sear into his chest as a white-hot iron.
Or, actually, that feeling is a cough, one he hides behind an elbow. His sternum feels like it's caving in, as he hacks out spiteful little petals sullied by his saliva. He can feel every movement of his ribs as his chest convulses, the grinding of bone against bone like the collapse of a boulder. Right, right, cursed, indefinitely so.
“Hypnos,” Zagreus says in a tone that immediately has Hypnos look at him in bewilderment, because he’s never heard Zagreus sound so stressed, and the guy dies on the daily/nightly. “You’re still cursed—”
“So glad you mentioned it, because boy, I got something to tell you, Zagreus!” Hypnos interrupts jovially, and, yup, there’s shades and daimones looking at them because of course there are, why wouldn’t there be, he’s still coughing stupid flowers up. “Uh,” Hypnos continues, “I don’t suppose you’d allow me the privilege of speaking with you in private, yeah—?”
But then there’s a sudden, sharp pressure on Hypnos’s scalp, like a hand, clad in a gauntlet, suddenly grabbing his hair. And then, there’s a sudden change in scenery, a snap (a poof), an abrupt onset of vertigo as his stomach attempts to traverse outwards through his mouth as he’s been suddenly teleported.
Hypnos isn’t even given the reprieve to heave his guts out in his unforeseen nausea, because he’s being jostled around again, becoming acquainted with a wall as his apparent kidnapper shoves him against it that Hypnos sees stars before he can realize he’s been taken to some corner in Erebus.
When his brain can properly boot back up, Hypnos blinks in disorientation until the shapes around him begin to make sense. The front of his chiton is bunched up in someone’s fist to keep him braced against the wall, and his impromptu re-locator is looking down at him with bared teeth, accompanied heartily with a golden gaze Hypnos shares, just as piercing as the blade he used to cull Hypnos with.
Thanatos is—Well. The best way to describe him is that he looks very pissed, like Hypnos is going to be transferred back to the Pool of Styx again. Hypnos’s eyes focus as he wakes properly to such a degree, it’s almost painful, as Thanatos speaks with a cold, calculated tone.
“You are going to tell me, in great, excruciating detail, what you know about who it was who cursed you and any parameters regarding this curse that you are aware of. And you will not. Skip. Any. Details.”
Ah, haha, can it be constituted as foolish of Hypnos to assume, automatically, that Thanatos would… carry on his usual business, go back to work, reap more souls, leave Hypnos to pick up the pieces as some sort of passive-aggressive statement that Hypnos needs to deal with his problems? Thanatos doesn’t exactly give him a lot to work with.
“T-Thanatos,” Hypnos gives a weak smile, huffs a small cough. “My dearest, most beloved brother of mine, ever merciful you are in your reaping, allow me to thank you for finding it with yourself to bestow upon me a quick death—”
Oh, that’s a growl, an actual snarl of heated resentment and Hypnos must’ve really put Thanatos’s schedule out of whack with his death.
“Uh,” Hypnos starts intelligently, coughing once more. “Uh.”
This is actually greatly embarrassing, Hypnos finds, as shame coils in his gut and he spits out a petal. Hypnos is in the midst of attempting to organize his thoughts when the weight of Thanatos’s fist on his chest abruply vacates, and his brother has—recoiled, physically, glaring at the petal that Hypnos expelled and yeah, he understands, its gross, wouldn’t want defiled flower parts staining his clothes either. Hypnos brings a hand upwards to massage his forehead, a headache presenting itself as his chest squeezes out more coughs, and Thanatos has some bad timing.
Hypnos smiles, coughs again, and says, “I have to tell Zagreus something. Like, right now! So, if you’ll excuse me—?”
He attempts to edge around his brother, but really, maybe he should invest in honing his teleportation skills more, as Thanatos forcibly quells his
escape departure by moving in front of him.
More growling! “Who was it, Hypnos? What needs to be done to break it, Hypnos?”
Hypnos winces, more coughing, and Erebus will be decorated with petals just as the halls of the House at this rate. Maybe he should tell Thanatos, straight up, that it was Aphrodite, that he’s in love with Zagreus, and maybe Thanatos will scowl at him with a raised lip and tell him how stupid he is, have Hypnos wilt but then maybe he’d leave and Hypnos could speak with Zag. As much as having Thanatos’s attention on him is a rare treasure he wants to hoard indefinitely (even if Thanatos is angry at him, only ever irritated at Hypnos’s existence, at least Than’s talking to him! Could be ignoring him outright!), ideally, Hypnos would like to speak with Zagreus first about this whole mess, confess, deal with rejection on his own, have Zagreus help him, and so forth.
Hypnos is ruminating on the potential dangers of letting it out that it was Aphrodite (Thanatos wouldn’t be so stupid to try to challenge an Olympian for having this curse encroach on his time unintentionally, surely. Surely?), when he looks at Thanatos, and consequently becomes distracted to the point his previous thought process is halted entirely. Thanatos’s eyes possess a distinct puffy quality to them, darkened around the edges like he's been rubbing at his face. Hypnos speaks before he can put on his filter.
“You—You look like you’ve been crying. Have you been crying?” Hypnos asks through another cough, and suddenly the idea of being cursed becomes completely irrelevant because Thanatos’s eyes are actually red-rimmed, blood and darkness.
Thanatos stares at him, blankly. He continues staring, to the point Hypnos thinks to try and sneak past him in his apparent comatose state, before Thanatos speaks once more, just as blankly.
“Why won’t you tell me who did this to you?”
His voice is subdued, eyes diminished in its previous heat and that’s—worse, than Thanatos looking at him in anger, Hypnos realizes with a startle. If Hypnos was a smarter man, he would have continued being persistent in the fact he needs to tell Zagreus something, be a little assertive, but the idea of Thanatos crying is literally so flabbergasting that Hypnos needs to manually check if he’s still dreaming.
“Did I make you cry?” Hypnos asks, incredulous.
The roots that re-establish themselves into his lungs is second rate to the sense of shame that continues to warp within him as an eel in tar. As Thanatos’s face begin to twist at Hypnos’s words, his lips becoming pursed as his brows knit, Hypnos feels as though he’s in a literal uncanny valley, because everything feels off-center, tilting just slightly, and he coughs once more behind a fist.
Thanatos eyes the falling petals with a rekindled heat, like he wants to light the flowers aflame with his glare alone, as his jaw clenches. He looks back up to Hypnos with something sour.
“I had to kill you, Hypnos.” Thanatos dryly states, and Hypnos is left standing numbly where he is as his brother continues. “I had to stab you, in the chest, in the heart, and I had to watch, as you died, in my arms, by my hand. You were pulling—” Thanatos cringes, grinding his teeth as he balls his fists, “—thorns, out of your eye, Hypnos, you were drenched in your own blood I had initially thought you had been mauled.”
Silence, a heavy cloud that smothers them both as Hypnos feels himself give a dry swallow, prompting a sharpness to birth in his chest. Thorns persist within him, but the feeling reminds him of the relieving bite of Thanatos’s blade slicing through his flesh and into his heart with such little effort. What exactly is the appropriate response that Hypnos should try for? ‘Well, that’s the problem with being cursed, isn’t it! It’s not exactly known for being pleasant.’
(Somehow he doubts Thanatos would appreciate that.)
The oppressive stillness continues as a weighted blanket, feeling as a physical burden as Hypnos rolls his shoulders. He coughs (awkwardly, might he add) into the sullenness between them, his noises echoing across the walls of Erebus like a floundering circus clown and Hypnos thinks he could make himself scarce in Erebus and never be seen again.
“You asked me to kill you.” Thanatos states starkly, and Hypnos tries to show his… condolences on his face with a twitching smile.
(Through an invading battalion of bloom desecrating his mouth, attempting to evict his teeth as strain continues within his gums, does Hypnos manage a feeble request. And so Thanatos honours it, after a moment of hesitation, as he unsheathed his blade with a trembling lip.)
“Uh.” Hypnos squeaks. “Well, uh. Uhm. Well! Let me just say, thanks, for, for that! I wasn’t having a good time, haha!”
Thanatos clearly doesn’t share his humour, as he immediately scowls at him. “I am going to get Mother if you refuse to tell me why this is happening to you.” He threatens.
And Hypnos’s blood has drained at an instant. He balks at Than, says quickly, “Wha—? No, no! No you’re not! She’s busy! Working! Occupied! And, and shouldn’t you be working? ‘Death waits for no one,’ and all that?” Now Hypnos is feeling hysterical. “Don’t you have, have more important things to deal with, right now? Don’t drag Mom into this, she’s a, a, busy woman!”
Gods, Mom is going to be so—deeply disappointed in him that Hypnos is going to ask Thanatos to kill him again, oh Gods.
“You’re cursed, Hypnos.” Thanatos says, in a way that sounds like Hypnos is unimaginably stupid. Which, hey, there’s some semblance of normalcy, he’ll take that.
“Y-Yeah? Thanks, hadn’t noticed!” Hypnos says, thinking of dealing with the nausea of teleporting so he can just flee as his coughs continue. “Been cursed for a couple of days. Weeks, maybe, I’m not sure! I haven’t been keeping track!”
“If you are not going to take this seriously, I am going to get Mother, Hypnos.” There’s promise in those words oh no.
Hypnos makes a squawk, like he’s suddenly a goose, and it sucks, especially because he did it in front of Thanatos. “Boy, at this rate—” cough, cough, “—at this rate, you’ll have to kill me again, because I’ll have a carnivorous garden in me once more. At least we can look on the bright side of all this, you finally have an excuse to kill me repeatedly, haha!”
Thanatos recoils, physically recoils, again, a noticeable look of disgust on his face. Hypnos wonders how far Thanatos’s patience can reasonably go. Hypnos wonders if he’s about to find out.
“I don’t—want to kill you, Hypnos, I don’t—” Thanatos starts, splutters, arms raised like he wants to throttle something (probably him, Hypnos surmises). “You—I held no enjoyment from killing you, you know I shed tears from having your corpse in my arms and yet you still cannot take any of this seriously! You’re cursed, Hypnos! You died! You will continue dying, until we can break this curse!”
Thanatos sure is yelling. His voice rings across the halls of Erebus like the Furies shriek the sins of their victims and Thanatos did, really really did, cry about having to kill Hypnos and that—certainly means something.
Thanatos continues, looming, and Hypnos feels his shoulders begin to hunch to his ears. “Do you want to fester in your bed, having your insides feasted upon? To become a living corpse? To decay in your own blood? This curse will repeat, Hypnos, you need to realize that and I cannot fathom how you could be so asinine still! While you actively deteriorate!” Thanatos jabs a finger forward, startling Hypnos from the sudden movement as he attempts to mask more coughs. “You asked me to kill you! Because you were suffering! And now that you can stand and speak once more you refuse my aid and I do not understand. Will you ask me to kill you when this curse has rendered you ruined once more? Do you not want to avoid getting to that point again?”
Thanatos squints in disapproval, raises his lip, “you had been absent from your post. Nyx was worried. Zagreus was worried. I was worried, does that mean nothing to you? Why do you continue to be so stubborn?”
Thanatos’s breaths cascade throughout as an irritated dragon, and his glare is likewise. Hypnos stands dumbly, feeling distinctly helpless, as his mind flounders to say something fanciful in return, clear the air, relieve the tension, maybe share a laugh.
“Well, I mean,” Hypnos swallows, his throat bobbing, a sudden knot forming and he cannot discern if it is the thorns inside him strangling him or the advent of something much worse. “You've always said I was replaceable, ahah!”
Hypnos is thankful, truly, when he is then accosted with a coughing fit, so he doesn’t have to think more about that statement, doesn’t have to look upon how Thanatos’s face turned stunned, and instead is forced to focus on how his chest squeezes as if a giant has claimed him in its fist. He convulses as he bends himself at the waist, his coughs reverberating as sharp hacks and—Yup. Splat.
Now that isn’t a feeling he missed! Hypnos heaves as his lungs wilt at the force of his expulsion, his gut twisting among itself as he feels the invading thickness of this damnable mucus pervert within his mouth. He groans as he spits the remainders out, bringing himself back to his full height as Thanatos hovers awkwardly in front of him, face aghast at the soggy clump Hypnos expelled.
“M’sorry. No wonder you never want to be seen with me, hah!” Hypnos snivels, wiping at his nose to clean the trickling wetness of his nostril. “I want to talk to Zagreus. I’m going to talk to Zagreus.”
His brain feels empty. His innards feel.. Squirmy, like a writhing mound, and he never wants to be so acutely aware of his insides ever again. Having Thanatos’s concern is a refreshing change of pace but he finds the face he wants to see the most now is of a distinctly Princely nature.
“Hypnos—” Thanatos’s voice starts, strained in a way Hypnos has never heard it.
“I’ll come clean after, I promise, alright?” Hypnos raises his hands, surrenders, cracks a smile as best as he’s able with a woozy head and another cough. “Just got... something really important to say to him, yeah? I’m on a bit of a schedule, here.”
“Would it make you feel better in knowing it has to do with this little curse, and how to cure it?”
Thanatos looks at him, swallows, cringes his face unpleasantly, and if Hypnos had some of his faculties left, didn't have a head that was suddenly rendered unsteady and groggy, he may have been enthralled with the hesitation Thanatos exhibits. With how his brother clearly wants to continue speaking, continue arguing, but instead concedes with a hard slump of his shoulders as he appears to battle something inside himself with a troubled, unsettled face.
“I—Okay.” Thanatos raises a hand, rubs at his face with a heavy sigh, before purses his lips down at Hypnos. “Okay. But we are speaking afterwards, you and I. No exceptions.”
Cough, cough, which divulges into a small giggle.“Wow, if I knew all I had to do to get you to actually speak me was—”
“Do not finish that statement. Go and speak with Zagreus.”
Okay, yeah, he’ll admit that probably wasn’t the best thing to say. “I am not finishing that statement! I am going to speak with Zagreus!”
“Thanatos,” Zagreus snarls, “explain yourself—!”
“You know what a mercy kill is, Zagreus,” Thanatos drawls, exhaustion freely dripping from his words. “Hypnos is waiting for you in your room. He wishes to speak with you. Do not keep him waiting.”
Poof! And Thanatos leaves, because he needs a nap.
Hypnos is hardly able to appreciate the prospect of sleeping on Zagreus’s bed and consequently thinking not to do so because he’d stain the man’s covers with flower goop, because the owner of said bed appears.
“Hypnos,” Zagreus greets in urgency, striding closer until he stands before Hypnos. “Please, tell me you know how to break this curse, tell me how I may aid you. There should have been no reason for Thanatos to kill you. What happened, mate?”
Zagreus exudes worry, twinged with a healthy sense of desperation. His uneasiness persists as a heaviness in the air, and Hypnos gives Zagreus a bright smile. Or, tries to, after a cough, attempting to alleviate that denseness between them.
“Oh, you know how curses work! They get worse before they get better, and I’ll definitely have to replace my bed. Because it’s totally stained with blood. My blood. Lots of it!” Hypnos chirps, immediately regrets it, because Zagreus doesn’t look an ounce relieved at all by Hypnos’s casualness. “Come on. You die all the time, Zagreus! How come it’s a spectacle when I do it?”
Hypnos is only trying to ease the atmosphere but clearly he needs to rehearse things like these, as Zagreus practically pouts at him. Cute, Hypnos thinks peripherally, as he coughs once more.
“Because I ransack through Tartarus attempting escape, and therefore encounter foes that are all too happy to send me back to the Pool of Styx. You ought to know, since you know all my deaths. Do tell what the tally is the next time I return, mate.” Zagreus responds dryly. He wrinkles his nose down at Hypnos. “You are meant to be safe in the House and yet you have been cursed, mate. All you do is sleep on the job and greet those who have passed on, and yet you were cursed. And I cannot wrap my head around the why. Tell me who had done it, so I may vanquish them.”
Oh, that sprouted a warming under Hypnos’s tunic, with how Zagreus’s tone and face held a promise of vengeance, all on Hypnos’s behalf. Whew. Hypnos shakes himself, gives another cough, focus, and Zagreus’s plegde for retribution is markedly soured because of who the subject is. Hypnos has had enough of Olympians to last him eternity. If Zagreus is still committed to enacting his wrath even after learning it was Aphrodite—Oh, Gods, that’s going to be a disastrous ripple effect, isn’t it.
“It—may be everyone’s best interest if you do not harbour such bloodlust for my amorous afflicter.” Hypnos attempts as Zagreus squints at the word ‘amorous.’ “So, uh, promise me you won’t make a big stink? We don’t need to drag this out further than it already has, right! Haha!”
Geez, the thought of Zagreus making true on that promise of vanquishing on Aphrodite is a literal nightmare. That’s a hassle he literally winces at the thought of, and this has already gone long enough.
He hopes Zagreus understands that. Hypnos looks at him, sees Zagreus’s brow knit, his lips purse, and the air shifts. Something changes, Zagreus’s face almost looks pained, on the precipice on a wince, and, yeah, the air has turned into pity. But it isn’t burdened with any sense of belittlement, Zagreus’s heart is just so… big. Just too all encompassing, the empathetic fool.
“I can’t promise that, mate. Seeing you so, knowing you had died, knowing someone is responsible for all of this…” Zagreus’s jaw clenches. “It angers me. Seeing you consistently be mistreated. When you’ve done nothing wrong.” There’s heat there, and has Hypnos really not noticed himself be—bullied? Please tell him he hasn’t been bullied. “I am already confident that you have done nothing that remotely makes you deserving of such a curse. I apologize that it spiraled so. You have been nothing but benign and yet—Thanatos needed to… kill you. It shouldn’t have happened.”
Oh, Zagreus. His guilt is a palpable force and this man is just unparalleled in his damn… selflessness, thinking everyone’s problems are his to solve, the nosy bastard. Zagreus steps forward, appears to hesitate, before—
Zagreus reaches out, tentatively places a hand upon Hypnos’s cheek as a ghost and Hypnos should retract, really he should. Step back, because it would be easier to confess without the warmth of Zagreus’s hand persisting as the most welcoming pillow, he thinks. But Hypnos stays where he is, decides he is selfish in this, because there’s a swelling in his chest he knows isn’t the flowers inside him festering. Hypnos’s eyes flutter shut on their own accord, the breath he lets out is more shuddered than he thought it would be, and Zagreus stays, his hand stays, and Hypnos knows he’s safe.
“You are the best of any of us, Zagreus.” Hypnos murmurs with a smile, opening eyes to return Zagreus’s gaze. He’s going to love this man, he’s going to never stop loving this man, because his love flows out of him in every direction. “I’m starting to think you may be the God of Benevolence, it’s almost infuriating.”
Zagreus’s hand is so Godsdamn big against his face. Encompassing his cheek so fully, and Hypnos hadn’t realized his shoulders were tense until it all melted with Zag’s contact. He leans into it, shakily (when did he start shaking?) brings a hand upwards to hold his hand in his own.
“Who did this to you, Hypnos?” Zagreus says in a low voice, starts rubbing his thumb across Hypnos’s cheek because he clearly wants the smaller God to break completely. “Please. Let me help you, mate.”
Hypnos’s heart is in a vice—or, more accurately, being constricted by thorny stems that pierce through him. Zagreus is so close, is touching him, is looking at him with those stupid soft eyes and Hypnos is never going to forget this, could never forget it, it’ll be a memory he’ll store forever.
“I love you,” Hypnos blurts in a desperate breath, before letting out a bout of nervous laughter at how Zagreus blinks down at him in surprise. He speaks quickly next. “You’ve completely mesmerized me, Zag. Driving me insane with how good you are. I don’t… I don’t know how to stop loving you.”
He really, really can’t, hopes Zagreus can forgive him that it may take time still for him to get over himself. Zagreus blinks at him, opens his mouth, closes it, drops his hand and Hypnos’s shoulders slump to the point he nearly lists forward because Zagreus is so close, had been touching him, and Hypnos needs to learn better self control. Zagreus’s hands reassert themselves, however, prickling Hypnos’s skin as the Prince holds him by the shoulders, his hands beneath Hypnos’s pauldrons.
“Is… Is this what this curse is about?” Zagreus asks, and there’s a growing blossoming of pink on his cheeks, oh my.
“Most wretchedly.” Hypnos manages, after a dry swallow, still enthralled by Zagreus’s blushing. “Aphrodite didn’t appreciate my dawdling, shall we say. Wanted me to finally declare these lovey-dovey sentiments.”
And there it is, that name-drop, Zagreus would have squeezed it out of him one way or another. Zag scowls at the name, although that expression vacates entirely when Hypnos suddenly heaves, nausea a growling serpent within him as his coughs defile the air between them. Hypnos attempts to quell them behind an elbow, and Zagreus has taken a step back with hands hovering in front of him.
Hypnos spits out a flower glob, internally apologizes to Zag for making a mess in his room, and Zag is holding an expression of disapproval.
“You’re still… You’re still cursed, so confession isn’t the cure?” He asks.
Oh, if only. That would have made things much easier. Hypnos takes a deep, shaky inhale of breath, lets out an equally shaky sigh, and brings a hand to cart through his hair.
“I’m sorry,” he says, lets out a humourless laugh with a smile on his face that’s there simply because it’s his default. Hypnos moves, paces, massages his temples, rubs his face, coughs some more, wrings the skirt of his chiton as Zagreus traces his movements, and Hypnos just floods the air.
“I’m sorry I’ve dragged you into this flowery mess of infatuated woe. I want to still be friends, if, if you’ll allow me the privilege, but Aphrodite wants me to seduce you, which is just, just, bonkers, when you think about it. I’m literally a disgraced florist with this, how is choking on flowers enticing? I’m sorry.
“I guess you could—talk to her? If anyone could knock some sense into anyone, why, I have faith it would be you! You’re good at that. Most of the time. Even if she’s an Olympian which… Definitely complicates matters! Oh, what a mess. What a beautiful, perfectly Olympic mess. Not to—Not to bad-mouth your family, of course, it’s just, well, they have certain reputations for a reason! Haha!
“She’d probably listen to you. She gives you boons, blessings, is helping you to break onto the Surface, you’ve got charm. You’ve got a way with words. Appeal to her better judgement, tell her this curse is just a waste of her time. I mean, I’m sure she’ll get bored eventually, right? But I, I’d rather not have to die again, you know? I’m not built like you, ahah!
“I just… I just—you’re exasperating, you know that? Absolutely frustrating, with how, how kind you are, how you help everyone, how you smile, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I want to be friends, still, I’ll try not to make things awkward, hopefully it’ll be better when I’m not, not decorating the halls with flower giblets, ahah! It’s just—Uhm, it’s—uh, uh," he refused to cry, not in front of Zagreus, please, "I’m, I’m, I’m lonely, Zag, ahaha! And you, you’re so good, in literally every way, you’re so stupidly handsome, so stupidly altruistic, literally the man of my dreams and, and I’ll shut up, boy I gotta shut up, shouldn’t I—”
“You don’t need to stop.”
Zagreus’s voice nearly has Hypnos tripping over himself as he comes to an abrupt halt like he’s walked straight into a wall. He blinks at Zag, blinks again, when he sees how Zagreus’s face holds—what is that, desperation? Hopefulness?
“What?” Hypnos splutters, wondering if Zag is finding his ego stroked from this, if he wants Hypnos to sing him praises.
Zagreus opens his mouth, then closes it, licks his lips as he flexes his hand in apparent uncertainty, like he needs to build himself up, speaks next like Greek is a foreign language. “You don’t need to stop loving—me. I want that.” He says, absolutely inelegant, “I want you, mate.”
‘I want you,’ and maybe this has all been some terrible fever dream because huh?
Hypnos stares dumbly at the man in front of him with all thoughts halted entirely. He continues staring, as Zagreus attempts a small, nervous smile.
“I think I’ve finally figured out what this feeling inside me, is.” He says, and Hypnos feels like he’s been transported to another plain of existence, suddenly.
“What?” Because what else can he say?
Evidently, Zagreus finds his confidence, before he moves, steps forward, cups Hypnos’s face, leans down—
And Zagreus is kissing him, really, actually, totally kissing him, Zagreus’s lips are upon him and it's better than any dream he’s had, any fantasies he’s indulged in, because Zag’s lips are soft, his hands an anchor and Hypnos breathes him in, takes in all he is offering with an eager mouth. Hypnos’s hands scramble on their own accord, grabs onto any purchase he is able with desperate fingers that clutch onto Zagreus’s arms as his body leans forward into the Prince’s body, wishing to merge and become whole, and Zag is really kissing him, and Hypnos is kissing back.
They part after an age, and Hypnos nearly whines at the loss, brought to a literal float, as he brings his feet back to the ground.
“Z-Zagreus,” Hypnos says like a lovestruck fool, “Za-ah-ha-ha-greus,” he giggles, because he is a lovestruck fool, his smile unrestricted and unable to be stopped, and Zagreus smiles back, crinkling the corner of his eyes.
Zag’s still cupping Hypnos’s face and he never wants Zag to let him go, never wants his hands to leave, especially when his thumb moves and strokes his cheek, ah!
“Consider me seduced, Hypnos.” Zagreus purrs (he’s purring!) and Hypnos would literally be floating away if Zagreus wasn’t still holding him. Holding him, touching him, so close, smiling at Hypnos like he’s the only thing in existence and his lips were delicate against his, so easy fit against him, and he wants to kiss Zag again, continue kissing, again and again—
A particular growl interrupts that thought. Zagreus blinks at him in bewilderment. Hypnos winces, cringes, his gut churning and producing some very, very unfortunate sounds. Aphrodite is the Goddess of Love but she sure knows how to kill the mood, as Hypnos caresses his stomach, feels his innards turn to acid, steps away from Zagreus as the Prince looks on in dismay.
Zagreus, bless him, attempts to hedge closer before Hypnos waves him away from the blast radius.
“Z-Zag, you’re gonna want to take a step back.” He wheezes, before it feels like all his bones break at once and he hacks.
It’s a terrible expulsion of wheezing and heaving, one Hypnos would think he had gotten used to by now but nope; he feels a physical presence burrow itself through his throat, a burning in his lungs and stomach, viscous slogs of flowers exiting through his mouth and a horrible ring of splatting. Something feels too large to belong in his throat, forcing itself upwards towards his mouth, squeezing against the walls of his esophagus to the point it may tear open, before he feels it pillage at the back of his mouth.
He tastes acid, earth, torn petals and honeyed blood. A rubbery, slippery appendage wriggles its way through his mouth, an invading presence that forces its way through him that has him heave, and hack, cough, ssssssplat!
He groans, spitting out the remaining petals and mucus out, his head dizzy, like it could fall off his shoulders at any moment. He stumbles where he stands, needing to reassert his footing, bringing a hand upwards to attempt and realign his head as he feels drool trickle from his chin. He sniffs, his nostrils moist, blinks, his eyes moist, and he blearily is able to discern through the haziness of his vision some mound on the floor, undoubtedly what he has just expelled.
Oh, hey, he had a literal worm in him. Alongside flowers! What a twist.
Said worm is—predictably pink, Aphrodite’s minion that it is, a lovely rose shade and it's an over-sized maggot. Squirming upon the floor among a damp grave of flowers, its fatty body glistening with a glaze of Hypnos-goop. Smelling exactly how one would expect a curse-worm that had been festering inside of Hypnos’s body and producing ravenous flowers would smell.
It’s a sight that makes Hypnos gag. Likewise a temptation to stomp his foot upon to crush the thing, because he’s sure nothing would be more satisfying than hearing the squelch of a pulverized worm underneath his heel. He isn’t given the chance (thankfully?), because the worm twists, writhes, coils and disperses as a corpse of an immortal; it fades, becomes a pink mist that evaporates into the air as its body dissolves and dies, it dies, and—there’s no longer a worm in Hypnos. He lets out a scoff. Breathes. Scoffs again. Marvels at the distinctly non-prickly quality of his insides.
“Hyp… Hypnos—?” Zagreus stutters, perplexed, eyes wide and brows furrowed, and Hypnos should probably apologize for making such a mess in the guy’s room. He absentmindedly thinks about that, as he mindlessly wipes at his face to clean it, and there’s no longer a worm in him, no more flowers, no more thorns, no curse, there’s no longer a curse, and Hypnos wasn’t even aware he had a crushing weight on his shoulders until it dispersed just as the worm did. There’s no longer a persistent itch within him, no tingling, no piecing, no constricting and no bone breaking, no more thorns, he’s not going to have to pull thorns out his mouth (or his eye) and the relief is like a second cape to his shoulders. No more thorns! Ah!
He looks at Zagreus in reverence, because this really does mean—
“You really love me,” Hypnos says in a daze. He never has to be cognizant of his insides ever again, there’s no worm in him anymore, no thorns, Zag kissed him, broke the curse, because he really loves Hypnos, wowza.
Zagreus, still attempting to rationalize seeing Hypnos expel a worm, goes through befuddlement and being overwhelmed, before the cogs of his brain are able to make out what Hypnos said as he looks at Hypnos with an expression that is a perfect representation of the word ‘huh?’ He blinks at Hypnos, the mechanisms of his mind tuning themselves back to reason, understanding the situation further, as the corner of his mouth begins to rise in a grin.
“Yes,” Zagreus says, like it's the most obvious thing. “Yes, yes, I do. I’ll yell it for all to hear, if you want me to. I’ll kiss you until you have no more doubts.”
Dreams really do come true. Hypnos already knew that, purveyor of Dreams that he is, but his own? Not even he could see them coming true. And yet. Romance is awesome, actually.
Zagreus steps forward, expertly avoiding the evicted flower mortuary that Hypnos should really apologize for, and Zag is going to kiss him again and that’s a dizzying prospect. But —
Hypnos halts the Prince’s advances, let’s out an apologetic smile, and love is blind, truly. “As much… As much I would enjoy that,” Hypnos starts, far too aware of how clammy his face feels. “I just threw up a worm. I’m not sure I’m all that appetizing.”
Zagreus snorts, giggles, and Hypnos’s heart is probably literally glowing in his chest.
“You’re positively irresistible, worm vomiting habits notwithstanding.” Zagreus muses, stepping back. He moves to rummage through a drawer of a nightstand, acquiring a blessing in the form of a cloth that Hypnos takes with a grunt of thanks. The respite of the cloth upon his face is like cold water against a fire as he rids himself of the shackles of this blighted mucus. The sullied rag is is re-deposited to Zagreus’s hand as Zag throws it over his shoulder without a second glance and it lands in the dustbin. Show off.
“How are you feeling?” Zagreus asks, patting Hypnos’s shoulder, and he’s going to be petting Hypnos now, isn’t he. Touching him. Touching him in other places, too, maybe. Oh.
“Like I can breath again, finally.” Hypnos says, breathing freely with lungs and ribs that actually work and do not decay at every breath. No strain, no prickling, and sooner or later he’ll forget he even has lungs, what joy.
“You’re free, then?” Zagreus asks, squeezing his shoulder and Hypnos will melt.
“Definitely.” Hypnos gives a yawn. Blinks. Looks at the Prince before him, and Hypnos wants to immerse fully in that fond look Zagreus has. “Uh. So. Are we…?” Hypnos hedges.
“...Together?” Zagreus finishes softly.
“Yeah. Y-Yeah. Sweethearts. Paramours. Intimate companions.” He is feeling remarkably warm right now.
“Any and all romantic titles, I’ll let you choose, mate.”
“I’m partial to mates, mate.” Hypnos pops the word out, has to physically halt himself from thinking about the verb form of that word.
Zagreus throws his head back, lets out a bark of laughter. “Ah, you prove time and time again you have flawless tastes, dearest.”
Dearest, ugh, he loves this man.
“Wow. Wow, wow.” Hypnos coos, and he’s really cooing. And he’s blushing, too, he can feel his face heat up, and they’re mates, hah! He leans forward, buries his face into Zagreus’s chest (his bountiful bosom) and he feels Zagreus rumble in a chuckle. “Well, that was just a doozy of a time. I have so many dreams to fix.” Hypnos says, muffled from where his face is smooshed into Zag.
He yawns again, feels slumber creep upon him, and he would have slept where he stood with his face resting against Zagreus’s breast, if the Prince didn’t speak.
“Will you sleep with me?” Zagreus murmurs, his breath wafting against Hypnos’s hair.
Oh, that was pretty fast. Hypnos is instantly brought to full wakefulness. Mates. Mating. He has an embarrassingly long list of fantasies he wants to play out with Zagreus and they just got together and Zagreus is clearly eager which is, whew, that’s certainly a compliment. Hypnos’s flower vomit is still on the floor drying. He recently spewed out a worm. He really, really has a slew of dreams he needs to fix and, and, why is he nervous he’s taken himself in his hand to indulge in thoughts of the man and now when Zagreus gives the offer Hypnos feels his hands get clammy what—
“Uh,” Hypnos mumbles most flatteringly.
“Sleep, sleep, as in. Literally sleep. With me. In my bed. Together. I miss the moments where you would rest upon me.” Zagreus suddenly splutters, patting Hypnos’s back like he’s a spooked horse. “Sorry. Is that too forward? Too fast? I’m—admittedly a little excited. I can slow down if it causes you discomfort—”
“I want you to tuck me in bed and be my pillow, Zag.” Hypnos interrupts with a snicker and he’s so cute, argh. Gods, Hypnos is tired. More than usual, anyway. He’s going to be busy when he’s asleep.
He’s missed sleeping on Zag. The mere thought is making his chest clench, the mere thought that he’s going to sleep on Zag again makes him feel woozy in a way that feels like he’s going to faint. Zagreus missed it too, oh. He feels like during the course of this whole interaction he’s felt every emotion that there is to exist.
“Excellent!” Zagreus chirps, retracts, leads Hypnos to his bed. “That just so happens to align with my wants as well.”
And Hypnos is knocked out completely when his cheek meets Zagreus’s chest, just entirely gone to the wind when he slumps, and Zag’s tits are definitely Hypnos’s new favourite pillow.
He’s a new man. Zagreus totally is the God of Rebirth because Hypnos is anew, rejuvenated and refreshed, and Zagreus is out for another merry jaunt through Tartarus, having kissed Hypnos goodbye (‘for good luck,’ he said, oh ho ho), and Hypnos could probably take on the entirety of existence with how he feels, just unstoppable, curse free, worm free, flower free, and he’s dating (actually, really, dating) Zagreus. He walks from Zagreus’s room (t-their room?!), intends to march to his post and then promptly fall asleep, forget this stupid curse and carry on with his life when—
He nearly goes into complete shock that he literally clutches at his chest.
“Mom!” Hypnos squeaks, voice higher than usual, as he twists an ankle when he turns to his Mom at such an expeditious speed. “Mom. I—Hello!”
Yeah, it’s Mom alright. In all her ethereal glory and looking at him with a blank expression.
“Walk with me, my son.” She says, moving and Hypnos follows after a moment of stunned dumbfoundedness because he can’t remember the last time she said so many words to him. Zagreus is dating (oooooh) him, and now Mom is speaking to him? He follows with a healthy sense of weariness, body poised to expect the Fates to curve-ball him somehow.
They traverse through Erebus, its silence usually a comforting embrace but morphed into an awkward side hug as Hypnos waddles as an oaf after his mother. Maybe he should start humming, to break the stuffy air. Whistle. Ask her something. He feels like he’s completely forgotten what is the appropriate way to interact with her and he may be panicking because what if she’s expecting him to speak first, what should he say, how can he not sound like that co-dependent whelp she doesn’t want? Oof. He should say hello. He’s already said hello. She would probably find him humming to be annoying.
Luckily, Mom speaks before he can have a crisis.
“I suppose I may confidently surmise that this curse has run its course, considering the lack of coughing, yes?” She asks, tilting her head down at him.
“Yes. Yup! This body is 100% curse free! Curse lifted! Only good fortune, here. I didn’t make a very good flower merchant, ahah!” That’s funny. That’ll get a chuckle. It doesn’t. Mom just stops to turn at him with little expression. “A-Ahem.” Hypnos winces, halting himself with a near stumble.
“I’m glad. Your curse was not a joyous occasion for me. Seeing you return to your usual cheer is a momentous occasion.” Mom says, before tilting her head. “But I must ask; why hadn’t you come to me, for assistance?”
He stares at her. Moves his gaze to some dark corner of Erebus before reinstating his stare at her because… he isn’t entirely sure what she expects from him, if he’s going to be entirely honest. So he speaks the truth.
“You told me not to speak with you. Merely honouring thy Mother!”
Apparently, that isn’t precisely the correct response, because Mom’s expression falls. It’s uncanny, it brings him to further wakefulness, because Mom, the Night, the unfathomable bringer of darkness or whatever the mortals think of her as, shouldn’t hold a forlorn face, that’s just—baffling. Uncanny. He doesn’t like it, especially directed at him.
“Hypnos,” Mom says, voice heavy. “I asked that you do not depend upon me for your convenience, for I am not your mule and you are a capable God, I know you to be. I hadn’t meant you are not allowed to speak with me entirely, my son.”
Hypnos stares, wants to respond, ‘you don’t talk to me anymore, I’m sorry,’ but his tongue is an uncooperative organ in his mouth, just a mere stone piece. And he can’t move, so rooted to the spot by her mournful tone, her face of beseeching, and he doesn’t want to be some groveling thing weeping at the edge of her dress, he feels as though he’s only ever been a leech.
She continues, and Hypnos doesn’t even realize when his usual smile has vacated his face entirely. “You had been hurting. And yet I hadn’t approached you. And yet I made you feel I was unapproachable. I was distant when I should have been close, and I truly have no excuse.”
It’s like a blow to the head, hearing those words from her, because it still feels that she hasn’t done anything wrong. And it is difficult to rationalize that she has made trespass against him, that she has hurt him, because he loves her so much.
“Oh, my son,” she laments, fully mournful. “I must apologize to you. I plead thusly for your forgiveness for being so cold towards you. You shouldn’t have been alone.”
There’s a bundle of thorns in his throat, nearly feeling like the real thing, and he thinks he could cry in front of her, could have her caress him through it.
“I just want you to be proud of me,” he mumbles with a crack in his voice, and he still doesn’t know if he has earned that from her.
“I am, my son,” Mom says and it opens the floodgates for Hypnos, as she reaches out and beckons him forward. “Come to me, please, let me embrace you.”
Her arms are open, and Hypnos accepts as a tumbling child but he doesn’t care, because Mom is holding him again, and he can’t remember the last time she had. He clutches at her, buries himself in the comfort she brings as she wraps her arms around him in a secure embrace. He’s going stain her dress with his tears and he can’t care, because her arms are around him, and he’s safe.
“I’m sorry, Hypnos. What must I do to have you forgive me?” She says, her lips at the crown of his head.
“This is enough,” He manages through hiccups. “This is enough.”
And he couldn’t ask for more, because this is enough. This is all he could need.
He feels her smile, rather than sees it, as she brings him closer. “You have a big heart. To warms my own, to know it.”
He doesn’t care how long he clings to her, because she holds him back.
Yes, right, he needs to talk to Thanatos. He treads towards where his brother usually lurks before he can give Thanatos a reason to pull him to Erebus by his hair again.
Thanatos is standing and watching where the river Styx flows into the House, his quiet little corner of contemplation and Looking Cool. Hypnos trudges closer, making deliberate steps to alert Thanatos of his presence, and he sees his brother’s head tilt to acknowledge his approach.
Thanatos doesn’t greet him when Hypnos stands next to him. Doesn’t poof, either, so that’s a plus. The Styx is thick in its crimson flow, a persistent glow of souls following its wake and Hypnos surmises the reason Thanatos hangs out in this corner is to appreciate his hard work of reaping. The constant surge of collected souls, like an artist admiring their work, and Hypnos can relate. He’s lounged to watch a mortal’s slumber play out, it’s a free ego boost.
Well. He’s here. To talk. Thanatos had explicit instructions of such. And they’re both… standing here. Looking at the Styx. Hypnos bounces on his feet. Peeks at his brother, wonders if Thanatos is trying to channel his inner Twin Telepathy, before the larger speaks.
“You’re not replaceable.” Thanatos says, sights still firmly attached to the blood river before them.
Well, that’s painfully ironic, Hypnos thinks with a scoff. He says, “You have literally told me, and I quote, ‘Hypnos, you’re not irreplaceable.’ You're giving me mixed messages, here.”
Thanatos scowls, predictably, turning to face his smaller brother. “Your post, Hypnos, I was referring to your post and your deplorable work ethic because you could be fired—” Thanatos halts himself with a sharp shutting of his mouth, he breathes, rubs his face, and Hypnos assumes he mentally counts to three before he continues. “But you, Hypnos, you are not... replaceable.”
Well now Thanatos is giving him those uncanny valley vibes again. Death should not look so… conflicted. He wonders if a mortal's fate upstairs is being affected by that, dying of a poison but also choking, and Thanatos’s constipated look will discern the eventual cause of death.
Hypnos is about to say so, because, well, the air is tense, he needs some way to diffuse it, but Thanatos speaks.
“When I had killed you,” Thanatos starts slowly, working the words out, and Hypnos is rendered silent. “Your body hadn’t dispersed when it should have. I assume it had something to do with… The curse, or the fact you haven’t died in a while or… I was clumsy in handling your soul, regardless; your corpse stayed longer than I was used to.”
Thanatos gives a dry swallow. Hypnos sees his throat bob, and Thanatos glares at the floor between them with a sour look. And… Well, that explains a lot, doesn’t it. The respawn rate is typically fairly predictable, but Hypnos’s most recent death did have a lot of factors to it, didn’t it. The lingering corpse of an immortal isn’t a very welcoming thing.
Thanatos had mentioned he held Hypnos’s body in his arms. He can picture it, with what he remembers from that death; blood cascading from his face as a waterfall, his body limp and as if weighted by stones, the crimson of thorned flowers defiling his flesh, thorns protruding from where his eye had been, the unstoppable growth of ferocious flora tearing through the anatomy of his mouth and convulsing beneath his skin. The indents of roots visible underneath his flesh, and onset of roots burrowing out from under his nails.
Yeah, he wasn’t a particularly nice corpse to look at, was he?
“Oh.” Hypnos mumbles, because he has no idea what else to say.
“It’s why I wept, if you must know.” Thanatos says flatly, looking back outwards to the Styx.
No, not a nice corpse to look at. And culled by Thanatos’s own hand, too, it’s—well, it is a thought, isn’t it. The idea of Thanatos crying is still alien, very distinctly un-Thanatos-like, and Hypnos can hardly rationalize his brother actually shed tears over him. Over his corpse, that stayed longer than it should.
“Ah.” Hypnos starts, attempting to find his wording. “Right. Uhm. S… Sorry, for that.”
“No. I’m sorry. It shouldn’t have gotten to that point.” Thanatos looks back at him, a certain tenacity in his hard gaze. “You’re my brother. And yet I let you suffer alone. And for that I must apologize to you. I have been distant, I thought low of you, I was—callous, for little reason, I put work over your well-being and I… that’s the only excuse I can give. That I valued work over you. And that is a heartless thing to admit.”
Thanatos winces at his own words, which is nice, Hypnos guesses. Because he sure winces at it, ouch.
Hypnos lets out a breath, attempting for a laugh, but it doesn't quite get there as he feels a seed of grief attach itself in his gut. Not a literal seed, he hopes. “A little. Feels like you stabbed me again!” He says.
Thanatos’s jaw clenches, he balls his fists, and speaks with a hard tone. “I’m sorry. I am. I grew to only see you as your—incompetence. I was so wound up on the prospect you could be dismissed from the House I had… I had convinced myself the curse was justified.”
Hypnos feels his face twist at that. He finds himself uncaring to the prospect of manually masking his expression of hurt, because double ouch. His own brother. He knows Thanatos disapproves loudly of Hypnos’s… lack of productivity, of how little Hypnos truly really cares for the ledger (He has to sleep, he’s Sleep! ) but to hear such words from Than, his brother Hypnos knows everyone compares him to, his brother he cannot hope to match with, it… It’s a knife, to the chest, carving through his heart.
Thanatos looks down at him, like he has a knife in his own chest. “When did I grow so uncaring to you? What happened to me?” He murmurs, seemingly to himself.
This is a good talk. It’s a needed talk, Hypnos recognizes that, but it is also a talk that might make him cry and he doesn’t want to cry in front of Thanatos.
The air is very dense around them. And Thanatos asks a pair of great questions; Hypnos remembers (holds onto with a desperate clutch) the times in which he and Thanatos had just—been, together. Been brothers. When Thanatos didn’t just merely tolerate him, but actually engaged with him, until something changed. Until Thanatos got busy, too busy, and Hypnos was only a distraction.
Well. At least Thanatos admits that. Hypnos appreciates that. Deeply does.
Hypnos shifts on his feet, attempts to reassert his smile, tries to speak cheerily despite his voice wavering. “Well. Uh. Well! They say the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there’s a problem in the first place, right!”
Thanatos attempts a smile and, yeah, it’s been awhile (as in, Hypnos can’t remember) since Than’s actually smiled at him, no matter how small this current one is.
“Quite.” Thanatos says. “Can you find it within yourself to forgive me, Hypnos?”
“Yeah!” No hesitation, no need to think about it, and Hypnos delights at how Thanatos’s face becomes startled at that. “Provided you give me the nectars Zag give you as penance.”
Thanatos stares at him. Works through his shock. Then: He scoffs, a single bark of laughter, his smile broadening, and Hypnos mirrors it.
“Don’t push your luck, brother.” Thanatos rolls his eyes and gives a half-hearted thwack at Hypnos’s shoulder.
And... poof, that’s predictable. At least it was a good talk—
Hypnos startles at Thanatos’s reappearance, at how sheepish his brother looks.
“So, I was wondering, perhaps—” Thanatos starts, cringing, like the next set of words bring him physical pain. “—Perhaps, we could… hang out… ?”
Now it’s Hypnos’s own turn to look at his brother in shock, before he feels his face just glow.
Hypnos is returned to his post, unscheduled petals do not become uninvited guests, and he greets Zag after each death as he has always done. His advice, as always, is unparalleled, welcomed more so with how Hypnos accentuates his statements with fingers that trace Zagreus’s arm, hands that bump his own, lips brought to his cheek when Hypnos floats upwards to kiss him.
Hypnos has always made dying easier, but now, he makes it practically a temptation. Zagreus has never realized he had—missed, this, having someone, having someone who wanted him, like he’s found a lost piece of himself. Zagreus doesn’t float, but maybe he could yet.
“I see that Hypnos has been alleviated from his curse. I know I have you to thank for such a thing, child.” Nyx greets when Zagreus treads towards his room (is it their room, now?), and so he stops to speak with her properly.
“Indeed.” He says flatly, and there is no reason to mask his residual disapproval.
Nyx sighs deeply, says with a low voice, “I know you are disappointed in me, child. I know you did not agree with my methods pertaining to him. Hypnos has always had difficulties regarding independence, so I thought it prudent for us to come to an agreement; he would no longer rely on me and I would firmly detach myself so he may learn self-reliance. That is my only excuse. I know I had acted unsympathetic during his ailment. You need not lecture me on such, child.”
He looks at her, brows knitted. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you speak with him, Nyx. I know you do not keep tabs with all your children, as numerous as they are, but Hypnos was clearly in misery, and he was literally—only a few short paces away from you. Just around the corner.”
“I know, Zagreus. And I recognize it was far too cruel of me. He and I have since spoken.”
Her remorse is a freely woven thing, and for that he is thankful. His next words are more heated than he would have liked, despite them being true. “It shouldn’t have taken him dying for you to do that.”
“No. I recognize that. Thank you for making your disapproval apparent to me. Even as the Night, there are still much things to learn and improve upon.”
Zagreus knows mortals to think he and his kin are unfathomable in their wisdom on the account of living indefinitely, but even still, knowledge is still improved upon.
“Right. Well. Please tell me you’ll—” He starts, before he is interrupted.
“Make an effort?” She says dryly, the words she assumed he would have used, and he likes to think he would have chosen more... tactful wording, perhaps. “I will, Zagreus. Hypnos is dear to me, he is my son, and yet I haven’t been the Mother he needs. That is my mistake I will work redemption for, child.”
And that—That’s really all he needed to hear. Her words, coupled with how genuine she gave them, and it produces a stronger reaction than he thought it would. His chest clenches in gratitude, and he has to nod at her to quell a forming knot in his throat.
“Thank you, Nyx.” He says, with that gratitude in him.
She smiles at him, softly, fondly. “Take care of him, Zagreus.”
She doesn’t say it outright, but it is clear she knows. Not that he or Hypnos are actively trying to hide their relationship, of course. He smiles at her, giddy, because he’s in a relationship with Hypnos, and he’s so damned excited.
“With all my might.” He promises.
A distinct chilling of the air, despite being in Asphodel, means the arrival of Thanatos. After the area is cleared of wretches, Zagreus fixes his companion with a look, hearty in disapproval, and he opens his mouth to speak.
Thanatos beats him to it, though, with a raised hand in surrender.
“You don’t need to say anything, Zagreus, I was stupid and heartless, I know. I’ve spoken to him.”
Well, to the point, Zagreus can appreciate that. Zagreus can also appreciate blunt admissions of Thanatos’s faults.
Zagreus scoffs, taking stock of Thanatos’s carefully maintained default expression of a glower as he floats just above the smelting plains of Asphodel’s earth. Zagreus places his hands on his hips, and decides to wheedle.
“I hope this has been a teaching moment for you, Than.” He says dryly.
“You’re hilarious.” Thanatos squints, pouts (not that he would ever admit to such but he does pout). “I told him I was sorry, so I’ll do the same to you, if you’ll have it; I apologize for my behaviour.”
And that was the only correct statement to make. While there’s a tantalizing prospect for hanging this over Thanatos’s head for an indefinite time, Zagreus is physically incapable of being so cruel. Thanatos, while stark in his face and delivery, does show remorse, and does show he takes responsibility for his unfair treatment of Hypnos. So.
“Good.” Zagreus says, before deciding to wheedle just a little more. Thanatos deserves it. “I’ll forgive you when Hypnos forgives you.”
Zagreus already had an inkling of the answer to that, and it’s partially the reason he loves Hypnos. Thanatos quirks a smirk, adopts some faraway look of reminiscence, and Hypnos has always been a gentle soul.
“He already has, hasn’t he? You’re lucky he’s your brother.” Zagreus teases, and, yeah Thanatos is forgiven on all accounts, he’s apologized where it counts, and Zag doesn’t have the space to be eternally bitter at his friend when Than has already done his dues.
“Certainly.” Thanatos sighs. “Thank you, for helping him. How was the curse lifted, anyway?”
And—Oh. Ah. Thanatos wouldn’t know, would he.
Zagreus shifts on his feet, breathes in the ashen air. “He hasn’t told you?” He inquires.
“We had a… heart to heart, it wasn’t brought up, actually. Too busy being sappy to one another.”
“Ah,” Well, that’s good. Zagreus shrugs nonchalantly, maps out an escape route. “Well. T’was true love’s kiss, Than.”
Silence. Zagreus priming himself to flee. The physical representation of Thanatos’s brain working to understand that statement and its implications as his face changes.
"Excuse me?” Thanatos is eventually able to get out, staring at Zagreus in bewilderment. “Zagreus. What do you mean but that.”
Zagreus smirks, casually takes his leave with a turn on the heel and a near skip in his step, as he still has Elysium to battle. “You know what I mean by that.” He calls over his shoulder, and Death follows him as a looming shadow.
“Zagreus,” Thanatos hisses with urgency. “Zagreus! Are you—Have you—You’ve courted Hypnos?!”
“And then some!”
Zagreus is in a sprint. The sound Thanatos makes is positively scandalous.
He is tempted to refuse her call, when Zagreus sees Aphrodite’s boon. But he does answer, this is no Trial, and he could use the help.
“I feel within your heart that your bond has grown with our dearest little Hypnos. No longer spitting up flowers, I presume, yes? All he needed was a push in the right direction!” She giggles with a certain smugness that perverts off her in a way that instantly has Zagreus wrinkle his nose.
Most unfortunately, the gateways of communication that the Olympians use are one-sided with him, quick and to the point, and Aphrodite gives her blessing and he cannot respond back.
He would have some… choice words, if he could speak back to her. Words that would most definitely result in a Trial regardless of the fact there wasn’t a choice of favour needed to be made.
Regardless... he is going to have some strong words, indeed, when he can finally meet her in person.