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Interlude - Hermes

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Of the younger generation, Hermes’ undisputed favourite is Stiles. Which is a true shame because Stiles is not one of his.

He doesn’t even pay all that much attention to the boy at first. Stiles is Demetrios’ son, and Hermes is the messenger god. They do not socialize in the same circles, and they have very little to nothing in common.

Or so he believed.

Hermes remembers Stiles being a rather precocious child when the boy was first brought to Olympus after his mother passed. He stuck to his father, fussing – comically enough – over the harvest god’s health, but he kept getting sidetracked, asking odd little questions like why they didn’t have to pay for their food and drink, and why the other minor gods didn’t like talking about the mortal realm that they were all born in, and why some of them thought they were better than others just because of which immortal parent sired them.

It was amusing, the questions, at least to Hermes when he heard about them. The other children spurned Stiles for them though, which was no surprise. Stiles was different, and that was all it took. Even from the beginning, the boy stuck out like a snapdragon in a field of roses.

If there were fallouts due to Stiles’ strangeness, Hermes never witnessed anything beyond some juvenile bullying. He was always in and out of Olympus, carrying messages for the other gods, ensuring safe passage for souls between Earth and the afterlife, and looking in on the merchants and travellers and wily thieves under his patronage. And when he did happen to witness some of the harassment heaped on Stiles, well, Stiles was not one of his to look after so why should he care? That should be Demetrios’ job, and an easy one at that; the harvest god only had the one son to keep an eye on. Hermes had going on two dozen, and people rarely even mocked them, if only because they didn’t want Hermes humiliating them and their parents. He’s a trickster at heart after all, and even Talia and Deucalion respected that so long as he carried out his duties for them.

But maybe that was part of the problem, with the younger gods raised to think their immortal parent infallible and absolute, their social ranks determined by who sired them instead of who they themselves were growing up to be. They ran to their respective parents when they felt offended, and their parents took care of their little feuds for them, no matter how fickle or serious, sometimes even quarreling between each other violently enough to affect the mortal realm below, as the elder gods in a temper were wont to do.

Stiles was never raised that way, though it took Hermes a while to realize it. He took care of his father instead of the other way around, ensuring the best dishes and ambrosia were passed to his father during meals, comforting the elder god when he grew melancholic over his dead mortal wife, and never taking his own problems to his sire when they arose.

Stiles raised himself, and perhaps that made all the difference. Even to this day, Hermes sometimes wonders if that was a trait taught to him by his mortal mother, or if the boy was simply born that way, inquisitive and hungering for something more than perfection, with clever fingers and a cleverer mind, and independent as the wind.

Stiles is not one of his, but Hermes still sees himself in the boy far more than he sees in those of his own blood.

 


 

The first time Hermes takes proper notice of Stiles is when he’s just returning to Olympus from an errand, and he spots the boy sweeping the marble floor of one of Aphrodite’s more remote temples. No one else is around to assist him but half the place already looks spotless, gleaming in the sunlight.

Hermes can’t really say why he approaches the boy this time of all times. He’s seen the harvest god’s son cleaning or washing or carrying out some other chore before, usually a punishment for something he’s done, and this time is undoubtedly no different.

But Stiles is also staring intently into one of the bird fountains decorating the courtyard, and he doesn’t even hear Hermes’ approach until the messenger god is a mere foot away.

The boy jumps a little before hastily shuffling his broom back and forth across a patch of ground at his feet, and Hermes can’t help quirking a bemused smile.

“I am hardly going to report you for taking a break,” He remarks, giving the fountain a cursory glance. There’s nothing but clear water inside.

“Oh, no, of course not,” Stiles clears his throat and straightens, broom coming to a rest once more as he peers at Hermes. “Is there something I can do for you, sir?”

“Not as such,” Hermes offers an easy shrug. “I wished to take a break myself before reporting back to Talia, that is all.”

Stiles bobs his head once, and he resumes his sweeping, but for someone who calls Hermes – one of the youngest of the elder gods – ‘sir’, the boy meets his gaze boldly enough, unflinching and curious.

Hermes glances around. “Are you being punished again?”

Stiles flushes, and his jaw sets stubbornly but he doesn’t complain, only nodding again.

Hermes studies him. “For what?”

Stiles huffs out a breath, scrubbing harder at the floor for a moment. “…Lydia offered a kiss to whoever could retrieve her cat from one of the branches of an oak tree first. I won, and Jackson was not happy. He accused me of cheating and told his father, and Lydia agreed. Aphrodite was present as well so she ordered me to clean this temple as penance.”

His lips twist. “It is better than Ares’ punishments at least.”

Hermes studies him for a moment. “How did you win?”

Stiles’ expression takes on a mulish cast as he scowls at the ground. “I did not cheat. Just because Jackson chose to climb the tree and I did not does not mean I cheated. There was no rule that said we had to climb the tree!”

He darts a glance up at Hermes. Hermes waits him out patiently until the boy finally reveals with a stubborn sort of pride, “I retrieved some catmint from one of my father’s gardens and used it to lure the cat back down.”

Hermes blinks. And then he bursts out laughing.

Stiles stares, clearly mystified.

Oh, this boy, cutting straight to the heart of the problem and using the simplest tactic to succeed. And Ares’ brat of a son’s face when the cat simply went to Stiles instead of the other way around. He hopes Jackson was already at least halfway up the tree when Stiles accomplished the task.

Hermes wipes a tear from his eyes before looking around. There are a few spare brooms and other cleaning implements piled on the far end of the courtyard, and he jogs over to retrieve one before rejoining Stiles, who looks increasingly confused and even a bit like he wants to suggest a visit to Asclepius.

Hermes smiles at him. “I will lend you a hand. Two sets make faster work after all, and a crafty strategy really shouldn’t be punished.”

“Oh, you do not have to-”

“Certainly not,” Hermes agrees. “Therefore, it is my own choice to help. Will you decline it?”

If anything, Stiles just looks even more perplexed, but after a moment of silent contemplation, he shakes his head. “No, I would welcome your assistance, Hermes. I only have part of the courtyard left to clean so it shouldn’t take long.”

They get to work. Hermes is more cheerful with this new tale added to his collection than he has been in a while. He wonders if he can spread it amongst his merchants and travellers as a folktale. He knows spreading it in Olympus would only do the boy a disservice, but such wit would be appreciated and even applauded by those who understood the worth of a cunning mind.

Stiles continues peeking at him from time to time, like he doesn’t know quite what to make of Hermes. The air between them is a little tense so – recalling the fountain – Hermes enquires, “What were you doing staring into the fountain earlier?”

Stiles pauses, broom stalling. “Ah. In class yesterday, we learned of Narcissus and Echo and their respective folly. I was simply wondering why Narcissus kept staring at his reflection until he died. No matter how beautiful, surely hunger and thirst would have turned his features gaunt and ugly. And even if his perception of himself made him ignore such a thing, why then did he not collapse once his body was at its limit? And why did Echo – who proclaimed to love him – not bring him food and drink? And why did Echo fall for such an idiot in the first place?”

Hermes leans on his broom, chin propped up on one end as he listens to Stiles ramble on like he doesn’t even need to breathe. The boy’s eyes are bright and intelligent, and his hands gesture expansively along with his words like wings condemned to a flightless existence.

“Our teacher could answer none of my questions,” Stiles finishes with a sniff. “He called it insolence on my part. I called it stupidity on his and he gave me detention for a week. He extended it to two weeks after I asked why Talia only punished Echo when her husband was the one allegedly cheating on her. Again. And when it was proven that Echo didn’t lie with him after all, I also asked why Talia could not go and apologize and reverse the curse. So now I have three weeks of detention.”

Hermes would give almost anything to be a spectator of that particular conversation should Stiles ever ask such things to his mother’s face. Then again, the amount of trouble Stiles would be in afterwards wouldn’t be worth the amusement and shock value.

“Nemesis,” Hermes begins, and Stiles visibly perks up.  “When she heard of Echo’s plight, lured Narcissus to the pool of water, and she made it so that as long as Narcissus’ vanity outweighed his humility, neither hunger nor thirst would strike him down, and death would take him first.”

“Oh,” Stiles nods thoughtfully. “That makes sense. So he would have to learn modesty if he wanted to live.”

Hermes inclines his head. “Correct. As for Echo, she was a woman scorned. Loved him or not, she wanted Narcissus to acknowledge her on his own. Why should she help him when he hurt her so?”

Stiles’ brow knits. “But all she knew of him was his character, and it was as far from attractive as possible. She fell in love with him for his beauty. Does that not make her as shallow as Narcissus?”

Hermes hums. “Perhaps. But love cannot be quantified or explained. Sometimes, physical attraction is all it takes for someone to fall prey to that particular emotion.”

Stiles’ expression turns wry, and Hermes knows he’s thinking of all the residents of Olympus. “Yes, I suppose so.”

By unspoken agreement, they start sweeping again, although Hermes fixes a sharp look on Stiles when the boy looks up and catches his eye again. “Any questions you have about Talia’s decisions however, I would recommend you keep to yourself, Stiles.”

Stiles flushes again, and for a second, his eyes flash rebelliously before they avert to the ground. “Yes, Hermes. I apologize.”

Hermes suppresses a sigh. He wants to tell Stiles that it’s for his own good, that even between gods, there are lines you don’t cross, and it is simpler safer for the boy to remain silent, not because Hermes disagrees with Stiles’ assessment of the queen of Olympus.

But perhaps it is better this way, for Stiles to believe that even someone as tolerant as Hermes has proven to be won’t stand for any perceived insults to the elder gods.

The friendly camaraderie between fades. Hermes doesn’t leave until the temple will pass even Aphrodite’s high expectations, but they part ways afterwards with only a polite goodbye, and a thank-you on Stiles’ part.

It is for the best. Hermes doesn’t even know why he shared such a lengthy conversation with Stiles in the first place. And one pleasant exchange does not a long-lasting friendship make.

Somehow, he still regrets the distance between them.

 


 

That incident was the first and last time Hermes spent any significant time with Stiles, but he begins watching over the minor god all the same, much as he would the rest of his children.

His children are easy enough to keep track of though. Stiles, not so much, especially when he begins disappearing from Olympus. Hermes wouldn’t even notice the increasingly long absences if he wasn’t already making a point of noticing the boy in-between his duties. None of the other gods do. Not even Demetrios.

And Stiles is so good at melting into the background that Hermes wouldn’t even know where to start looking for him if the wind didn’t begin murmuring of a minor god roaming the Earth.

At first, Hermes thinks of informing Demetrios. But the harvest god barely stirs himself for anything other than the necessities of his job and Dionysus’ finest aqua vitae these days so Hermes says nothing. Stiles is doing nothing wrong anyway, and he isn’t so young that he still needs a minder.

Hermes looks in on him anyway. Gives his priests and priestesses at his various temples just enough Sight to recognize the minor god for what he is even behind his human guise so that they can and will offer sanctuary should Stiles ever need it without actually informing the boy of Hermes’ orders.

And he watches Stiles bloom with every skill and piece of knowledge he picks up. Watches him take to the toil of different apprenticeships with the enthusiasm and resolve of Hephaestus at his forge, even stooping to following the orders and instructions given to him by mere mortal men so long as he could learn something new.

Watches him travel wherever the wind takes him, wonder in his eyes and excitement in every step, and happy in a way he never was when surrounded by the easy splendour of Olympus.

It makes Hermes wonder how this little god could be Demetrios’ son when he embodies so much of Hermes himself.

Hermes cares for his own children, loves every last one of them because they are his, even the handful that came from careless trysts in his youth. But they are content with Olympus, content to linger, and they don’t have the desire to wander the way Hermes does, nor do they feel the pull in their blood when the west wind beckons or a distant storm howls. They have never known the exhausted joy of a traveller after a hard day’s walk on the road that brings them to their destination, or the triumphant relief after a thief makes off with enough of a haul to feed his family for a week, or even the shrewd satisfaction of a merchant after a well-haggled negotiation.

None of his children will ever know any of this. But Stiles. Stiles dives headfirst into the mess that is humanity and thrives.

And Hermes has no right to feel pride for the boy. He certainly didn’t raise him, and if anything, Demetrios is the fortunate one, but the harvest god – as far as Hermes is aware – has never been able to understand his firstborn, and when his second son arrives in the home of the gods with his mother, a nymph with a knack for healing and no sickness on the horizon to claim her, Stiles is further pushed into the shadows, forgotten in favour of the son that shines so much brighter under the light of Olympus.

Stiles never seems to mind. He opens his heart to include his brother and his father’s second wife, and it helps that both newcomers are kind souls themselves. Stiles fusses over them the way he fusses over his father, but Hermes’ heart aches for the boy when he receives none of that same careful regard in return.

Things like that weigh on the heart so Hermes does what he can to help. He knows it’s favouritism, and no god would show it to a child that was not their own, but Hermes justifies it by telling himself that Demetrios certainly isn’t going to do it.

So he leaves new sandals for Stiles in his bedroom whenever his current pair starts looking worn-down, and he has his followers pack a fresh travel bag for the godling whenever he spends the night near or in one of Hermes’ temples. New tunics find their way into Stiles’ closet, and to ensure that nothing will seem amiss, Hermes always times it with Melissa’s gifts when the nymph makes or buys little trinkets for Scott and Stiles.

In addition, mortal texts that he thinks Stiles might be particularly interested in always catch Stiles’ eye first when the caravans pull into a town, and Stiles’ blankets are that much warmer on chilly nights on the road because even a god gets cold when wearing a human body.

Most of all though, Hermes covers for the boy whenever someone in Olympus asks after his whereabouts. Education is only required up to a point, and Stiles is done with his schooling, but that doesn’t mean nobody misses him when he disappears for months on end. Of course, to be fair, they don’t miss him very often, and Hermes isn’t always around to make up an excuse for Stiles when they do, but between the two, nobody notices Stiles’ ventures into the mortal realm.

Nobody, until the god of the underworld comes calling.

 


 

Hermes could kick himself in the aftermath. He was visiting Iris when his uncle begins poking his nose into business that has nothing to do with him. Of all the gods, only Iris is aware of how invested Hermes is in Stiles, and she’s his friend so she helps him keep an eye on the godling. With the amount of trouble Stiles can somehow always find himself in when he isn’t busy studying under someone’s tutelage, it’s probably lucky the boy is far more resilient than your average mortal and can shed his human skin anytime.

Iris is in the process of regaling him with a baffling tale of how Stiles accidentally found himself in a brothel, accidentally charmed all the women there, and then accidentally found a job as both bookkeeper and bodyguard for them over the next four months, when apologetic prayers from a priest in Rome reaches Hermes’ ears.

It’s far too late by then.

He flies back to Olympus just as Peter is leaving. He isn’t even fast enough to intercept his uncle before the god slips away with a grating smirk on his face, and there’s no hope of catching him after that. Hermes may be an elder god, but Peter is one of the eldest of the eldest. His only equals are Talia and Deucalion, and even then, only one of them rules an ever-growing kingdom.

He considers telling Stiles but what good would that do? What does Peter even want with the boy? Hermes doesn’t know, and frankly, he doesn’t want to know but he’s sure he’ll find out eventually anyway.

In the end, he settles for calling a few hawks to follow Stiles around from a distance at all times. He knows he’ll never catch so much as a glimpse of the older god unless Peter wants him to, and there isn’t much he can do against his uncle should Peter try anything anyway, but at least he’ll be forewarned, and maybe he’ll be able to whisk Stiles away if the situation proves to be dangerous.

But then Stiles – with his independent nature and refusal to be confined by anything or anyone – takes his first life in defense of a slave, and Hermes knows it’s all over.

He can’t even say he’s surprised when one of his hawks summon him, and he sees the godling standing in a pool of blood, a terrible sort of fury that just seems too much for his human vessel colouring his features as he stares down at what used to be a slave owner.

Stiles has always done what he wants. And he has always been thoroughly disgusted by the very concept of those with power abusing those without just because they can. It was only ever a matter of time before he stepped in.

Hermes doesn’t even bother ferrying the soul into the afterlife. Not when Peter finally emerges from the shadows, still hidden from Stiles’ eyes, and plucks the wailing soul out of the air like fruit ripe for the picking.

The expression on his face is one Hermes barely recognizes, awe and admiration and a hunger so deep it’s a wonder Stiles hasn’t already unknowingly fallen under the death god’s thrall.

Hermes expects a confrontation right then and there, expects his uncle to corner Stiles or kidnap him or force him to submit, and he readies himself to at least buy Stiles some time to return to the safety of Olympus.

But then, instead of any of that, Peter turns around and leaves. He leaves entirely. He could simply be hiding his presence once more, well enough to fool even Hermes, but Hermes is fairly certain the god is gone. For now.

And he has no idea what to make of it. Hermes certainly didn’t frighten him away.

In the weeks and months that follow, Peter continues trailing Stiles’ every step, but he doesn’t act. He personally captures each and every one of the corrupted souls of the men and women that Stiles slaughters, but he doesn’t do anything more than that, and it’s… unsettling. This is not the uncle Hermes is familiar with. Peter takes what he wants, when he wants it, and he eviscerates the consequences should any dare to rear their heads.

He doesn’t… do this. Hermes doesn’t even know what this is.

One of his daughters cry for him, sulking over a gift that isn't to her liking because an emerald is chipped, and one of his sons demands he reaps recompense from Athena, whose fourth son disgraced him in a game of chess.

Hermes distractedly soothes them both through their respective mental bonds but tells them to grow up and sort it out themselves because he is busy elsewhere. And he is. Iris tells him he’s obsessing but Hermes is not the patron god of thieves because he ignores his gut instinct.

Peter is planning something. And Hermes is certain he won’t like it.

 


 

He is absolutely right. He doesn’t like it.

But…

He supposes he is almost pleasantly shocked by it.

 


 

Hermes watches as the god of the underworld who kneels for no one now kneels for Stiles, and in front of all the gods to see.

Something has changed. Something Hermes has missed despite how religiously he has been keeping tabs on his son-by-choice.

People are yelling, seething, demanding to know if this is a joke. Demetrios is on his feet and incensed, Scott is gawking at his side, Deucalion has his eyebrows raised and his lips curled in distaste, and Talia is white-faced with outrage. Probably because she was not consulted first, and for one of the oldest three – and moreover the one who has always ruled alone – to take a consort is no small trifle. That that consort would be some minor god largely overlooked and dismissed by all the residents of Olympus must be… galling to Talia.

Because it is the position of consort now in question. This is no casual dalliance or temporary lustful love affair that the gods are so prone to indulging themselves in despite most of them being married. Peter’s intentions now are terribly, overwhelmingly clear – he is offering suit, a proper committed courtship, something he has never done before since the beginning of their creation, and if all goes well, the kingdom of the dead will gain a new ruler, and the ranks of the elder gods will shuffle over to include one more.

The consequences will be worldwide. Earth-shattering. Every mortal will know Stiles’ name, and they will worship him, respect him, fear him, just as they do Peter now.

Hermes wants to protest. He should, he thinks, the way everyone else is, for whatever reason they have. Even with his uncle looking at Stiles like there is no one else in the hall, like he personally lit the stars and raised the Isles of the Blessed, his uncle still has a reputation for being cruel and cold and unforgiving.

But Hermes looks at Stiles as well, the way nobody else save Peter has bothered to do, too focused on lambasting Peter with their accusations and criticism.

There is a smile on Stiles’ face, one that Hermes has never seen before. A little shy, and a little surprised even though Hermes would lay down money on Peter having talked to Stiles about a courtship before this. But he looks… happy too, and not just because of the gifts, the exotic flowers and the perceptive addition of an undoubtedly rare book, both of which he gathers into his hands like priceless miracles.

Mostly though, his attention remains on Peter, and he can’t seem to look away. On his face is a quiet but thrilled sort of happiness that makes him look infinitely less lonely, because no matter how much Stiles enjoyed his travels, no matter how many friends and acquaintances and even enemies he made, Hermes knows he was always lonely.

And if Peter is the one who makes him less so, then, so be it. Hermes won’t say a word against this courtship, at least not in public. He’ll pull his uncle aside sometime soon and… well, threaten him, for all the good that will do. Not with death, obviously, but Hermes can prank with the best of them. If he puts his mind to it, he’s certain he can best his uncle. Whether he’d survive the death god’s ensuing wrath is another story but it’s the principle of the matter.

The technicalities of the courtship will be handled by Demetrios, once the god calms down some. And not even Talia can prohibit her brother from courting someone, especially when he is this serious, not without jeopardizing all the realms with open war. But she can make things difficult through Demetrios, and that… Hermes finds that aggravating. If anyone has the right to supervise the courtship, it should be Hermes.

But he is not Stiles’ sire, not Stiles’ anything. Stiles doesn’t even know about his role in the minor god’s life. But now… perhaps he should. Perhaps he should know that at least one god is on his side, if only because no one else will be. Jealousy, anger, self-righteousness, resentment – all this will be against them.

Perhaps it is fortunate after all that it is Peter offering suit. If anyone can quell or at least successfully endure the impending storm, it would be the god of the underworld.

And Hermes has witnessed Stiles’ strength for himself, his determination and desire for a freedom beyond Olympus’ borders.

If this is what Stiles wants, if Peter is what Stiles wants, then there is no question that he will get it, no matter who or what stands in his way.

He would never have caught and held Peter’s interest otherwise.