It’s late when Nico arrives in the underworld.
Well, it’s late for Camp Half-Blood, and even though he doesn’t really live anywhere he usually takes it as a home base, simply because it’s a relatively safe place for him as a demigod. He arrives just outside his father’s palace, in the gardens of Persephone. He walks with Ms. O’leary until just past the hanging gardens to the outside paths, where he parts ways from her so she can play with Cerberus. He himself takes one of the main paths to the Great Hall, because although he is technically a prince of Hell that doesn’t mean that it affords him all the privileges a regular prince would have, like walking past the main holding cells when he isn’t sure where his father is.
He reaches one of the side entrances and pushes his way in, winding his way through the palace and past hovering shades who nod to him in reverence while attending their duties. It’s all muscle-memory, at this point, and distantly he wonders at the privilege he is truly allowed. No other demigod that he knows of makes regular acquaintance with their godly parent unless needed. It may be because of his status as a child of the “Big Three”, but even then he knows that all the other children of the Big Three don’t often visit their fathers as well. He can understand it for Zeus, who lives on literal Mount Olympus and therefore can be kind of awkward to visit, but can’t Percy breathe underwater? Maybe it’s the state of his relationship to Amphirite that stops him. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to swim that far. It’s probably the latter.
His train of thought distracts him so much that he doesn’t realize that there’s a new figure in the Great Hall until he’s already a few steps in. It’s floating by his father’s main desk, which is even stranger. His father would likely kill anyone who dared to loiter near his things, much less his throne.
Nico approaches cautiously, for once not grateful for his father’s absence. He would at least be able to explain the floating figure near his desk. The shades populating the great hall don’t seem to pay it much attention, which is strange considering that he’s never seen this person before. He can see that they’re not a shade, as he can’t see through them, but he isn’t really sure how else to take them.
Nico starts when he sees that the person is sleeping. Sleeping, near his father’s desk! If his father saw his he’d probably channel his brother and smite them on the spot. They’re not as drab and dreary as they should be, Nico thinks. After all, the Underworld may be filled with precious metals, but it still deals in death. Who would dare to be seen in a comforter for a cloak, bright red and lined in fur? Not only that, but they’re even wearing a sleep mask!
At this point, Nico is already thinking of turning back and just asking someone else. Maybe one of the furies would know? Nothing gets past them, after all. Except maybe Percy Jackson.
Just as he’s about to turn around, though, he must make too much noise, which startles the figure into throwing up his hands and fumbling with a scroll and feather, only barely catching it in his hands before they fall. Nico’s already drawing his sword, too surprised by their quick movements to bother putting it away.
The figure pulls up their sleep mask the rest of the way, blinking blearily at Nico as he tries to regain his composure.
“Huh,” the figure says, which does not help Nico’s confusion at all, and then, “You’re not on my list. Are you sure you died?”
This doesn’t help his confusion at all, but he at least lowers his sword and sighs, which they beam at.
“I’m not dead. And if you’re a worker here, shouldn’t someone at least have told you about Hades’s son? It’s not a good look to not be able to recognize that, especially considering where we are.”
The figure scrunches up their face in confusion. “Zagreus..?” They say in their squeaky voice, which makes Nico try to lean back as unobtrusively as possible.
“Wait.. hold on,” they say, even though Nico hasn’t said anything yet.
“Oh! Oh, oh, oh! I know who you are!” They beam again.
“Great,” says Nico.
“You must be the master’s other son, Nico! Aren’t you, yeah? How lucky to meet ‘ya! I’m Hypnos, the resident note taker and greeter of recently deceased shades here in the house!”
Nico stares at him, and then stares a little more when it’s clear that the God of Sleep is waiting for him to speak. His curly head is tilted, like a puppy, and sleepy eyes blink back at him.
Nico is pretty sure he doesn’t have enough sleep behind his belt to deal with this, which is funny, considering he’s talking to the God of Sleep, of all people. Not to mention that the god didn’t even deign to mention himself as a god, which means he either expects him to know who he is, or he himself forgot.
“...Hypnos. Hypnos, the god of Sleep?” Nico asks, just to make sure.
Hypnos noticeably brightens when Nico says his name, eyes crinkling with happiness. “Wowie, you know who I am! How fantastic, how cool! And now we know each other! Pleased to meet you, your highness!”
Nico sheathes his blade, unable to keep on the balls of his feet. So it is Hypnos then. He doesn’t want to ask about the rest, but unfortunately his curiosity gets the best of him.
“Yeah, sure. You mentioned Zagreus. Is that… another one of my father’s children?”
Hypnos noticeably brightens, which Nico is starting to hate, because nothing in his father’s house should be that bright. He resists the temptation to shield his eyes; even if Hypnos has shown himself to be reasonable and fairly easygoing, he knows not to tempt a god’s vanity.
Hypnos, oblivious to his internal dialogue, tosses his feather pen away and clasps his hands together.
“Wow, I’m so glad you asked! Zagreus, my husband! Zagreus, your, well, I guess that makes you half brothers? He’s my husband, and well, he’s just the best! He’s also the son of Lord Hades! But I don’t think you’re also Miss Persephone’s son? At least, from what I know! After all, we have been gone for a while, so really, anything could happen, right?”
Nico blinks, taken aback at that, but his face settles. “So he’s a god… uh, what?”
Nico wonders if he’s hallucinating. Maybe this is a dream Sleep created so he wouldn’t have to deal with Nico? But it feels too real. He isn’t unused to… those kinds of relationships in Greek life, but he certainly hasn’t met a god or a hero yet that simply just announced it outright to him, not to mention a god, married to another god. Artemis was a lesbian, sure, but they were different. Maybe it was that he’s never met a god that’s been so openly gay before. Maybe he just wasn’t listening well enough.
Hypnos just continues, obviously excited to gush about his husband. He summons a bottle of ambrosia and a straw from nowhere to sip at while he rambles.
“And you should absolutely meet him, it’s been too long since there’s been another son of Hades in this house! Honestly, I don’t really see the trouble of putting a ban on the big guys having kids because they’re too powerful, but I guess since they’re such bad fathers it makes sense, huh! Well, you know, if you have any trouble with Lord Hades, Zagreus will always knock some sense into him for you! He sure does love defeating his father in combat, so you wouldn’t be doing him any harm in asking, don’t worry!”
Nico, while still visibly stunned, makes sure a small part of his brain makes a note of that to relish later.
Tentatively, Nico asks, “He’s.. defeated my father before? Multiple times?”
Hypnos tries not to grin at that, but the acrobatics his face goes through belies his feelings clearly. “Oh, absolutely! Don’t tell anyone else, because they’ll have my head, but Zagreus is the champion in that respect! I can’t even count the number of times he’s sent his father back to the Styx, and believe me, I’ve tried!
“Oh, yeah, in fact,” Hypnos chirps, leaning on a fold of his blanket and kicking a leg out, looking for all the world like the picture of decadence, “Why don’t you meet him now? He should be back from his run right around now anyways.”
Nico laughs a bit at that, despite himself. “I think I might pass on that, but thanks. It’s nice to know dear old dad can get what’s coming to him once in a while.”
Hypnos makes to respond, but he’s interrupted by a splash nearby. They both turn in unison to see the Blood Pool across the Hall churn, and a figure rises out with a growl. To his surprise, Hades is walking out, tossing out a ruined cloak to the ground with disgust.
Both Nico and Hypnos are frozen, eyes tracking his father’s figure across the hall. His father doesn’t even throw either of them a glance, cementing Nico’s suspicion that Hypnos is a more regular sight in the Hall than he originally thought. They barely have time to turn back to each other before another sound from the Blood Pool has them turning again.
Nico’s got his hand on his sword again, unnerved that anyone else besides his father would use such a reclusive fixture in the palace, eyes darting to Hypnos for a clue, giving him barely enough time to jerk back before Hypnos tumbles past him, dropping his full weight onto the figure with a screech of, “ZAG!”
The figure reacts in lightning time, tossing their spear behind themselves where it snaps to the harness across their back and reaching out their hands to catch the god of sleep in their arms.
The figure rumbles a deep, rusty laugh. Despite their entrance, their voice is surprisingly soft-spoken and muted. “Hello, love. You’d think we had been apart for months, instead of the mere hours we’ve been separated.”
Hypnos tightens his arms around the figure’s- Zagreus’s, Nico supposes- neck and rubs his cheek into the side of Zagreus’s head, tousling his long hair. It’s an intimate thing to watch, and Nico’s a second from shadow-traveling away just to escape from it, but Zagreus looks up and catches his eye, eyes sparkling bemusement. He walks closer, depositing Hypnos back into his position without a strain, and tilts his head to the side as he observes Nico.
“Well, hello mate,” He says. “I’m Zagreus. And you are?”
Nico watches him warily. He’s used to gods full of arrogance, of pride and power. Though he can feel the power of this god, it isn’t… oppressive. Maybe he’s biased because this is the god that apparently defeated their father in battle for being a dickhead, but it feels… almost comforting. He’s almost reminded of when he first met Percy; of the power that was used to protect, not to control.
Interestingly, his half brother isn’t even as tall as he thought he’d be. Hypnos mentioned that Zagreus was the son of both Hades and Persephone, almost an Olympian in strength. Maybe even equal. But Nico only reaches his chest, unlike his father, who towers over him.
“I’m Nico di Angelo… I’m… another son of your father.”
Zagreus tilts his head, and Nico watches the last drops of blood evaporate off the black strands.
“Ah, a demigod then? My father told me of how he’d signed a pact on the Styx that he wouldn’t have any more children, how strange. Ah, that’s, not to say anything against you, of course, I just suppose I thought he knew better, considering what the Styx means to those of the Underworld. To us, especially.”
“Us?” Nico asks.
Zagreus nods, sighing and leaning against a now sleeping Hypnos.
“I’m assuming he didn’t tell you, then, about the curse?”
“Curse?” This is looking even worse by the minute.
“Mm.. children of the Underworld have a strange attachment to the river Styx. It’s considered one of the oldest rivers, and it flows through Tartarus itself. Our realm was bequeathed to us by Nyx, the Night herself. But unfortunately, the same magic that allows us to survive, even thrive here, is the same one that keeps us trapped. It’s easier for those not born under the Surface, and if you’re farther off from the main family tree.”
Zagreus nods to Hypnos, snoozing against his shoulder, “It doesn’t apply on those that came closer to Chaos, like Hypnos and his siblings, or the beings like the furies. It’s a power that’s meant to help us rule, but it doesn’t allow much freedom. Personally I’m not able to get more than a few good minutes on the surface without outside help. I’m guessing you can, though? Zagreus looks at Nico, dichromic eyes glinting in the firelight.
“I’m good for years, actually. I had a prolonged stay in the Lotus Hotel, which I think might have done something to help keep me on the Surface.”
Zagreus’s face twists in anger. “For what it’s worth, mate, I’m sorry that happened to you. It may have helped, but the Lotus Eaters are wardens of a different kind.”
Nico thinks he might want to smile. “...Thanks. I do have a question, though, if you’ll indulge me.”
Zagreus’s eyes crinkle when he smiles. “Of course, anything for a sibling. Shoot.”
Nico valiantly ignores this terribly warm statement and soldiers on. “I haven’t… seen you around when I’ve been here. Either of you. Where have you both been?”
Nico crosses his fingers in his jacket pockets and prays he doesn’t get smited for his curiosity, but surprisingly, Zagreus just laughs and nudges Hypnos, who barely lifts his head from Zagreus’s shoulder and yawns. “Huh? Whazzat… Zag…”
Zagreus runs a hand through his hair, letting it down as he collects his thoughts.
“Ah, well… I suppose you could say we were on our honeymoon! Up until just recently, we’ve been spending our time in Master Chaos’s realm.”
Nico frowns. “For how long?”
“Oh, just a few years. Usually we wouldn’t go so long, but Morpheus agreed to take over his father’s duties so we could have a rest for once. How is he, by the way? He didn’t even come to meet us like he said he would.”
Nico is sure he’s making a face. He is, and he wishes he could be anywhere else but here, but it has to be said.
“I’m assuming you haven’t been back long, then. Just… what was the date when you left?”
The god furrows his brows at the question, absentmindedly nudging Hypnos down onto a plush sleeper seat in their corner when he starts to slip down.
“Yes, that was my first run since getting back. Ah, I’ve been negligent with keeping up with mortal dates, but it was.. Ah, I really don’t know for sure. Maybe… hmm. Something nineteen?”
“Yes, that’s it! Somewhere in there, Hypnos would know better than me.”
They both look down at Hypnos, sunken into a pile of cushions so deep Nico wondered if he was being eaten. Would Hypnos even notice?
Nico sighs and bites the bullet.
“We’re in the 21st century by now. I- yes, a lot has happened. The reason why Morpheus didn’t greet you may have something to do with him siding with the Titans a few years ago.”
Hypnos jerks awake at this, pulling up his sleep mask and getting it stuck in his hair as he squacks, “TITANS! Ha, heh heh, sorry about that guys, I just met the strangest dream that told me the Titans woke up while me and Zag were gone! And even that my son sided with them, can you imagine that?”
His voice trails off as he sees their expressions. Zagreus sits down heavily on the side of the sleeper seat, landing on Hypnos’s legs. Hypnos doesn’t even notice, too busy staring at Nico with wide eyes. Nico cringes back at him, shoulders raised awkwardly.