One day Thanatos says to him, “You remember Hypnos, right? My brother.”
“I remember him, why?” Zagreus says, in a way that really means how could I ever forget?
Because yes, Zagreus remembers Hypnos. He remembers how he was always sleeping in, missing classes but still somehow passing uni, how he always seemed to be either drinking or smoking who knows what, how he’d had this one bright, red dress he’d always wear, how if anyone breathed a word about it they’d have to deal with Thanatos or Zagreus or Meg, if they were really unlucky, how Zagreus had almost put some bastard’s head through a wall when he’d looked at him wrong, would have if Meg hadn’t beaten him to it and put a fist through the guy’s face.
He remembers going to him after his breakup and asking him for something – anything – he doesn’t care, and they had smoked something that had shot his consciousness out of his brain and he might have unlocked the secrets to the universe, or figured out the meaning of life, or maybe not being alone just alleviated the heartbreak, in those twenty minutes, and when he’d floated back into reality, back into the beat-up sofa in his shitty apartment with Hypnos tucked under his arm, he’d looked down at Hypnos and Hypnos had looked up at him and his gaze was so, so soft, and Zagreus had thought I will never forget this moment and leaned down and kissed him.
His lips were soft and his hair was even softer, when Zagreus had threaded one hand in as he fucked him, and Hypnos gripped like a vice as they rocked against each other, scratching into his back, and Zagreus had probably asked Are you okay? one too many times and maybe it was the fact that he’d just gotten high and discovered the very reason of all existence or maybe it wasn’t but it was one of the best lays he’d had in his whole goddamn life. And the next morning they’d eaten breakfast in his tiny kitchen, and that had been that.
And Zagreus thought about it, about nails that left red marks and about soft lips, softer hair, an even softer gaze held in golden eyes for months. But he didn’t say anything, and one day Hypnos had mentioned offhandedly that he was interested in heading overseas for continued studies, and then he was applying, and then he’d sent Zagreus a picture of his acceptance letter, and then it was him, Zagreus, Thanatos, Nyx, Meg, and Dusa at the airport, hugging and kissing him goodbye.
(Meg and Dusa were holding hands, and Zagreus found he was happy for them.)
Nyx had been teary-eyed, Thanatos had given his brother a hard thump on the back with a good luck, work hard, behave, and Zagreus had hugged a little too tight, judging by Hypnos’ squeak, so he’d loosened his grip and buried his face in white curls and tried not to cry, because there would be no more last-minute study sessions, no more all-nighters, no more smoking on his beat-up couch and going out to get food at 2AM.
I already miss you, Zagreus had said, low enough that only Hypnos could hear, and Hypnos had pulled away and said Don’t worry, I’ll visit, but it wouldn’t be the same, not really, not ever, and he felt a chapter of his life close as Hypnos walked away, suitcases in tow, knew he was losing a friend.
Then he stopped thinking about himself, because the moment Hypnos was out of sight Nyx started to bawl, her wavering smile falling and giving way to tears as her son left. It was another one of those moments he’d never forget, how he’d pulled Nyx into a hug as she cried into his shoulder, and Thanatos had stared at the space his brother had been, arms crossed and biting hard on his lip, and Zagreus thinks he might have seen him shaking, just a little, as Meg put a hand on his arm, Dusa glued to her side with a concerned look on her face.
And that had been that.
Zagreus had kept studying, took an extra year, then a gap year – spent time living with his mother and grandmother, because after spending years surrounded by friends he was not about to go back to living with his father.
And Hypnos had visited during the holidays just like he said he would, and one year he’d brought a girl home, and she’d had a sunny smile as she extended a hand to Zagreus and said The name's Pasithea and the next time Zagreus had seen the two – had it been three years after that? – she’d had a ring on, and then Thanatos was telling him no, he couldn’t hang out next weekend, he and Nyx were flying out for the wedding, and the next next year when the two visited Pasithea’s belly was swollen and oh – it was a girl! – he’d heard, and her name was Somnia, and it means dreams, is what Nyx said, as she showed Zagreus pictures of her granddaughter, who had an impressive tuft of white hair for a newborn, had the same gold eyes as the rest of the family, and things just hadn’t worked out, they were splitting up, and Hypnos was coming back –
“Hang on,” Zagreus says, “Hang on – what?”
“Hypnos is coming back,” Thanatos says, looking impatient, but he always looks like that, “He’s bringing Somnia, too. One of the labs at our old university offered him a job – they're even giving him a year before he has to start so he can take care of her. He’ll be staying with Mother.”
And then Zagreus is at the airport again, with Nyx and Thanatos, and Meg and Dusa, who aren’t holding hands but have matching silver rings. And when Hypnos meets them with suitcases in tow Nyx cries and hugs her son, and Thanatos thumps his brother on the back, and Zagreus feels sort of like he’s hit the rewind button, was watching a memory but reversed and inside-out, except now there was a baby carriage that Dusa was leaning over, making cooing noises, Meg smiling over her shoulder.
Hypnos looks a bit older, a bit more tired than the version of him Zagreus had stamped into the back of his mind, the one he refused to update even when Hypnos would visit and Zagreus had managed to see him every year or two or three, but he squeezes Zagreus in a tight hug and smiles so brightly Zagreus is convinced his gold eyes have gone molten, or maybe it’s just the lights of the airport.
Zagreus starts to visit Nyx’s house more often than he needs to, but he doesn’t care. Hypnos had been nothing but a memory, a little flicker of an afterthought for years but now he was back and Zagreus had missed him, had really missed him.
He visits so often that Somnia eventually stops squirming when Zagreus holds her, just stares, and he visits some more and the staring turns to smiling and laughing when he makes faces and she tugs on his hair with her tiny fingers that only just fit around his thumb, and he visits some more and he can calm her down now, when she cries, when Hypnos looks exhausted and Nyx isn’t home so Zagreus tells him to sit the hell down and he preps the formula and fills the bottle and feeds her.
Visiting becomes routine, and it’s nice. It’s really nice.
Somnia had finally dozed off after spending the better part of an hour crying, and Zagreus watches Hypnos watch her tiny, sleeping face, all swaddled up in her crib, and Zagreus doesn’t think he realized just how much he missed Hypnos until this very moment, until he was right in front of him.
“I miss her,” Hypnos says, and he’s been back for three months, and the divorce papers have just gone through, and Zagreus wishes they were back in his apartment, not his current one but the one he’d moved out of a lifetime ago, wishes they could sit on that beat-up couch and Zagreus could tuck Hypnos under his arm like they used to, wishes he knew how to comfort him, knew what to say to make Hypnos look a little less like he just might fall apart, “Six years is a long time to love someone,” he continues, but Zagreus wouldn’t know.
Well, there’s a couch downstairs, Zagreus thinks belatedly, so he tugs Hypnos down the steps with a hand on his wrist and they sit on the couch and Hypnos tucks himself under Zagreus’ arm and it’s not exactly the same, not really, but that doesn’t matter because this was still nice, was so much more than nice but Zagreus doesn’t have the words to describe it, not right now, when he rests his head atop Hypnos’ soft hair, feels himself dozing off.
They wake up when Somnia does, when they hear her crying through the baby monitor set on the table, and Zagreus pulls Hypnos back into the couch when he starts to get up and stands himself.
“You sure?” Hypnos says, looking tired but distressed as he looks at the monitor, still crying out, “Might need a diaper change.”
Zagreus rolls his eyes, “I’ve changed her diaper before.”
“You don’t have to – ” but Zagreus is already half-way up the stairs.
When Hypnos walks into the room later, Zagreus has Somnia in his arms, is swaying in place as he hums. He carefully pulls her from his shoulder and gives her to Hypnos, says “I only just got her to fall asleep. It’s too bad she didn’t get your genes for sleeping all day and night.”
“She might just like you more than me, if you can get her to sleep at all,” Hypnos says, setting her back in the cradle.
And Zagreus looks at Hypnos, and Hypnos looks at Somnia’s tiny, sleeping face, and he missed Hypnos, really missed him, but he doesn’t know what to say.
“It’s...” he trails off, clears his throat, “It's getting late, I should probably head home.”
“Do you have work tomorrow?”
“Do you want to stay the night? You can sleep in my bed, I don’t mind.”
They’d shared a bed more times than he can count, when staying up all night at each other’s places had been their version of normal, so Zagreus knows Hypnos offering him his bed doesn’t mean Hypnos will be sleeping on the couch.
And that might make this a bad idea.
“Okay,” he says, “I’ll stay the night.”
When he wakes up the next morning, Hypnos is curled around his arm, and he pulls away so slowly, so carefully, and Hypnos doesn’t wake up.
Hypnos mentions Pasithea sometimes, then only here and there, then rarely, and then he just – doesn't, and it’s easier to notice something that’s said than something that’s not, but Zagreus notices this, and Hypnos starts looking a little happier, a little less tired.
Zagreus waits three months after he realizes this to ask Hypnos on a date.
And it’s nice – it's better than nice, but he still doesn’t know how to describe it, how it feels to hold Hypnos’ hand as they walk through the park on a cool spring night, Zagreus’ jacket slung over Hypnos’ shoulders, over the flowery yellow dress he’d worn.
He drops Hypnos off at the door, and he’s not sure if he’s allowed to kiss him yet, but Hypnos puts a hand on his neck and pulls him down to kiss him on the cheek, says “Thanks, Zag. Let’s do this again soon,” and he has that same soft look as when they’d come down from their high, and Zagreus’ brain short-circuits.
Their next date, and all the ones that come after it, are better than nice, they’re better than whatever is better than nice, and kissing Hypnos goodbye at the doorstep is even better than that.
And an uncountable amount of dates and kisses and holding hands later, when he’s thinking this is better than better than better than nice, he realizes oh, this is love.
“Do you need to head home tonight?”
“... Mom is looking after Somnia. Why?”
“Do you want to come back to my place?”
It’s all soft kisses and harsh bites and arms wound around his neck, nails scratching red marks into his back and screw best lay, this is the best thing to happen to him in his whole damn life and Zagreus probably says I love you too many times but Hypnos is an echo that replies with I love you, too, and when Zagreus comes inside him, shudders with the effort not to collapse on top of the small body underneath him, Hypnos runs his hands up and down his back, kisses his neck and no – he'd been wrong before, this is the best thing to ever happen to him, and this was the meaning to everything, to anything, it was Hypnos kissing him slow and sweet, holding him close and saying Love you, Zag.
An even more uncountable amount of dates and kisses and holding hands and falling into beds and I love you and I love you, too later, and Zagreus is in the kitchen, pouring snacks into a brightly coloured bowl.
Somnia has grown taller, and heavier, and her newfound ability to hold a pencil crayon has made her a menace to Nyx’s walls. Her hair curls around her face, long enough that Hypnos has started to push it back with a little red headband, and one day he had sent Zagreus a video of her saying “Zag!” and he had teared up in the middle of the street.
“You’re starting work soon, right?” Zagreus says, moves into the living room and sets the bowl on the coffee table, “Who’s taking care of Somnia when you and Nyx aren’t home?”
Hypnos hums from his seat on the floor, where he and Somnia sit surrounded by papers, scribbling with crayons and markers along to some video playing on the tablet set on the floor, “I was considering a babysitter, but Dusa offered to take care of her, since she works from home, so I’ll just drop her off at her place.”
“Excited to start?” he asks, picking his way through vigorously scribbled drawings to join them.
“It’ll be weird not being home all the time, taking care of her,” Hypnos reaches a hand out to ruffle Somnia’s white curls, and Zagreus moves on instinct when Hypnos leans towards him to let him tuck himself under his arm. And he looks down at Hypnos and Hypnos looks up at him and his gaze is so, so soft and his smile is so, so bright, as he says, “But we’ll be okay. I know it,” and kisses his jaw before he turns back to his daughter and settles against Zagreus’ side, and it always comes back to this, Zagreus thinks, as he ducks his head to press a kiss to Hypnos’ temple. It will always come back to this.
He pulls Hypnos closer, and Somnia has her pretty red headband, and Hypnos is in his pretty red dress, and Zagreus watches him watch her watch the pretty colours on the screen, and he thinks I will never forget this moment.
And he thinks this is love, this is love, this is love.