Actions

Work Header

Ain't That a Kick in the Head

Chapter Text

 

 

Hermes was having a run of bad luck.

His family--former family--had left him to rot in the desert, beaten and robbed of his self-respect and everything he owned--not that either would do him any good, now.

The moon was high over the Mojave and cast a bright, eerie glow over the sparse landscape. Hermes could hear the distant howling of coyotes and his own breathing as he trudged along the desert highway; the night was still and without wind.

Hollowed-out husks of buildings were near the road on occasion, but he found nowhere that would provide any cover or shelter. He pressed on into the grim darkness.

Hermes felt a sense of relief as a town started to form on the horizon; he hadn't been outside the wall in a long time, and definitely not out this far--but what other choice was there? Sleep on the dirt, out in the open?

The town was not so much a town as it was a cluster of houses that were not entirely destroyed; some looked abandoned and stripped, others burned, heavily defaced. But it was quiet and these houses still had roofs on them--he could work with that.

He didn't have high hopes in regards to obtaining a reliable weapon, but he would look anyway. He had no choice in this, either. Something would come for him. The horrors of the wastes were too numerous to name; the least of them was the wretched family that hunted him. He needed something to defend himself.

He missed the weight of his bag against his hip. Hermes had no idea it had even been a comfort to him until it was gone; he only saw it as a burden--a reminder of his job, his driving motivation--the near-literal yolk around his neck.

Hermes crept through the first blasted-out door frame, careful of the scattered broken glass and piles of trash. Moonlight spilled in through the sagging ceiling and the empty windows, illuminating the rubble in a murky glow. He rummaged through the cabinets and drawers, under and over any surface he could see; he found a single pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Wonderglue. Great. What a great help this would be. Fuck!

Fine. It's fine-- Just keep looking; there would be something.

He repeated this thought to himself as he stepped outside into the night, heading for the next abandoned house.

A stinging pain bloomed in Hermes' neck and he toppled through the doorway inelegantly, losing his footing and falling forward onto his knees. He scrambled under a nearby table.

What the--

He ran his hand over his neck in a panic, pulling it back to see his palm was deep red. He hadn't even heard-- Hermes kept his hand clapped over his wound, his eyes darting around wildly. He heard footsteps approaching from the outside; there would be nowhere to hide and they were armed. Hermes scurried further into the house anyway.

Shit!

"I saw you, Hermes!"

Shit, shit, shit!

Of course this was how it would end--Hermes shaking and bleeding in a burnt out shack, put down like a dog with no fanfare or last-minute recourse. There would be no grand revenge, no glorious return to power. There would be no redemption, just this pitiful death.

No--he would go down fighting.

Hermes pulled himself to his feet and was overwhelmed by light-headedness, slumping against the wall and sliding back to the ground.

Hermes cursed his family and cursed his rotten luck and cursed that he hadn't seen the betrayal sooner; things could have been set in motion to prevent this.

He let his head thud against the wall and heard the scuff of footsteps nearby, kicking away debris as they approached.

"I know you're here; come out and play," the would-be assassin said in a sing-song voice.

Hermes gritted his teeth and held his head up with significant effort. He would look at his killer if he could do nothing else.

The gunman rounded the corner and saw Hermes--broken and already beaten. He looked triumphant; the moonlight caught his wild grin and made him look even more savage.

"Easy money," he said with a laugh. The man extended his arm to line up the shot and was suddenly struck with a fierce and blinding light, dropping to the floor in a pile smoldering ash.

Hermes was sure he was hallucinating, having some fever dream from blood loss. A figure was climbing through the low nearby window and Hermes wanted to shrink away from it.

No, no--

The figure's face was obscured in shadow, making his visage look strange and inhuman. Was it human? Hermes' vision was blurred and fading, but he thought the man had a dull glow in his eyes. Was he about to be killed?

He saw a blur of motion before his eyelids became too heavy to hold open, heard a quick rush of footsteps and felt hands on him before he slipped into unconsciousness.

 

His body rocked gently; he could hear the distant hum of desert insects, the rustle of wind. The stars looked massive and bright, close enough to touch. He reached up and his hand was pulled into the vast blackness of the sky.

He was plunged into deep darkness and felt the stars watching him approach. They grew large and overwhelming as he drifted towards them, their gaze more intense. Scrutinizing, suffocating stars. They tore and ripped at him, turning his skin to ash. They pressed against him, crowding him and stifling his screams. Hermes felt panicked and desperate, struggling to escape their flaying gaze. A billion eyes, bright and blinding.

Hermes shrunk from them, tried to look away, but the violent brightness now coursed through him. His skin became stars and he screamed and screamed.

He saw a figure effortlessly weaving between the brightness, a shadow among the piercing light. The figure engulfed Hermes in its darkness and he fell into it headlong, grateful and full of relief.

 

Hermes jerked awake in a bed to dim morning light. He looked around blearily--this wasn't heaven and was too dull to be hell. Hermes touched his fingers to his neck and winced. It had been bandaged. It had been bandaged? Hermes stilled and held his breath, listening.

Was he alone?

Moments passed; he ventured a breath and a look around. Hermes sat up with great effort, his body still aching from his unceremonious exile and the beating that followed, and now he had a gunshot wound.

He could see a low table across the room with a radio and a mostly-full ashtray on it; a matching set of metal chairs with dingy and flattened cushions flanked the table. There was a side table next to the bed that had several puzzling items: a hotel key, a Stimpak, two bottles of water, packets and cans of food--what the?

At the end of the bed on a footlocker was a change of clothes and atop the neatly folded clothes was a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Wonderglue, covered in dust and ash.

His shirt was stiff and tacky with blood, clinging to him uncomfortably. Taking it off was another strenuous effort and he felt pain flaring from places he hadn't known he'd been hit. Hermes reached for the clean shirt and felt an odd weight beneath it, he moved the fabric to find a loaded pistol.

Who was this mysterious benefactor? He was sure he had no more friends in the Mojave, yet this room was full of evidence to the contrary.

Someone wanted him to stay alive. But--who?

 

---

 

The Stimpak had made Hermes feel well enough to venture further out, get a better idea of where he was. He tucked the gun in his waistband and opened the door, squinting against the dust and sand.

Right--the elements. It was miserable outside the wall.

He shielded his eyes with his hand and looked around, quickly realizing he was at a hotel. He glanced at the door and sure enough, the number matched the key he'd woken up with. His room was on the second floor and on a corner, the stairs to the ground level were just before him. The air was hot even at this early hour and Hermes could feel sweat pricking at his neck as he labored down the stairs, his aching bones groaning with each step.

Hermes could hear music drifting from a window on the far side of the complex, a woman humming along with it. Fear crept up on him but he pushed it down, forcing himself to walk toward the source of the sound. His killer would not announce themselves so boldly. Probably.

The window was next to a door marked 'office', and the woman was decidedly not a mercenary or hired killer. She wore a plain, clean linen dress--no armor, no holsters; Hermes suspected she would not have a hidden blade. The woman sang loudly as she dusted an old jukebox, tapping a low-heeled shoe against the warped linoleum flooring.

"Excuse me?" Hermes asked through the open window, his own voice unfamiliar and strange to his ears.

The woman startled and whipped around, pressing her back flat against the jukebox and nearly dropping her feather duster.

"Mister Hermes! You're awake!"

"...Have we met?"

"You were in such a bad way when Mister Charon brought you in; you wouldn't have remembered me."

She pulled at her dress and flushed.

"I-I'm Dusa," she said, approaching the window and extending her hand through it.

Hermes hesitated and she drew her hand back and looked embarrassed for having offered it in the first place.

"Welcome to Tartarus," Dusa offered instead. "Come on in!"

 

---

 

Dusa was quick to offer him a seat and a drink, apologizing for the state of the accommodations. Hermes felt compelled to reassure her.

"You did more than enough--I should thank you for all you've given me, the food, the meds--"

"Oh, I-I didn't do that much, Mister Charon is the one that gave them to you, I just made sure you got them--he's always got somewhere to go."

She lowered her voice and leaned close, her eyes watching the door.

"Did you find the gun?"

"I did, thank you," Hermes was also inexplicably whispering.

"He seems to think you're in grave danger, Mister Hermes."

"I fear he's not wrong, Miss."

Her eyes went wide as she leaned back.

"I should give you the rest of what he left, then."

Dusa looked conflicted and frightened as she stood suddenly, going behind her long reception desk and ducking behind it.

"Is Charon still here? I should thank him myself, for all of his generosity."

Hermes could hear her nervous hands opening a floor safe.

"Y-you know, he isn't, now that you mention it... Like I said, always somewhere to go...!"

Hermes felt a strange unease as she approached him with a metal box outstretched in her hand. She looked like she was relieving herself of an extreme burden--like she was handing him a grenade that would go off at any moment.

Hermes tipped the lid open--caps upon caps and something else; he peered in to get a better look and snapped the lid closed again.

He recognized it immediately; Hermes had coveted it for years--the source of the dread son of Cronus' power, here in this unassuming box.

"Where did he get this?" Hermes said as casually as he could muster.

"He wouldn't tell me, I asked--"

Hermes felt panic rising in him, but wouldn't alarm the woman. But he needed to go. He felt his knees trembling as he stood.

"I really shouldn't take up any more of your time, Miss Dusa. Thank you for your hospitality; I won't forget it."

Dusa's wide eyes followed him to the door and Hermes could see she was taking deep, steadying breaths like she was preparing for something.

"Mister Charon said you're part of the Family; is that true?" Dusa blurted at him.

"If that were true, would I be here?" Hermes said, hoping the waver in his voice didn't betray him.

Hermes left the building walking, though his whole body screamed at him to run. He walked as if he was being watched--ah, a passerby would think, this was no man in a blind panic, just a man returning to his hotel room.

Once in the room, he became frenzied. He stripped the pillowcase and shoved the food and water inside, his bloodied clothing. He grabbed his Wonderglue and cigarettes and threw them in, too. Hermes thought of leaving the metal box and all of its disastrous contents, but it went in the bag with the rest.

If he was going to be beaten and exiled for stealing it, he might as well have the fucking thing.

How the hell did Charon get it? Why did he burden Hermes with it?

He suspected he would know soon enough. Hermes tied the pillowcase and shrugged it over his shoulder, making as fast a getaway as his aching body would allow.

 

---

 

Hermes saw several plumes of smoke in the distance; some kind of encampment. He felt both relief and dread when he saw the NCR flag flying above the rows of tents.

At least it wasn't the Legion, and it was unlikely that his family would try to infiltrate the NCR--they were sycophants to the President and his family couldn't fake that for a moment. Though, the NCR was the occupying force that held the Hoover Dam and all the power--metaphorical and literal--that it entailed, so maybe it wasn't so unlikely.

Regardless, his food supply was exhausted, so he pressed on toward the army's remote base and hoped there would be someone there willing to trade.

"State your business," a bored-looking soldier said as Hermes approached the sandbag barrier.

"Just looking to trade, sir."

The soldier shrugged.

"Don't cause any trouble," was all he said before returning to his conversation with another equally-bored-looking NCR recruit. He gestured vaguely but offered nothing else.

Not exactly the elite forces Hermes had been told about.

He made his way into the camp, there were maybe three dozen tents and half as many men, most sitting around and playing cards. The tents were heavily patched and the rest of the camp seemed in similar disrepair.

Hermes saw a soldier at the far north end of the camp roasting meat over a fire; the ache in his stomach compelled Hermes towards him.

"Hello, stranger. We don't get many travelers out here."

He gestured for Hermes to sit with him, the bonfire was lined with simple folding chairs. Hermes did, keeping his makeshift pillowcase bag close.

"I'm Sergeant Menoetius. I lead the Myrmidons here with General Peleus."

Hermes had heard of the Myrmidons--though what he'd seen didn't seem as fearsome as advertised. Might as well make a good impression regardless. He could use friends with guns.

"I'm Mercury," Hermes said, offering his hand. "It's good to meet you. It's an impressive setup you've got here."

The sergeant had a wry smile as he shook Hermes' hand.

"Yeah, maybe. You're not seeing us at our very best, but we're still out here holding it down. Hungry?"

"Very," Hermes admitted. He knew he was staring at the brahmin meat like a hawk.

The sergeant gestured at the grate over the fire pit, help yourself.

Hermes knew that the sergeant meant to give it to him for free, but he wasn't about to let himself be indebted to another random benefactor.

"What do you want for a trade?"

Sergeant Menoetius shrugged.

"Ten caps for two."

"I'll take it."

Hermes untied his 'bag', at which he saw the sergeant raise an eyebrow, and retrieved his metal box. He opened the box just wide enough to fit his hand inside, quickly counting out the ten caps.

The sergeant was scrutinizing him oddly as he took the payment, though Hermes was certain he hadn't seen what was inside.

"What did you say your name was?"

Hermes froze for a moment as he retied his bag, recovering quickly and giving Sergeant Menoetius a friendly grin.

"It's Mercury, sarge."

"Huh. I swore you said it was Hermes," he said with a shake of his head.

Hermes swallowed dryly.

"No harm done. Call me anything you want, just don't call me late to dinner, right?" Hermes said with a weak laugh, reaching for the kebabs and willing his hands to stop shaking.

He should not have come here.

"Say, I hate to eat and run, but I should probably get going-- Daylight is burning, y'know--"

"I think you should stay," a voice behind him said and a hand gripped Hermes' shoulder.

Fuck.

"General Peleus is right," Sergeant Menoetius said, leaning forward. "You should stay."

Hermes swallowed hard, feeling like a trapped animal. He had a pistol and a device he could likely not even wield--unlikely odds in an encampment of trained militia. Hermes cleared his throat.

"Hah. You're both mighty convincing, you know that?"

The sergeant grinned at him.

"Let's go to the General's tent; I think there's much to discuss, courier."

Hermes closed his eyes briefly, letting out a defeated sigh. Time to be led to the gallows.

"Let's," Hermes said to Sergeant Menoetius with a wide grin.

Fuck.

The General kept his hand on Hermes' shoulder as he was led away, its threatening weight held down any thoughts Hermes had of escape.

How would they do it? Would they torture him for information first? Hermes had heard horrifying stories about the brutality of General Peleus--he was not known for taking men alive. He was one of the few men that Hermes' family feared outside the wall.

Hermes held his breath and tensed as they reached the inside of the tent, anticipating the blows that were sure to come.

"Charon told us you would arrive; we're here to help you," the General said excitedly.

"What?" Hermes croaked.

 

---

 

The NCR men weren't moved by the army's goals--Menoetius said that he wasn't sure what the outpost's current orders even were. They hadn't received resources in months and were scavenging for basic supplies, all the while convincing their comrades that the hardship would soon be worth it.

"The war isn't going to be won by our efforts here and the men know it," Peleus said with a sigh.

"You and Charon are the only other people we've had at the camp in weeks. Even the Legion hasn't sent scouts, and they always send scouts."

"They always send scouts," Sergeant Menoetius echoed.

"Charon said you were someone who could turn the tide of the war, that you would have something from your--"

"Who the hell is this Charon guy, anyway? He seems to think he knows an awful lot about me for someone I've never fuckin' met," Hermes interrupted. What else had this guy been running his mouth about?

"Is he wrong? You have it, don't you?"

General Peleus' gaze was intense and unwavering, Hermes' mind helpfully reminded him of the General's storied bloodlust and temper. Was there a point in lying?

"Fine, yeah, but I don't know how or why."

The General's eyes brightened and he gave a look to the Sergeant that Hermes could not decipher.

"Show us."

Hermes wanted to say no, fuck no--fuck off, fuck you both but he untied his bag instead. He sat the metal box in his lap and both NCR men leaned in.

"Open it," Peleus said almost breathlessly.

A stupid part of Hermes mind hoped that the box would just contain caps, though he knew it didn't. Hermes tipped the lid open and the soldiers peered inside.

"It's real, Patroclus. It's really--"

The Sergeant nodded in response, mesmerized by its contents.

Hermes swallowed and closed the box, feeling like he was in a perilous position. What was to stop them from robbing him and taking it for themselves? Who would share in power when there was an option to rule alone?

"Do you know how it works?"

Hermes shook his head.

He'd never cared about his father's trinkets. Hermes didn't question the bounty of Olympus: its water and electricity, its clean air. He supposed something was the source, but he hadn't expected it to be something so unassuming.

"We have a contact in Freeside that might be able to figure it out--he's good with this kind of thing, and discreet," Peleus said.

"I think it's time we packed up and reported back to base, anyway," Menoetius agreed.

General Peleus nodded.

"Tell the men to break camp; we're going with the courier to Freeside ahead of them. I don't want to wait on this. We go tonight."

The decision was made and Hermes had no choice but to go along with them, though if he was being honest, an armed escort to Freeside sounded much better than going alone.

 

---

 

The NCR men--Peleus and Menoetius--spoke with surprising candor when they were outside the camp, though they were not forthcoming about Charon. Much of what they wanted to talk about was related to the ongoing war over the Hoover Dam.

"It was fun in the beginning, but it's been four years, at some point you just want anything to happen," the General spoke of the war like it was an elaborate game, whose players' moves had become boring and predictable.

"Be careful what you wish for, Achilles," said Menoetius in an admonishing, familiar tone.

"Don't spoil this, Patroclus."

They spoke to each other as if one did not outrank the other, or as if they were not trying to ingratiate the other. Peleus didn't seem to mind Menoetius being insubordinate and overly-familiar--they were very unlike the NCR soldiers Hermes had had to endure knowing on the Strip, where rank and rules came before all.

The dim orange glow of sodium lights on the horizon were the only light for miles. As they approached, the ubiquitous Poseidon Energy logo came into view and there was movement inside the building, even at this late hour.

Patroclus--Sergeant Menoetius--must have seen Hermes' trepidation, for he felt the need to reassure him.

"This is still NCR territory; the gas station is one of ours."

The General's radio crackled suddenly and there were mumbled words, a string of numbers, and then nothing.

The NCR men exchanged perplexed looks; Peleus extended the antennae on his radio and asked the messenger to repeat themselves. Another, different voice answered--one Peleus apparently recognized from the camp.

"I told you to maintain radio silence. What the hell are you doing?" Peleus demanded of the voice.

"Sir? We haven't made any outgoing transmissions per your instructions, sir--"

Hermes shifted awkwardly during the exchange, not knowing where to look. Menoetius gestured for him to go inside the gas station.

"We'll get this squared away and be right in."

Hermes dipped his head and went inside where the clerk behind the counter greeted him with a toothy grin. Hermes lifted his hand in a return greeting, and turned to a display of Sunset Sarsaparilla. That would go down just fine. Hermes grabbed two of the long necked glass bottles and perused the other goods, picking up a sweet roll and a bag of potato crisps. Wonder if I'll get some kind of special NCR discount because of my new friends, Hermes thought, looking back at the counter.

The clerk was speaking quietly to someone he couldn't see, a door behind the counter was slightly ajar. The door snapped shut as Hermes approached.

Uh…

"Ave," the clerk said to him. Ah-way. He was speaking Latin.

"What?"

"Hail, courier," he said in a low voice and reached out to tug Hermes' hand to the counter, sending the glass bottles to the floor. The man drew a blade and moved to drive it through Hermes' outstretched palm--a sudden shot rang out and the man jerked backwards, a flurry of gore left in his wake. General Peleus stepped through the doorway and strode to the man, shooting him again through the head without hesitation.

The General opened the door behind the counter and Hermes heard two more gunshots before Peleus returned, his handsome face contorted into a scowl.

"Let's get the hell out of here," Peleus mumbled at Hermes, pushing past him.

"Our guy's dead--fuckin' Legion," Peleus said to Menoetius back outside.

"Fuckin' Legion," Menoetius echoed, shaking his head.

Hermes stood shaken, the broken bottles of sarsaparilla at his feet were fizzing still, shards of glass mingled in the ever-growing pool of blood.

"Now!" Peleus shouted from outside and Hermes snapped back to himself, forcing himself to turn away. He felt dazed, lurching towards the open door back into the night.

 

 

The remaining miles to Freeside were walked in relative silence, Peleus and Menoetius spoke quietly and not at length. Hermes saw some of the General's storied fury, though mostly at himself for not recognizing the obvious trap and for letting Hermes go in alone.

"Do you think someone's infiltrated the Myrmidons?"

"No," the General said decisively. "There was radio equipment in the gas station. It was interference."

Menoetius made a considering noise.

"But they knew we were coming."

"Yes," Peleus conceded.

"You don't suppose Charon is helping both sides, do you?"

Peleus set his jaw and said nothing. So he thought it was possible.

Hermes shuddered to think of what his brother Ares and his Legion would do with godlike power. He prayed he wouldn't have to find out. He'd sooner end up like the sad sack on the floor of Poseidon Energy, given the choice.

Given the choice, he would have never known about this stupid thing in the first place.

 

---

 

Freeside had walls. Riveted steel beams held large sheets of aluminum, heavily makeshift, from old billboards and road signs. They were protective enough, but not nearly as much as the towering and uniform concrete wall around the Strip. Hermes' work as the Strip's courier brought him to Freeside occasionally, but not often enough to ingratiate himself with the locals or to feel particularly bound to it. Freeside was still the slums, at its core.

The broken roads still had cars on them, though long-since operable. The three men made their way through the streets of Freeside, through the outskirts and residential area to the still-lively business district.

Freeside had electricity, which meant it was humming with light and sound in a way that soothed Hermes greatly. It was not the desperate isolation and silence of the Wastes. There was boisterous shouting coming from the bars on the East Side, loud music coming from the King's street to the west.

Hermes' eye was drawn to the Old Mormon Fort and an odd man leaning against its walls. His outfit was pitch-black and he wore a broad-brimmed hat that shadowed his face. The man was smoking and the dull glow of his cigarette reflected brightly in the dark beatnik-style glasses he wore, adding to the man's uncanniness. He looked inhuman. Was he human? The man turned to Hermes and grinned just as Menoetius touched Hermes' shoulder, making him jump.

"It's over here," Menoetius said, motioning down a side street.

Hermes nodded and followed, but couldn't help looking back to get another glimpse of the strange man. He was gone.

 

 

Hermes was led to Ody's Automatons, an old repair shop that had refurbished RobCo junk in the windows and advertised surplus ammo. Not exactly where the brightest science minds were likely to be.

"This is really the place?" Hermes said incredulously.

"Mm. Odysseus is the best," Menoetius answered.

Peleus folded his arms in front of him and set his jaw; he apparently did not agree, Hermes thought.

Menoetius tried the door and sighed. He turned to the General with narrowed eyes.

"You told him we were coming, right, Achilles?"

A shrug from the General.

"Must have slipped my mind."

"You're a moron."

"Maybe I wanted to wake him up, for old time's sake."

"You're a moron," Menoetius repeated, covering his ears. He nodded to Hermes to do the same.

The General drew his pistol and shot it into the air, laughing with delight when he heard shouted curses coming from inside.

"Odysseus!"

"Fuck you, Achilles!"

A hawkish, rightly furious looking man threw open the second story window to throw his curses more directly.

"You fuck! You cocksucker! Fuck you! I'll kill you, you fucking bastard-- Oh--hey, Pat."

"Could you let us up? We've got something that we could use your eyes on," Menoetius said calmly, as if this was a regular occurence between the three of them.

"Yeah, sure. Who's this guy?"

"Associate of Charon's."

"Oh-ho, mixed up with that kind of trouble," Odysseus said, looking like he very much enjoyed that kind of trouble.

 

 

Odysseus was hospitable, despite being woken up by gunshot at near-dawn. Hermes was amazed at the sheer amount of stuff in the building; no surface was bare, even the ceiling had bracketed steel shelves that stored all manner of junk. He was mesmerized, roaming through the store.

Another man, taller and darker skinned than Odysseus came down from upstairs and started making coffee, still rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

"Hey, Pat," he said with a yawn. He gave Achilles the middle finger.

"Morning, Diomedes," Menoetius said to him, then to Odysseus, "Is P out on a job?"

"Ah, my good lady wife is on the farm with the kid. Should be back late afternoon."

"How old is Telemachus now?"

Odysseus considered silently for a long time.

"He's fourteen," Diomedes answered from behind him.

"And tall, tall as hell; you wouldn't believe it," Odysseus said with pride.

"Everyone is tall as hell to you, dad-of-the-year," the General said derisively.

"You fuck this guy?" Odysseus said to Menoetius with a scoff.

Ah, that makes sense, Hermes thought as he examined a broken Securitron arm. It's actually pretty obvious. Huh. You'd almost have to be, to put up with his bullshit.

Hermes probably would, if either of them asked. He probably would.

"So who's Charon's guy?"

"That's Hermes."

"...From-the-Family Hermes? Son-of-Zeus Hermes? The one-who's-supposed-to-be-dead-in-the-desert Hermes?"

Hermes peered at Odysseus through the impossibly stacked wares. How the hell did he know that?

"So why's he with you? Shouldn't he be on the lam or something? Kid, why aren't you on the lam?"

"Let's get to the point. Show him the box," Peleus said tersely.

Hermes felt like the bag in his hands now had immense weight, felt like his breathing was labored. Two more pulled into the web, and who could say where their loyalties lied? He was hit with a pang of nihilism. Did it really matter?

Hermes untied his bag and walked over to the table, all eyes went to the metal box inside. Odysseus scrutinized the box itself, then looked up at Hermes.

"All that for this? Forbidden secrets of the world are in an awful small box," Odysseus scoffed and opened it, rummaging through the caps. "Ooh, interesting! I've never seen one of these homemade!"

Odysseus turned the gleaming contraption over in his hands and examined it closely, then started prying at it in a way that made Hermes' breath hitch.

"Hey, wait--!"

Odysseus waved away his concern impatiently and kept running his fingers along the edges of the device, making a noise of triumph when the thing popped open, revealing an intricate series of gauges and dials.

"Oh, shit; this person knows what they're doing. Frankly, I'm a little jealous. I get why you stole it, though--I mean if I wouldn't be hunted to the ends of the earth forever, I'd steal it, too."

"I didn't steal it, it was given to me," Hermes said defensively, clinging to the technicality.

"Sure, guy. So, where's the rest of it?" Odysseus asked, pouring over the device with a magnifying glass.

"What?" Hermes and Peleus screeched in unison.

 

---