Hey so I've loved your Retold Fairytales for some time but I just binged your entire Gods and Monsters and I??? love Styx. A lot. And I'm curious about Hephaestus and Styx growing up as best friends in the Underworld. If you could work your magic when you have the time, I'd love to see a story about them!
Styx does not have a home in the underworld, not really. She has a room in Hades’s palace, of course, and a nook in Hecate’s house. Charon has a cottage by her river, a humble thing for a being of such great power, and she’s shoved her way onto his narrow bed and curled into the warmth of his chest more than once. She darts through the horrors of Tartarus, and plays in the Elysium Fields.
All of the underworld is open to her, and she’s lived here the entirety of her existence. But she’s yet to find a piece of it that feels as if it belongs to her, that doesn’t feel borrowed.
Hecate brings home a baby with no legs beneath the knee and wide, curious eyes.
Styx adores him instantly.
Hecate is a busy woman – her duties in the underworld keep her constantly moving, and she spends much of her time shrouded in her secrets. She is the goddess of magic, and there are things that only she can do, things that other people can’t even know about. She is not a person with much time to spare, and babies take a lot of time.
Hades watches him often, directing the traffic of souls and overseeing construction with the child held to his chest. Charon fashions a sling, and the baby sleeps against his back while Charon ferries souls across her river.
Time passes. The baby is not like her.
The baby grows.
Hephaestus is a child, and he lives in a dangerous place. His aunt raises him, and she is a busy woman who does important things, and it seems to him like nothing in their home is safe to touch, that it is all cursed or corrosive or even, at time, sentient.
The palace is not much better. Hades always welcomes him, has a warm smile for him, but is too busy to linger. He walks on wobbly legs of glass that Aunt Hecate fashioned for him, and they allow him to walk, but they pain him too. He cannot run or jump, he cannot explore the edges of the underworld like he so desperately wants to because his legs are delicate, clumsy things. They are glass, and they shatter too easily.
“Don’t be sad,” a voice says in his ear, and he’s grinning before he even turns around. Lady Styx is there, smiling at him. She looks to be his age, although she is much older, and she has black skin and grey hair and eyes. Her skin is the color of her river’s water, and her hair and eyes the color of the foam when it rushes too fast. For as long as he can remember, she has always had kindness to spare.
“I’m not sad,” he says stubbornly. “Aren’t you busy?” She is a goddess, one as powerful and important as his aunt or Hades. He wants to grow up to be just like her.
She shrugs, “My river knows what to do. Do you want to go on an adventure?”
“Yes,” he says instantly. The only time he’s allowed to explore is when Styx is with him. If his glass legs break, she can carry him, and if anything tries to attack or hurt them, she can stop it.
She grabs his hand, smiling. It’s cold. She’s always cold, the same icy temperature as her river. “There are volcanos in Tartarus. Have I taken you there before?”
He shakes his head, and in the next instant they’re gone.
Styx and Hephaestus manage to get in all manner of trouble, including, but not limited to: accidentally giving Cerberus two extra heads, devising and implementing a manner of torture for Tantalus that is so brilliant Hades can’t even get mad at them for it, and figuring out it is possible to surf of Styx’s rough waters with glass legs, but only if you’re very, very stupid and have the goddess in question by your side and laughing so hard she forgets that her primary job here is to prevent you from dying.
When he’d found them, Hades had given them the worst admonishment he knew how to give: a disappointed frown. Hecate had laughed and told them to be careful of his legs.
Hephaestus’s childhood had its bright spots. Almost all of those bright spots included Styx.
Hephaestus looks older than her now, a young man when she is, as always, a child. He’s gotten quieter as he ages, his dark eyes permanently thoughtful.
“You shouldn’t come here without me,” she scolds, sitting down beside him. He doesn’t respond, swinging his hammer down on glowing metal with a boom loud enough that the volcano shakes with it. “You know Hecate doesn’t like you going into Tartarus alone.”
“You were busy,” he says, not accusatory, just a statement of fact. “Here, cool this for me.”
She sighs, but cool water rushes from her hands and onto the superheated metal. It hisses and steams, but when the air clears Hephaestus holds it up and appears to be satisfied. “Must it be in a volcano? We can make you a forge in safer part of the underworld.”
“Volcanos are useful,” he says, the same answer he always gives her. “I have more of these to do if you want to stick around.”
Helping him build whatever he’s currently working on is pretty boring. But he’s her friend, and it must be important if he’s risking his life by going into Tartarus on his glass legs to do it. “Sure,” she sighs slumping down to sit crosslegged next to him. He pats her on the head, which she’s all prepared to be insulted by - she’s a kid, but she’s not a kid – when she sees his lips curled up around the corners of his mouth. He’s making fun of her on purpose, which is still annoying, but is less hurtful than him treating her like a kid just because he looks older.
The first set of legs that Hephaestus makes for himself are made of iron. They’re not as pretty as he’d like them to be, but that’s all right. He can run in these legs, jump in them, fight in them. He is no longer a being made of glass, no longer someone who can be easily broken.
Styx is the first person he shows them to. He leaps and somersaults in them, something he could never do before. She’s delighted at first, smiling and clapping, but by the time he finishes, arms out-thrown and beaming, she’s wilted. She sits hunched and tries to keep her smile in place, but it’s trembling.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, kneeling in front of her. “I thought you would be happy for me.”
“I am!” she hiccups, and now she’s crying, big fat tears that he wants to wipe away but can’t. She cries the water of her river. If he touches them, he’ll burn. “I am happy!’
He risks it, tugging the end of his sleeve down to quickly wipe her left cheek, then ripping it and throwing the cloth away as it burns. “You don’t look happy.”
“You’re going to leave,” she says, and he goes cold. “You have legs, and now you’re going to leave, and I’m not. I am the Goddess of the River Styx, I must stay with my river. But you’re going to leave.”
His heart breaks seeing Styx cry. He loves Hecate, loves Charon, loves Hades. But if there is one person in this realm he can truly call family, it is her. They share no blood, but she’s the only sister he’s ever known. “I’ll visit! You can visit me too. I wasn’t born here, Styx. Hecate isn’t my mom. I was born on Olympus, and I can’t hide in the underworld from Hera forever. I don’t want to either.”
“I know!” she says, her breath coming in stuttering gasps as she tries and fails to stop crying. “You’re so smart, and all the things you make are amazing. You need to go out there, so other gods can see you, so that people can see you. I just – I’m going to miss you.”
He’s a god – a little river water won’t kill him. He pulls Styx into his arms, ignoring the pain in his shoulder as her tears burn through his skin. She resists for a moment, then goes slack, throwing her arms around his neck. He says, “I’m going to miss you too.”
Hephaestus does not want to cause an uproar. He’s had fantasies of storming Mount Olympus, of confronting Hera, of doing any number of foolish, stupid things. But he is not a foolish, stupid man.
Hecate has picked out a volcano for him already, one she tells fits all his requirements and is not in the domain of any other god, even the lesser ones. He will go slow. He will build, and improve the lives of the mortals. Temples will be erected in his honor, tributes placed at his feet, his name on all their lips. He’ll build his power the hard way, until they can ignore him no longer, until Hera and Zeus have no choice but to offer him a place at their table on Olympus.
But not yet.
For now, he builds something else, something even more important.
“Can I open my eyes yet?” Styx asks, pouting.
Hephaestus’s hands are on her shoulders, pushing her forward. “No.”
She scowls. She can tell they’re by her river, in a bend where no one travels through, but that’s it. Her knowledge of the geography of the underworld is always in relation to her river. “What about now?”
“Yes,” he says.
She wasn’t expecting it, so it takes her a moment to blink her eyes open. “Did you make this?”
“Hecate helped,” he admits, “I wasn’t sure what to do for things like curtains and windchimes. Do you like it?”
It’s a house. A small one, not much bigger than Charon’s. It’s made of obsidian, but not several pieces put together. It looks like the whole things was carved out of one massive piece of obsidian. The walls are black and smooth and shining. There’s a large, round bed in the center that’s a pale blue, the chairs in a deep purple, and her curtains are a soft yellow. The house is black, but Hephaestus has filled it with color, given her a rainbow tucked in every space. Copper pots hang in the kitchen, and there are signs of his forging everywhere – in the cabinets, the door knobs in the shape of flowers, the singular windchime hanging in her open window, even though there is no wind here.
“Do you like it?” he repeats. “I know you tend to just – end up wherever, but I thought you should have a place that was just yours. If you want something different I can change it–”
“No.” She swallows and touches her wall, the silver design in her walls that he must have inlaid himself. “It – it’s perfect.” Quieter then, “You gave me a home.”
No place in the whole of the underworld has ever felt like it belonged to her. This one does. It doesn’t feel borrowed.
Hephaestus ruffles her hair, “It seems only fair, since you did the same for me. This realm wouldn’t have been my home without you.”
They’re smiling at each other, and the tension she’d been carrying ever since she realized Hephaestus would be leaving drains out of her.
He’s older now, almost an adult, and he’s leaving the underworld. But he’s not leaving her.
“You’re my best friend,” she tells him, in case he’s forgotten.
“Good,” he tells her, “because you’re my best friend too.”
gods and monsters series, part xxiii