Percy went to find Hazel. Maybe she would know what was up with Nico. He really hoped he hadn't somehow offended the son of Hades.
He found Hazel on the deck, staring at the horizon.
"Sea sick again?" He asked sympathetically. Percy couldn't imagine being sea sick. The sea was his favorite place to be.
"Yeah, just a little. Being outside helps."
"That's good. Hey, do you know what's up with Nico? He was acting weird when I went to talk to him before he left. Was it something I said?"
Hazel just shook her head sadly. "It probably has nothing to do with you. He's been acting weird for the past few days, ever since he and Jason went out to find the scepter. Neither of them would say what happened, but Jason wasn't affected as much. I never thought Nico would be afraid of anything. He seems so untouchable- like a shadow."
"Yeah," said Percy. "that's one way to describe him. Thanks for your help. Feel better soon."
Hazel just nodded, still looking rather green, and Percy turned and walked away. He decided to go find the ex-praetor.
Jason was in his room, sharpening his imperial gold sword. When Percy knocked, he opened the door before returning to his work.
"I was talking to Nico earlier," he began, watching Jason for any reaction.
"He was acting weird, like I offended him or something. When I asked Hazel about it, she said he has been different since Split."
"The kid's always been a little different."
"Yeah, but did I do something? What happened to you guys?"
"You probably didn't do anything. He faced a tough challenge, and it left him a little more defensive than usual, that's all." Jason still did not look up from his sword.
"What happened," Percy asked again.
Jason sighed. "Look, just let it go, ok? It's not that big of a deal, and anyway, it's not my story to tell."
But Percy would not let it go. He pestered the Roman until finally, with an annoyed sigh, he set aside his sword.
"Fine- alright! But I never told you anything. This never leaves this room. And no one else can know this."
Percy sat forward eagerly, swearing on the sea that what he was about to hear would be confidential.
"When we were in Croatia, we had to face Cupid to get the scepter."
"Cupid? As in in the little baby angel with the heart-shaped arrows?"
Jason shook his head. "Cupid as in the god of love, Aphrodite's son, the most relentlessly tormenting god I've ever encountered."
Percy leaned back in his chair, "Woah. What did he want?" If Cupid was anything like his mother, Percy knew it had to be pretty awful.
Jason stared at him as if carefully weighing his next words. "What he always wants: a confession of love."
"That's it? But that's nothing! You've already told Piper you love her, haven't you? So what's the big deal?"
"Not from me. Like you said, I've already told Piper. He wanted a confession from Nico."
That shocked Percy. He blinked a few times, trying to wrap his mind around it. Somehow, he had never thought of Nico ever liking someone that way. Who among the living could have caught the attention of the Ghost King?
"Ok, I can see how that would have tested him. Nico doesn't open up to anyone, especially about something like that. But that's not something to be ashamed about. We would all support him, no matter what girl he likes."
Jason shook his head. "Not a girl. Nico has a crush on another guy. That's why he is so defensive."
Percy took that all in slowly. It made sense, he supposed. That would have been an unthinkable secret to Nico. But really, it didn't change his mind about the kid. He still respected and cared about di Angelo.
"Who is it? Who does Nico have a crush on?"
"I don't know. He wouldn't tell me." Percy could tell Jason was lying, but he let it go. He figured that was enough of Nico's secrets for one day.
Percy pocketed Riptide and adjusted the straps on his armor. They were about to face a dozen giants, all with giant-sized grudges against Percy and his friends. Hopefully, if all went well, they would be able to kill the sons of Gaea before they woke the Earth Mother. He sighed. When did anything ever go well for them?
"I'm almost ready to go." Nico's voice spoke from the shadows.
Percy jumped, but didn't say anything. He was too used to the kid walking out of the shadows- sometimes literally. He turned to face his fried.
While the rest of the Demigods were going to face the giants and Gaea, Nico would be traveling the underworld, sending a ghost army up to Frank and searching for Thanatos. The Doors of Death were still in the Underworld somewhere, they were just a little harder to find. The demigods were hoping Death himself would help hide them from the giants.
"Good luck down there. Be careful."
Nico nodded. "You, too." He turned to leave.
Percy put his hand on Nico's shoulder and turned him around. Nico tensed at the contact. "When all this is over, if we win and the world is ours, come back, Nico. Stay with us at Camp Half-Blood, or at Camp Jupiter. Don't lose yourself among the dead again."
Nico held his gaze, but Percy couldn't read his expression. After a moment, he spoke. "I'll stay out of the Underworld if you do, Jackson."
Before Percy knew what was going on, Nico had grabbed the collar of his armor and pulled him down. His lips crashed into his for a hard kiss, then Nico let go and backed away. The Ghost King had disappeared into the shadows by the time Percy straightened up.
He wondered if he would ever understand any part of the child of the underworld.