Title: What Happened in Venice?
Disclaimer: Characters, locations, etc are the property of Rick Riordan.
Edited by the fantastic Lordandladiesofthesilverscreen
Summary: Percy and Nico explore Venice, but two teenage demigods traveling alone can either go horribly right or unbelievably wrong.
He knew her so well. He knew those grey eyes, that curly blonde hair, the way she would scrunch up her nose when working on blue prints. He knew her sassy attitude, that annoying know-it-all mentality, and the sweet nature underneath it all. He knew how brave she was, how she could keep her head under pressure, and how happy she made him feel. He'd spent so much time memorizing everything about her and that's how he knew what she wanted to say.
Annabeth looked at him. The "I'm sorry" was written all over her face. They were standing in the front of the stables at camp. When Annabeth came to his cabin and said she wanted to talk, he knew it was coming. He knew it had been coming for a while but he was determined to make her do it. He still wanted this and he would not be the one to end it. Maybe deep down he'd thought she never would, that she couldn't. He was so incredibly wrong.
"Percy…I'm sorry," she said. Her curly hair was tied in a ponytail. She was wearing her camp t-shirt, the same as him.
Percy felt numb and he didn't say a word. What could he say? No? It's not over? It was and he knew he couldn't change her mind. He was still struck dumb by it. Even when he saw a tear slide down her cheek, he couldn't bring himself to comfort her because he was in a shock of pain.
"I- ," he started but couldn't force the words to come.
"I just- I don't know how it happened!" She said sadly. "I love you, I still care about you but I- ,"
"Love him now…" he said finished quietly. She looked at him like she expected him to hate her. He didn't. He never could.
"Percy, no," she said, beginning to cry in earnest, "I don't know if I love him but I do feel something for him and that makes me feel disloyal to you. We've been through so much and I feel so awful for ending it but I can't help how I feel."
"I know," he said softly. He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked away. It probably did look like he hated her. She was crying and looking at him and he wasn't even making eye contact. He didn't know what was wrong. On the inside he could feel a wave of anger and sorrow but it was stuck there, unable to come out. Maybe that was a good thing. He didn't want to blow up on Annabeth. He didn't want to be that guy. He'd had some pretty stupid things happen to him because of his temper but he didn't want to end their relationship like that.
"I don't know what else to say," she said, trying to pull it back together. "I want to be friends with you. I can't imagine my life without you in it in some way."
"I don't know," he said, "I think I need some time." She looked at him and then nodded. He turned and walked back toward the cabins.
It happened sometime after the war with Gaea. They won and tension between the two camps settled down. He went back to school at Goode and Annabeth went back to redesigning Olympus. At first it was nothing, they would Iris message whenever they could and she would tell him about her progress and he would tell her how horrible his grades were. Then she began consulting with Jake Mason, son of Hephaestus, about her projects. It was a gradual thing. Percy was at school and she was spending more time on Olympus and at camp with Jake. Eventually Jake's name was brought up in every conversation they had and then she was talking about him all the time without noticing.
She and Percy grew further apart and when he came back to camp he felt like an interruption in her life and her new routine with Jake. For his part, Jake tried to be a gentleman. He volunteered to hang back and let Percy do things with Annabeth, but it was futile. Percy could see that they wanted to be together and he began to panic. It was crazy but he started to wish for another quest. Maybe going on another epic journey together would help rebuild his bond with Annabeth. But Rachel told him that she had a good feeling the quests would be over for a while. Apparently, evil did sleep every now and then. And that's how it had been since the start of summer -Annabeth, Jake, and Percy as a broody third wheel.
And now they were over. He trudged back to his cabin and fell face down onto his bed. He wanted nothing more than to do the honorable thing and wish her luck, remain her friend, and even shake Jake's hand but he couldn't. He loved her and he wanted her. It was selfish but he didn't care. He cried a little –out of frustration mostly—and it didn't help. Now he had puffy sore eyes and a headache to go along with the heartache.
He thought the worst thing would be seeing them together around camp but they left for Olympus so frequently that it wasn't such a big problem. No, the worst thing was the camp gossip. "Annabeth dumped Percy", was headline news. All his friends were annoyingly sympathetic, asking him if he was okay, telling him it would be alright. He didn't blow up at them either or the campers whispering behind his back. He just went on with his days like he didn't hear anything.
Jason came to visit from New Rome and he got the same pitiful look from him after –he suspected—Piper told him what happened. Percy shrugged him off, insisting he was fine. When Capture the Flag rolled around everyone wanted Percy as captain but he offered it to Jason. He volunteered to be stationed at the river, mostly because it was kind of out of way strategy-wise and he thought he could be alone. He stood on a boulder at the edge of the water. He was leaning on a spear even though Riptide was in his pocket in pen shape. He could hear the noise of the other campers in woods and the sounds of their weapons clanging and little explosions going off.
He was happily bored and brooding when a savage roar came vibrating through the air. Trees collapsed in front of him and he sighed. A huge drakon came charging at him. It ripped up a tree and hurled it at him but he jumped down into the water and it hit the boulder where he'd been standing. Being in the water made him feel invincible and he nearly was. Nothing could hurt him here, and that was an amazing feeling in the moment. When the drakon came at him he swept his hand upward, sending a jet of water to blast the monster under its chin. The second it reared back, exposing its neck, he thrust his spear in. There was a gurgling sound from it and then it dissolved into gold dust.
He was about to relax when another roared blew through the trees. Okay, the first drakon probably smelled his scent over everyone else's but this was ridiculous. He took his stance again and another monster charged out of the woods. A giant scorpion came at him this time and he really hated those things. Before it got to him the ground underneath split open and swallowed the monster whole before knitting back together as if nothing had happened.
"Sorry, I think that one smelled me."
Percy turned around, the water splashing softly around his legs. Nico di Angelo was standing at the edge of trees as if he'd just melted out of shadows, which he probably had. He was wearing his aviator jacket over his normal black t-shirt and black jeans with his stygian blade strapped around his waist. Nico was taller –an inch or so from Percy's height, his shoulders a little broader and his voice a bit deeper. His hair was black like ink and matched his black eyes and the dark circles underneath. Everything about him screamed darkness and danger but it had never bothered Percy.
"Hey," Percy said as he walked out of the water.
"Hey," Nico echoed.
"Came for a visit?"
"Yeah for a little while," Nico replied. He walked forward and the shadows of the forest shrank back as if without him they didn't have the power to stay thick and heavy.
"I didn't know it was Capture the Flag tonight though," he said.
"Yeah," Percy shrugged, pulling his helmet off.
"That drakon slaying was ruthless," Nico smirked at him, "you in a bad mood?"
"I guess," he shrugged again. "How are Hazel and Frank?"
"Good. Frank is fitting in well as Praetor," he said and Percy nodded.
"How are you and Lance?"
It wasn't long after the battle that Nico started dating a guy -a son of Ceres in Camp Jupiter. Apparently they met when the two camps joined forces against Gaea and Nico saved Lance's life. Percy was a little surprised when Jason told him, but then he looked back on some of Nico's more self-destructive behavior and it made sense. He'd been carrying what he thought was a shameful secret and Percy could see now how it had weighed the guy down. Now, he seemed more at peace with himself.
"We're okay but it's not like we're serious," he said. "How's Annabeth?"
"She's fine, I guess," he said with no emotion. Nico stared at him for a second.
"Are you in a bad mood about her? You guys fighting?"
"Not anymore, she dumped me," he said quickly. He walked over to a tree, tossed his helmet on the ground and started to undo all of his armor.
"Oh…sorry. I didn't know." Nico said looking shocked.
"No big deal," Percy said, shrugging off his breast plate and flopping onto the ground.
"So, like she just…?" Nico sounded uncertain and he looked at Percy cautiously.
"She found someone else. Someone better," he tried not to sound bitter but some of it leaked out.
"Who could be better than you?" Nico stepped forward and then turned away. "I mean for her."
"Jake Mason," said Percy, leaning his head back against the tree.
"That guy?" Nico asked in disbelief. "Well…maybe she'll come around?"
"I doubt it, but thanks." The horn sounded and Percy pushed himself to his feet.
"We better see who won and tell Chiron that you're here," he said gathering up his armor.
Annabeth and Jake finished Olympus two days later and Chiron decided that a celebration should be given to honor their hard work. The campers would take a little field trip to the Empire State building to view the changes –some of them wouldn't even know the difference because they'd never seen Olympus before- and then they would come back to camp for a bonfire party. Percy was anything but excited. He'd been spending most of his time in his cabin. When he emerged it was to eat and then he would go right back. He knew it was bad but he couldn't seem to shake the habit.
On the morning they were supposed to leave the campers were lining up to get on the bus –driven by Argus. It was magical and could fit all the campers and still looked ordinary on the outside. Percy was making his way to the line slowly, hoping he would get left behind. He heard footsteps and turned to see Nico jogging to meet him.
"Hey," he huffed, slowing to a walk.
"Hey," Percy replied half-heartedly.
"This is stupid," said Nico.
"You're telling me," Percy said looking up ahead. He was looking at Annabeth. She was at the front of the line and she was smiling at something Jake was telling her. Nico looked from Percy to Annabeth and he sighed.
"You don't have to get on the bus, you know."
"Chiron is pretty set on me going. I already tried to get out of it."
"No, I mean I could take you. We could shadow travel and be there before everybody else."
Percy looked at him and he was kind of hopeful. If he had to go he would prefer to eliminate the awkward bus ride.
"Do you think Chiron would go for it?" He asked. Nico grinned.
"Stay here and leave it to me," he said with a smile and ran off to where Chiron was watching the campers. Percy watched as Nico frantically explained something to Chiron and he hoped Nico wasn't talking about the break-up. Finally, Nico came running back with a smirk.
"We're good," he said.
"What did you tell him?" Percy asked, looking from Nico to Chiron.
"Maybe I should tell you that after we leave?"
"Yeah…" Percy said suspiciously.
"Okay, let's go." Nico held out his hand and Percy took it and in an instant the shadows devoured him.
Shadow traveling was weird. It was like moving through darkness which was neither solid nor fluid. The only thing he had to orient himself was the feeling of Nico's hand in his. Then it was over. All the color and noise of New York rushed back into his ears. Nico dropped his hand and shoved his own into the pockets of his jacket.
"Do you wanna wait for them?" Nico asked.
"No way," Percy grinned for the first time. He nodded his head in the direction of the doors and they started up the steps.
The desk clerk let them up easily since he knew them and had been informed of the field trip. Percy leaned against the wall of the elevator, feeling the gentle lift and listening to…Lady Gaga? Yep, that was "Just Dance" playing softly through the speaker, go figure. He looked over at Nico who was staring at nothing in particular.
"Thanks, Nico," he said, "for bringing me here. I really didn't want to be on that bus."
"No big deal," he said smiling faintly.
"What did you tell Chiron?" Percy asked curiously.
"That you talked to your Dad in an Iris message and he wanted to know if you could come early for something." Nico smiled smugly and Percy couldn't help but laugh. Nico smiled wider and then he was laughing right along with Percy.
"I can't believe you lied like that! And on a god!" Percy chuckled.
"Hey, man! Whatever works!" Nico giggled.
They were both laughing when the elevator dinged and they walked out. Everything was…different. Annabeth had really gone all out. Everything was gold, marble, crystal and it all floated among clouds. It was almost blinding. Percy looked around, still smiling slightly, and nodded. He and Nico walked down the pathway that led from the elevator. She had even changed that. The walkway was polished marble sprinkled with gold dust now. The braziers were crystal basins on bronze daises. There were fountains everywhere with marble statues spurting golden water. There were heavy Doric and Ionic columns draped with vines and bursting with exotic flowers he'd never seen. Olympus had looked like a paradise before but now it looked like half Heaven, half Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
"It's nice," Nico said.
"It really is," Percy agreed.
They made their way toward the main throne room, passing by an open air salad bar. Percy figured it was the one Rachel was always going on about. When they got to the throne room Percy just stood looking. He remembered everything they'd gone through to save this place. During her redesign, Annabeth had redone the throne room as well. The floor now had a mix of marble and alternating glass tiles. You could see right through into the clouds below if you looked. The new thrones were also incorporated and looked natural now, instead of stand-out eye-sores. Percy looked over and saw Nico standing in front of his father's new throne. It was all black iron and bone. Darkness seemed to cloud around the base of it as well. He looked over at his own father's molded black leather seat and he could remember what it was like to sit there to feel the power of the ocean surging through him.
"What was it like when you sat there?" Nico asked, as if he was reading Percy's mind.
"It was…incredible? But it was scary too. I could feel my father's power, but I think it would have corrupted and killed me if I'd stayed in it more than a few minutes. I was smoking when I got down. I still kind of feel an itch to do it again and that scares me too." Nico looked back at his father's throne.
"Don't," said Percy, "These are their seats of power and they kill anything that touches them. I only survived because my Dad looked and saw that it was me before he blasted. What if Hades shoots first?" Nico turned away and Percy felt relieved. He didn't want Nico getting killed by his own father.
"You know, I was thinking about taking a vacation," said Nico.
"From what?" Percy asked smiling.
"From America," Nice replied, completely serious.
"Where would you go?"
"The quest to close the doors took us to Italy but I spent the whole time either on the ship or fighting. I want to go back and see Venice," he said longingly.
"Is that where you're from?"
"Yeah, I still have a few memories…" They started walking towards the door.
"That sounds cool," Percy said.
"If you need some time away, you could come with me. I wouldn't mind," Percy looked over at him in mild surprise but Nico was looking at his shoes as he walked.
"I don't know," said Percy scratching his head. He didn't know if he was in the mood for a trip. He mostly wanted to sleep forever.
"Well, I'm not leaving for a few days. I need to decide on hotels and stuff."
"You're staying in a hotel?" Percy asked curiously.
"Yeah," Nico said in a 'well duh' manner. "Where did you think I was going to stay?"
"I don't know. No offense Nico, but you just don't seem like the type of person who needs a place."
"I guess being labeled as a wandering outcast will give people that impression," he said with rueful smile.
"You're not an outcast," Percy said determinedly, "a wanderer, yes."
"Well, anyway if you change your mind, just let me know. I think you need some time away from your problems," he said.
Speaking of problems, Percy heard the elevator ding as the first group of campers arrived, escorted by Annabeth and Jake. He and Nico looked down from on high in the throne room and saw the demi-gods making their way through the paths. Annabeth was proudly explaining all of her changes and the architecture involved. He looked down at her holding Jake's hand as she talked and it was like a knife in his heart.
"You know what?" He said turning back to Nico. "I don't need a few days. Let's go."
He spent the night of the bonfire inside of his cabin avoiding everyone and packing. He asked Nico if they could leave any faster and Nico said he could make it work in a day. Nico seemed really happy that Percy was going but he probably just needed the company. He talked big but Percy knew he was lonely, especially without Hazel. Chiron had been hesitant at first, but Nico reminded him that Camp Half-Blood wasn't meant to be a prison and that he and Percy had survived so much that there was no reason to think they couldn't handle one little trip. Chiron gave in after that but with strict rules that they come back as soon as the trip was over.
They would stay in Venice for a week or so depending how it went. Percy wasn't concerned with the loose plans because at this point being gone sounded like a relief and he might never want to come back. When he was done packing he climbed under the covers and bent his pillow around his head, smashing it against his ears to drown out the noise of the celebration outside. He must have drifted off because the next thing he knew there was a knock on his cabin door. When he rolled over the sunlight blinded him and he had to untangle the sheets from around his legs to get up. Nico was standing there when he opened the door.
"Oh, did I wake you?"
"Yeah, but it's okay," Percy said rubbing sleep from his eyes.
"Well, I told Chiron when we'd be leaving. I'm not used to that but I thought if I didn't then they would think you'd gone missing again and send out the search parties. Here's the hotel info and a brochure about Venice." Nico handed him two brochures.
"Thanks. I'm all packed and everything. I just need to tell my mom," he said.
"Okay, well I'll be back early tomorrow," Nico said, turning away. Percy didn't notice until that moment but Nico had been avoiding eye contact with him. Well, he probably had morning breath…
He shut the door and went to the salt water fountain in the corner –newly repaired by Tyson who'd done something to the stone that made it glow softly at night. He pushed a curtain open to let the sun in and scooped up a golden drachma from the warm water.
"Oh Iris, goddess of the Rainbow, please accept my offering," he said as he tossed the gold coin through the rainbow. "Show me Sally Jackson in New York."
His mom appeared through the mist. She was cooking something in the kitchen and humming to herself. He smiled at the sight and called out.
"Hey mom!" She jumped and turned to look at him.
"Oh, Percy! I wish you wouldn't scare me like that," she chided him gently.
"Sorry, I can't really control where the message appears."
"So how are you? Is something wrong?"
"No…well yeah but it's not monster related…" He poured out the whole story about Annabeth. He didn't know if this is what he really called to do but he felt better telling his mom than talking about it to anyone else.
"Oh, honey I'm so sorry," she said. She looked sympathetic but it was different coming from her than his friends. "You and Annabeth have been through a lot so much together, I know how much you must have loved her and maybe you two will work out in the end." Her look turned a bit serious. "But Percy, if it doesn't work out then you two just weren't meant to be. I had to accept it too when your father left." Percy looked at her in astonishment. His mom rarely spoke about Poseidon and he never thought about how his situation might mirror hers.
"Do you…do you still love him?" He asked. His mom smiled at him and it was a little sad, but not very.
"I did for a long time after and some part of me always will, because after all, he gave me you. But I found someone who I love just as much."
"Where is Paul?" Percy asked smiling.
"At work. He's teaching summer school."
"Ugh. Glad I slipped by with Ds and Cs. So, I wanted to tell you that because of all this, I think I need a break from camp. I'm kind of taking a trip," he said slowly.
"A trip? To where?" His mom asked confused.
"You remember Nico di Angelo? He came over on my birthday a while back?"
"I remember! How is he? Poor thing looked so hungry back then!"
"He's fine," Percy laughed. "Well he was born in Venice and he wants me to go with him to see it again."
"That sounds like fun! When are you leaving?" She asked happily.
"And you two will be okay?"
"Yeah, we're staying at a hotel and everything. Here, Hotel Rialto." Percy held up the brochure for the hotel. He gave her the phone number because she insisted.
"I feel bad letting you go without money," she said.
"Nah, it's okay. Nico said he would handle everything and I'm sure we won't need much." Actually when Percy asked Nico how he was paying for this Nico only smirked at him and said, "I may have asked my Dad for an allowance and he may have given me some gold because his sense of money is off by a few centuries." So there was no need to bother his mom about it.
"It really won't be expensive since we can get there without buying plane tickets." There was a knock at the door.
"I gotta go mom but I'll try to Iris message you as soon as we get there, okay?"
"Okay, sweetheart. Be safe!"
He grinned at her and wiped his hand through the mist to end the call and then went to the door. It was Annabeth. She was standing there looking sedate. Her blonde curls were loose and he had to resist the urge to pull one and watch it bounce.
"Hey Percy," she said trying to smile.
"Hey," he said back. His stomach was twisting into a knot just looking at her.
"Listen, I heard you were going on a trip with Nico?" She asked, looking confused.
"Yeah, we're leaving tomorrow. Did Chiron tell you?" She nodded.
"Percy, I just- Is it because of me?"
"Kind of, yes," he said honestly. She looked sad and he felt bad for doing it but it was the truth.
"Percy, this camp is your home too and I don't want you leave because of me."
"Annabeth, it's just a trip. I just need space to clear my head. Look, I still love you. I do," he said firmly when she looked up at him. "I get that it's over but my feelings are still there."
"I still have feelings for you too, Percy," she said.
"I know," he said. Neither one of them said the rest. That her feelings for him where not the only ones in her heart anymore. Or that her feelings for Jake were growing stronger.
"Okay," she said, "well I hope you have fun. Be careful okay? You and Nico are both powerful demi-gods and being together might attract more monsters."
"We'll keep our guard up. Bye Annabeth." He stood there and watched her walked away before shutting the door.
He was ready when Nico knocked on his door at 6 a.m. He had a backpack and two duffel bags, Nico only had one. Percy got the sense that Nico didn't have many material things, how could he with the way he moved around? Nico took one of Percy's duffel bags so he could shut the door of the cabin and they walked out onto the green. It was early, still a little dark, and none of the other campers were awake yet.
"They're six hours ahead over there," said Nico, his voice still soft with sleep. "So it'll be lunch time. I'll be tired from shadow traveling this distance so I'll probably need a nap."
"Oh yeah, I'll need to adjust to the time shift," groaned Percy.
"It's cool, I've got sleeping pills in my bag," said Nico.
Percy slid his arms through the straps of his bags and Nico shouldered his. He took both of Nico's hands in his and they disappeared into darkness. Percy tightened his grip on Nico's hands as they floated through the black nothingness. It didn't last long but it made Percy feel as if he'd gone deaf and blind. When the volume of reality returned they were standing in a little ally between two buildings. He followed Nico out into the street. It was so strange to think that not two minutes ago he had been on Long Island Sound and now he was in the middle of Venice, Italy.
The majority of the buildings were white with red tiled roofing and they were pretty close together but to Percy it was beautiful. It felt European and different. His eyes were still adjusting from the darkness of shadow traveling and since it was noon in Venice, the sun was directly overhead. He followed Nico around a corner and up ahead was water. He could see it and feel it, all around them actually. He knew Venice was basically an island with a lot of canals and all the water surrounding them made him feel comfortable.
"That's the Grand Canal," Nico said, looking back at him. "The hotel sits right in front of it and it's next to the Rialto Bridge."
"I still can't believe we're here," Percy couldn't help it he was grinning like an idiot. Nico laughed at him.
"You've been to like every mythological place ever and Venice is making you spaz out?"
"Yeah, I guess I'm weird," he said.
They turned another corner which put the Grand Canal on their immediate left. Percy's A.D.H.D. was kicking in. He was looking around, his eyes trying to take in everything about the city. The little boats tied up all along the Grand Canal and the brick paved street they were walking on. He could see the hotel was the next building. It was red and even through his dyslexia he could see "Hotel Rialto" in big yellow letters. Further down there was a white covered bridge with lots of people strolling across it.
They walked inside of the hotel and the lobby was a lot fancier than Percy thought it would be. It looked like he'd stepped into one of those period drama movies his mom was always watching. The wallpaper of the lobby was a salmon pink that matched the red on the outside. There were little electric lanterns on the walls with gold moldings and the front desk was a deep mahogany. There were a few guests milling around and bellboys who perked up when they walked in. Nico walked right up to the desk with Percy following behind.
"Ah, buon pomeriggio a tutti e due! Benvenuti all'Hotel Rialto!" The concierge behind the desk had the same dark hair and olive skin that Nico used to have before his stint in the underworld.
"Grazie. Di Angelo e Jackson check-in." It was so weird to hear Nico speaking Italian. Not weird in a bad way, but it made Percy see him differently. The language rolled right off of his tongue and Percy wondered what would Nico be like right now if he wasn't a demi-god? If he'd been born normal and stayed in Venice with his mother and sister?
"Abbiamo camere adiacenti al secondo piano." Percy had no clue what they were saying but Nico signed a book and then called Percy forward to sign it. The Concierge gave them both gold keys attached to little red tassels and signaled a bellboy forward. They went through their rooms as the bellboy sat their bags in them. They had separate rooms but a shared bathroom between them. Nico's room was the same salmon color as the lobby and Percy's was powder blue. Their beds were kind of fancy with tufted headboards and gold moldings and curtains pinned to the wall over them as kind of a fake canopy.
Nico tipped the bellboy and once he was gone Percy forced Nico to lie down. He looked so drowsy that it was almost cute. Percy even pulled off Nico's shoes and tucked him under the covers. Then he went to the bathroom, closing the door to Nico's room behind him. He turned the hot water on full blast, pulled back the curtain of their little bathroom window, and pulled a little prism keychain out of his pocket along with a gold drachma. He called his mom to let her know they arrived safe and were in the hotel. Then he went to his room and just lay on top of the bed. He was excited to explore the city but he was also still depressed over Annabeth. He could have turned on the tv and but he rolled over and tried to force himself to sleep, which didn't prove to be too hard since he'd just woken up thirty minutes ago.
"Percy?" He grunted when he felt his shoulder shake and rolled over onto his back. Nico was yawning over him.
"Time is it?" He grumbled.
"It's like 5:44. Come on, we better hurry or we'll miss dinner."
They went to dinner on the terrace and the view was pretty remarkable. The sun was beginning to set and they had a panoramic view of the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge, and the opposite street and buildings. The terrace was covered with lush plants and little black tables for two. If Percy wasn't with Nico he'd say it felt pretty romantic. They sat down and a waiter came over to tell them the specials. Nico translated for him and they both decided to have the fish soup. Nico even managed to order them white wine with no IDs.
"So, I've been meaning to ask you," Percy started, "why are you here with me and not Lance?" The smile faded from Nico's face and his eyes darted somewhere else.
"I wasn't going to bring anyone, but you looked like you needed it. And I told you, we're not serious," he said.
"But still, he's technically your boyfriend, right?"
"I just don't feel that close to him. It was nice at first, but I think that was just me being happy because I wasn't keeping a secret anymore."
"You know you never had to, right?" Percy said, looking at him. "It doesn't change anyone's opinion of you."
"It was still…personal," Nico said. Percy nodded and let it drop.
"So where are we going tomorrow?" He asked, changing the subject.
"I don't know. Is there any place you wanna go?" Nico asked, beginning to smile again.
"I'm just up for whatever," Percy shrugged and grinned.
"Well I was thinking we could go visit the San Moisé Church. I remember going there when I was little."
"Sure." Percy could see the sadness in Nico's eyes when he talked about his former life here in Venice. If he could help the younger boy enjoy it here and chase the sadness away, then he would.
When their food arrived Percy thought he would never eat anything else again. It was a tomato base soup with big chunks of tilapia, huge jumbo shrimp, carrots, and fennel. He inhaled it in minutes.
"That was great," he said and Nico nodded. "I'm kind of tempted to lick the bowl," he said. Nico laughed softly at him and he smiled.
"Maybe Lance was good for you," he said. "You laugh and smile a lot more now. I mean you don't laugh loud but…" he shrugged, unsure of how to finish his thought.
"It could also be that there are no life or death prophecies hanging over our heads lately," said Nico, looking amused.
"That's true," Percy agreed. Nico sipped his wine and he looked pointedly at Percy's nearly full glass.
"Aren't you going to drink yours?"
"You know, I don't think I'm a wine lover," Percy said.
"That's blasphemy here!" Nico smirked and drained his glass. "What would Mr. D say if he heard you?" Percy just laughed at him and then turned to look at the water. The sun was down now and the lampposts were lit. The Grand Canal looked more magical than ever by lamplight, but so did the rest of the city.
"We'd better pop some sleeping pills and go back to bed if we want to wake up tomorrow," said Nico. They went back to their rooms and did just that, after fighting over who got the shower first.
He actually woke up before Nico, but chalked it up to Nico having residual fatigue from the shadow travel. When they walked out in the street there wasn't much activity.
"Come on," said Nico. He led Percy back around the corner they'd come from the day before. They passed the ally where they appeared and kept going.
"Percy…are you sure you're okay? About Annabeth?" Nico was looking at straight ahead. Percy looked at him. When he turned the question over in his mind all his twisted emotions came back.
"Can we not talk about it? I mean, let's not ruin the day, okay?"
They walked in silence after that. The street curved and split into turns but it was hard to see where you were going exactly because the buildings were so close together. They passed a restaurant, another hotel, and an art deco. After what felt like an hour of walking Percy was beginning to doubt his guide.
"Are you sure we're going the right way?" He asked looking at Nico.
"Yes!" Said Nico, sounding insulted. "Pretty sure," he added. "Kind of…" Percy groaned and Nico looked embarrassed.
"Well, it's been a while," he said sheepishly.
"So we're lost?" Percy asked.
"Not completely," Nico said. "I still remember the immediate area surrounding the Church."
Before Percy could ask him, "what good does that do?" Nico grabbed his hand and they fell into darkness. When they reappeared it was in front of a white building.
"Chiesa di San Moisè," Nico said with a smile. "See, I got us here."
"Yeah, never mind about experiencing Venice on the way," Percy laughed.
"Whatever Jackson, let's go."
The façade of the Church was covered in white statues. It looked beautiful and old and Percy wished he knew who all the statues represented. The inside was even more impressive. It was quiet and light streamed through the windows adding to the serene atmosphere. The inside was all high archways, pilaster Corinthian columns, and bronze reliefs. His eyes focused on the sculptures and altar piece in the center.
"It's Mount Sinai with Moses receiving the Tablets," Nico whispered to him. They walked down the center aisle to get a closer look. Nico whispered more facts about the artwork and Percy couldn't believe he knew so much. Then he figured that he shouldn't be surprised. Nico was always throwing out facts and legends –usually about the underworld—and Jason told Percy how Nico's knowledge had come in handy on their quest.
"How do you know so much about this stuff? I mean I know you were born here but you were pretty young when you left right? How can you remember all of this?" Percy asked as they were walking back down the steps outside.
"Well, I do have some memories and more are coming back slowly. I grew up around all this art and I missed it because it's part of Venice. So when I wanted to learn more about Venice, I had to learn more about this stuff too. I read a lot. All I needed to do was find books about Venice written in Greek. Modern Greek is a little tougher to read than ancient Greek but not very. And I've been working on my dyslexia for a while," he said.
"Wow, Nico," Percy said looking at him. He saw Nico's cheeks turn a little pink. They always did whenever Percy gave him a compliment and he figured his friend didn't get many.
"I mean most of us just kind of shy away from reading, ancient Greek or not, even me. Dealing with the dyslexia for so long just kind of turned me away from it."
"Well I really like history and art. The schools in New Rome have an art history program and I've been thinking about it." Nico was staring ahead at the street and people in front of them but Percy was staring at him.
When had he grown up? Somehow during all the fighting of the last few years Nico had managed to master his powers, conquer his anger, accept his sexuality, and mature. Percy was sad because he hadn't noticed it happening. He had always felt a bond with Nico, even when the son of Hades had despised him, but it made him ashamed that until now he'd only seen him as a boy. He was still young, they both were, but this was a young man walking next to him talking about art history programs and fighting his learning disabilities all on his own.
"What?" Nico said when he finally noticed Percy staring at him. Percy smiled and shook his head.
"Nothing, it's just…I think Bianca would be really proud of how you turned out." Nico looked at him with wide eyes and for just a second the younger boy's eyes looked glassy and Percy thought he was going to cry but he turned away. When he looked at Percy again, he was fine.
"So do you wanna eat? I'm starving."
"Yeah we didn't have breakfast and then you got us lost…"
"Only a little!"
They debated that all the way down the street, around a corner, across a bridge over a canal and into a little tavern called VinoVino. There was another restaurant behind it but their stomachs had started growling. It looked like one of those family-owned restaurants that'd been around forever. The tables were polished wood with red cloth place mats and lamps hung from the ceiling with little lace coverings to dim the harsh light. There were pictures on the wall showing Venice in different eras and some of people, who he assumed were important to restaurant. Everyone in the place was friendly and some of them even spoke English so Percy could talk for a change and Nico only had to translate a little. He also had to read the menu to Percy, which was a bit difficult because it wasn't ancient Greek. Percy was disappointed that they didn't have that fish soup so he settled for a seafood risotto and Nico picked spaghetti with clams.
"Okay, it's not as good as the soup but it's pretty amazing," said Percy chewing appreciatively. "You gotta try this." He pushed his plate over to Nico and watched him take a bite.
"That is good," agreed Nico. "Wanna try mine?" He offered Percy his plate.
"E 'il tuo fidanzato?" Is he your boyfriend? They looked up and a young waitress was watching them from behind the bar. Percy looked at Nico, expecting a translation, but Nico looked a little taken aback.
"You two are very cute together," she said in English with a rich Italian accent. She pointed between the two of them and Percy laughed a little.
"Thank you," he said smiling. He expected Nico to laugh, maybe even play along but the son of Hades looked uneasy. His upbeat mood deflated and they finished their lunch quickly and left. As they walked down the street, Percy glanced at Nico. He was quiet and tense with his hands in the pockets of his aviator jacket.
"Nico, I'm sorry. It was just a joke," he said.
"Yeah, no, it's fine," he grumbled.
Percy was about to say more when a sudden rush of wind blew through the street between them. They shut their eyes and when the wind died down and they opened them, there was a winged man standing a few feet in front of them tossing a metal hoop. Percy took in the russet colored wings, red tank top and curly black hair. He slipped his hand inside of his back pocket and grabbed Riptide just as the angel's eyes focused on him.
"No need for that! I come in peace," he side putting his hands up in surrender. "It's good to see you again, Nico di Angelo," he said, smiling at Nico.
"Favonius…what do you want?" Nico's voice had taken on that dark, bitter tone that Percy thought was gone.
"Nico, who is this guy?" Asked Percy.
"Favonius, god of the west wind," growled Nico. The god only beamed at him.
"And you must be Percy Jackson?" He said looking at Percy. "I've heard all about you." Favonius walked forward a few steps, still smiling and looking at Percy.
"I must say, you are a handsome one. Look at those eyes!" He grinned and Percy backed up a step, his cheeks coloring with a blush.
"Umm…thank you?" He managed.
"What do you want, Favonius?" Nico snarled. The god only smiled at Nico, as if his anger were cute.
"I only come with greetings from my master," he said.
"Your master?" Percy asked.
"Yes, I serve Lord Cupid," he said happily.
"I don't have anything to say to your master," said Nico.
"Why would Cupid greet us?" Asked Percy.
"Well he did give Diocletian's scepter to Nico and Jason Grace, which helped in your fight against Gaea…"
"You say that like he gave it up freely!"
"And," said Favonius ignoring Nico's outburst, "you could say he has a vested interest in our young Nico here."
"What?" Percy blerted.
Before Favonius could explain Nico grabbed Percy's arm and the darkness enveloped him once again.
Nico was on the roof of the hotel. He'd shadow travelled Percy to their rooms and then left. Well, he was going to stay but Percy kept asking questions about Cupid and he couldn't answer him. So he said he needed a walk and left. He was sitting back far enough so none of the people would spot him and alert the hotel staff. He just wanted to be alone and away from Percy for a while.
"Why did you bring him here?" Nico turned around and Favonius was standing behind him.
Favonius sighed and frowned at him. He walked up and sat down beside Nico who immediately scooted away. Favonius's russet wings were gone, maybe so he could sit more comfortably.
"Nico, I know you don't believe it but I was once in a situation similar to yours," he said, looking into the distance.
"Yeah, I know. You killed Hyacinthus because he was with Apollo. We're nothing alike," Nico muttered.
"Yes, I killed him," Favonius's cheery tone was gone now. He sounded sad and truly sorry. "But you're lying if you say you've never felt anger toward Percy or his girlfriend. You forget, I've watched you. I took an interest in you because I saw that same anger and pain I once had. You love him, and you want his love in return and it has nearly driven you mad."
Nico looked away and said nothing because he couldn't disagree.
"People fail to see the power of love. It was love that made you who you are. You ran from him, your feelings made you keep to yourself and hate yourself. It's not all about your power and nature as a child of Hades, or even your sister's death. It's your love for this young man and the pain it causes you. You've grown, matured, and maybe you were able to temper it with that other boy, but he was only a substitute. The pain, it's still there, right below your surface. Why did you bring him here?" He asked again, looking at Nico.
"I…I just…" Nico squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth. "I wanted to be with him, even if it was as a friend. He was hurt…"
"Hurt from love," Favonius said simply.
"And I hated seeing him like that. I thought…" he stopped and wrapped his arms around himself as if he was cold.
"Your intentions were good, but you were hoping, weren't you?"
"Not for much," he said quietly, "just a happy memory of being with him."
Favonius sighed and looked at him sympathetically. "Nico, no one, not even my master can say if Percy Jackson will ever love you. But the reason why we are so interested in the two of you is because there has to be a possibility." Nico's head snapped up and he looked at the god in shock.
"He did come here with you…"
"To get away from Annabeth!" Nico said sadly, "She's the one he loves. She dumped him and he still loves her. If she asked him, he would take her back in a heartbeat! And anyway he's not…he likes girls."
"I said it was only a possibility. I've looked at him. He has an open heart and while he may still love Annabeth right now, it doesn't mean she will come back or that he will never get over her."
Nico said nothing. He didn't believe Favonius because he didn't want to get his hopes up only to be crushed.
"Go back to him. Have fun with him. Let your heart be light if only for a short time. Maybe he will come around and maybe not but the time you spend together with him here may save you from doing something terrible like I did."
Out of nowhere Favonius pulled out a bundle wrapped in velvet cloth and tied with a little white silk rope. There were two masks sitting on top of it.
"What's this?" Nico asked suspiciously.
"A gift. You do know that Carnevale begins tomorrow night?"
"No, I forgot-" Favonius offered him the pile and he took it cautiously.
"Make your memories with him," he said gently, and then he was gone.
He walked back into his room and shut the door with his foot because the bundle from Favonius was so big. He dumped it on the bed and moved the two masks off to the side. He pulled the silk rope loose and unwrapped the velvet. That's when Percy barged in through the bathroom door.
"Gods Percy! I could have been undressing!"
"Oh! Yeah, sorry," he said looking embarrassed. But his expression changed to one of annoyance and he glared at Nico. "Why did you run off? And what happened with Cupid, Nico?" Nico sighed.
"Jason and I had to confront Cupid to get Diocletian's scepter and it…it was just brutal okay? He was invisible and even Jason and I together couldn't handle him."
"So how did you get the scepter?"
"Cupid wanted something from me and we're leaving it at that," he said looking adamant.
"So why is he still interested in you?"
"I don't really know." Percy looked at him suspiciously but he held his ground and after a few seconds Percy exhaled and relaxed.
"Where did you go?"
"I just needed to pick up some things," he gestured to the mass of fabric on the bed.
"What is all that?"
"Costumes," he said trying for a smile. "I didn't plan it but it seems like we've come just in time."
"In time for what?" Percy had been rubbing the fabric between his thumb and index finger but now he was looking at Nico, who smiled back at him.
"Il Carnevale di Venezia," he said grinning. Percy arched an eyebrow.
"The Carnival of Venice. It's annual festival here in the city. People dress up in costumes and basically party in the streets for fourteen days."
"Really?" Percy smiled.
The next morning they went to breakfast and Nico explained to him the history of Carnevale. How it began with the victory of the "Serenissima Repubblica" against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and have reunions in San Marco Square. He asked if Nico remembered anything about it from his childhood.
"I remember the noise and wanting to go outside but I don't think my mother let me…" He said looking down at his coffee. Percy regretted asking immediately.
"Well, it sounds cool. What about the masks?" He asked trying to change the topic.
"Am I wearing this right?"
Nico looked at Percy in his light blue silk lampasso dress coat. Favonius had even given the costume sea-green ribbons and sea-green silk trousers to match Percy's eyes, and a green silk velvet waistcoat.
"I guess," Nico said shrugging. "How do I look?"
Nico was wearing a bright red velvet dress coat with black pearls, a black velvet waistcoat and trousers, black silk shirt with cuff lacing, black tights and gloves.
"Festive?" Percy shrugged looking adorably confused and Nico couldn't help it, he chuckled softly.
"No, really those colors look good on you," Percy said.
"Thanks," Nico replied trying not to blush. "We should go, I hear the music."
The masks were Volto style and covered their entire face, including their chins, and were molded with noses and lips to mimic real faces. Nico's was white and Percy's gilded in gold leaf. They also put on hooded cloaks that were typically worn with Volto masks. He couldn't recognize Nico at all. The mask covered his face and their costumes were heavy and elaborate. If he got lost in the throng his only chance would be to hope no one else was dressed like Nico.
Outside there was a crowd of people walking along the Grand Canal. Period costumes in wild colors and masks were everywhere. The Grand Canal was dotted with costumed couples having a nighttime gondola ride. There was energy in the air that Percy couldn't quite describe. It was excitement for sure, but also something dark and enticing. Maybe it was the fact that you couldn't see anyone's face. You didn't know them and nobody knew you so there was a feeling of complete anonymity and the freedom that goes along with that. Men bowed and women curtsied and giggled from behind their masks. He could hear music -real music- not some DJ or iTunes playlist. There was a band somewhere playing an upbeat melody.
"Come on!" Nico yelled through his mask and took off at a light jog.
"Where are we going?" Percy yelled as he ran after him.
Percy had no idea where that was but he didn't care about Nico getting them lost again either. The city was so alive that no matter where you went you were still part of the party. They weaved –and in some cases pushed—their way through the masked crowd. People were yelling, singing, dancing, and throwing fistfuls of confetti everywhere. The streets were lined with banners on poles and burning torches. He lost Nico for a few minutes and turned around in a circle, peering through the eyeholes of his mask trying to find him. Then someone grabbed his hand and he turned and saw that it was Nico, or at least Nico's costume. They ran through the streets hand-in-hand so they wouldn't get separated again until they finally turned a corner into a green area loaded with people.
There was a fountain in the center. It was huge, had five geysers of water shooting into the air and two marble dolphins frozen in mid-leap. Everyone was dancing around it and the pool of water in the basin was full of floating confetti. He finally realized why he couldn't pinpoint where the music was coming from. It was because it was coming from all over. People who had instruments were just playing them no matter where they were and somehow it sounded in tune. There was someone –he assumed it was guy because he couldn't see through the masks—shaking two tambourines, and another playing some type of flute. It felt like the whole city was playing one song together.
"I thought you would like the fountain!" Nico yelled to be heard through his mask and over the noise. Percy was grinning behind his. The energy was really getting to him, it was like a high he wasn't sure he wanted to come down from. He held out his hand to Nico.
"Dance with me!" Even through the mask Percy could see Nico eyes widen. He laughed and pulled Nico into the crowd of people. They danced close together because the crowd was growing so thick but he could see the smile Nico's eyes and hear a burst of laughter from him every few minutes. Percy was about to suggest they move on before the crowd crushed them when someone shoved him from behind. He fell forward and Nico caught him. When they looked to see who did it, they froze. It was a woman in full costume but he could see through her mask that her eyes were solid green. She was staring right at them and hairs on the back of Percy's neck stood up.
"Run!" He took Nico's hand pushed through the crowd. When they hit the street they were able to break into a run but more green-eyed women in costume were up ahead. Without losing a step Percy took a left and ran down another street dragging Nico with him. He could see a canal up ahead but no bridge. It wasn't a big deal, he could jump in and use the water to carry him and Nico away but the thought made him angry. They were having fun and he'd even gotten Nico to dance! Why should they run? He stopped and turned. There were six of them advancing and he could recognize that slinking ski-walk anywhere even with skirts hiding their trunks. Then the women removed their masks, revealing feminine faces with green tinted skin and forked tongues that darted out to taste the air. They were snake women.
"Two half-bloodsss away from home," one hissed.
"And two famousss and powerful onesss at that!" Said another.
"The ssson of Posseidon! And the ssson of Hadesss!"
"Yeah, yeah we've heard this," said Percy unimpressed. "You're ruining the party." He reached into his waistcoat and pulled out a pen. When he pulled the cap off, Riptide grew in his hand. The shadows in the alley grew thick and Percy looked over to see Nico reach his hand into darkness and pull out his stygian iron sword. When had he learned to do that? Percy shrugged and charged forward slashing at the first dracanae in his sight. He and Nico split off taking three each. Percy sliced his first one clean through the neck, severing her head. She exploded into dust before it even hit the ground. He heard another shriek as Nico stabbed one and his sword sucked her essence away before she dissolved into dust. But then another came at him from behind and he tripped on a loose cobblestone in the alley. One of the dracanae caught him around the neck with her hand and pinned him to the wall.
"Nico!" Percy yelled, but Nico summoned a jagged spike of black stone from the ground and impaled the monster as she held him. But for Percy that momentary lapse gave his attackers a window. He was hit hard and thrown back, skidding on the rough stone and ripping his costume in several places. He concentrated on the water in the canal and felt the familiar tug in his stomach. He sent a shot of water to blast one of the dracanae in face. She stumbled back into her friend, their snake trucks tangling together until they fell on another black spike of stone Nico had summon. As they burst into dust the last dracanae turned and slithered away.
Percy pushed himself up and they ran after her back into the main street. She was trying to blend into the crowd but they didn't lose her.
"I got her," Nico said fiercely. "Get ready!" Before Percy could ask, "for what?" Nico was gone. Then Percy saw him reappear in front of the monster, he kicked her just as Percy ran up used her backward momentum to skewer her with Riptide. She exploded showering the nearby people with gold monster dust. He didn't know what the mortals saw through the mist but maybe they thought it was glitter because they roared and clapped with excitement.
Percy looked them incredulously and then laughed, all his inhibitions gone once again. Killing monsters on a Carnival high and in a billowing cloak was probably going on his top-ten-best-things-ever list. He felt like a comic book hero. And he couldn't believe that shadow travel move Nico did. He was still laughing and breathing hard from the fight so he pulled his mask off. Nico pulled his off and pounced. Percy's face was between his hands and he was kissing him. When he pulled back the shock on Nico's face quickly turned to pain. He turned and pushed into the crowd.
"Nico wait!" Percy went after him. He pushed people away and plowed ahead. When he saw Nico he managed to catch his sleeve and pull him back. Percy searched the younger boy's face and he couldn't believe how devastated Nico looked. He didn't say anything just pulled him away, through the crowd and into another deserted street.
"I'm sorry," Nico said quickly pulling away from him.
"You don't look okay," Percy said trying to look at his face. "Nico, it's alright. It was just-"
"Nothing! It was just adrenalin." He looked like he was the verge of a panic attack. His breathing was heavy, he was fidgety, and he refused to look at Percy. He could see something was terribly wrong here and had been since yesterday. Favonius sending greetings from Cupid, the way Nico reacted to seeing him, his sketchy explanation of what happened with Cupid, and now the kiss.
"Nico, what did Cupid want in return for the scepter?" Nico didn't answer him. He just kept his back turned and he leaned against the wall of a building like he was hurt.
"Nico, tell me. Please. Or, I'll find Favonius and ask him."
"Just leave it alone, Percy."
"Not until you tell me," he said firmly. "What did he want?" There was nothing but silence.
"A confession! He wanted me to face my feelings!" Nico shouted at him. He walked over and touched Nico's shoulder.
"Did he make you confess about…about liking guys?" He was unsettled by the cold chuckle that came from Nico.
"I guess you could say that. But he wanted it more specific," he said severely.
"More specific like how?"
"He made me confess about my feelings…for you," Nico said miserably. Percy wasn't even sure he'd heard him right.
"Your feelings for me? What?"
"Yeah, big reveal…" Nico muttered.
"Like romantic feelings? Like you like me?" Percy asked stupidly.
"I think we should leave," Nico said. He moved to walk off but Percy's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Nico, you can't drop something like that on me and then run away!"
"What do you want me to say?" He asked in a desperate voice, pulling away and finally turning to face Percy. His eyes had taken on that wild look that reminded Percy so much of Hades. "Do you want to hear about how I've loved you since I was ten? How it killed me to watch you with Annabeth all these years? How I could never stop worrying about you? Or thinking about you, even with Lance?" Nico walked forward and Percy was too stunned to move or look away. Nico walked right up to him, his face only a breath away from Percy's.
"Or how about how I think Annabeth is furthest thing from wise and more like the silliest person on the planet? She had you and she dumped you for some third rate son of Hephaestus. If you were my boyfriend, I'd never leave you, not unless you told me to go. And even then, I'm not sure I could." Percy could feel his face heating up and it got worse when he saw Nico glance down at his lips. He'd never been so shocked or speechless in his life. Nico dropped his gaze and backed away from him and when he met Percy's eyes again, that old stubborn look was back. That look he use to wear when he was claiming that he needed one but the dead to keep him company.
"I'll take you back to camp tomorrow," he said, "come on, we should go back to the hotel."
They walked back through the streets with the Carnival still raging around them but now the high was gone and Percy couldn't tap into that energy. He was numb with shock, sadness, and something else he couldn't quite put his finger on. When they got back to their rooms Nico shut himself away and Percy sat on his bed with his head in his hands. It was just a gentle wisp of air at first, he thought maybe he'd left his window open, but when he looked up Favonius was smiling at him. Percy jumped back on the bed but thankfully he didn't scream.
"What are you-"
"Lord Cupid has requested an audience with you Percy Jackson," he said.
"I don't think that's a good idea right now…" Percy said slowly.
"I'm afraid "requested" is a courtesy term." Favonius waved his hand and Percy dissolved into the wind. He couldn't even panic because his mind felt so scattered, not to mention his body. He was flying over the city in some disembodied manner that he couldn't describe. When he reformed he fell to his knees from the sudden reintroduction of his own weight. Standing in front of him was a man with snowy white wings, long straight black hair, and blood red eyes. He had a wicked looking bow strapped to his back. One of those modern ones but made of shining metal with idler wheels and looked like it could drop anything its arrows hit.
"Cupid?" Percy said in disbelief.
"Hello Percy Jackson," Cupid answered with a smile.
"Where am I?" Percy asked looking around. They were up very high on a terrace. There was fencing in the arches to keep you from falling off and the city was lit up in front of him. He could see the Carnival was still in full effect.
"St. Mark's Campanile," said Cupid. "The bell tower of St. Mark's Basilica. How are you enjoying Venice?"
"It started out okay…" Percy said.
"And finding out the truth about Nico di Angelo has upset things," he stated.
"I…maybe. Yes," he stuttered. Cupid smiled again and Percy couldn't help but think how unsettling his eyes were and his face was…handsome but hard to look at.
"And why is that?"
"It's just…it changes things," Percy said.
"Admissions of love can do that. I can hear them all, you know, confessions of love. Nico was being truthful with you." Percy felt pinned under Cupid's gaze.
"I just…I don't know how to react. Nico is my friend and we've been through a lot and I had no idea…"
"That he was in love with you the whole time." Cupid said and Percy nodded.
"And you were in love with someone else, and…" Cupid looked him over, "still are I see."
"Annabeth…" Percy said.
"But Annabeth is with someone else now," said Cupid.
"And there's no chance we'll get back together?" Percy felt those dark emotions coming back and he bit his lip.
"Even I cannot say that. Love is a battleground, Percy Jackson, and you have been on plenty of those. Can you tell which way the battle will turn all the time? I cannot predict if your Annabeth will come back to you but I can say that her feelings for her new boyfriend are overgrowing her feelings for you."
"So what? I should just get over it? Move on?" He said trying not to sound too angry.
"I said love is a battle," Cupid said more firmly and stepping forward. "You can fight for her if you wish but like any battle you may not win and end up wasting precious time in a vain pursuit that will leave you bitter and burned by rejection. If that is not what you want then, yes, you do need to move on. Love is also a living thing and once it is gone you must mourn and grieve as you would any loss if you are to heal." Cupid walked forward and paced around him. Percy had been in the sea surrounded by circling sharks before but this was worst.
"I see the pain twisting inside of you, the anger you will not allow yourself to feel. You will never move on while holding it in."
"You loved her and she left you," Cupid said flatly. There was nothing to them but the words hurt him all the same.
"She did," he agreed. "We lived through everything together, we went through hell together but Jake Mason won her without all of that," he ground out through gritted teeth. He thought back to all the quests they went on together, how they saved each other, depended on each other. Tartarus had been especially horrific and they got through it together. Cupid continued to circle him as if he were watching a caged animal.
"Was it even real? Did we even love each other or were we just clinging to each other because the world kept falling down around us?"
"There was love there," Cupid said, "but no not the type she has now."
"Why? Why couldn't we have whatever she has with Jake now?" Percy demanded. "You're the god of love; tell me why mine wasn't good enough to keep her!" He was shouting now. All that bottled up anger was finally seeping out.
"Perhaps, you are right. Perhaps you two were just in love because it was the calm in the storm and now that the storm is over you realize that it was not the eternal love one can only dream of. Battle-born love does not often survive times of peace."
"But how? How can she get over it, over me so quickly?" He didn't want to but he was crying. The tears stung his eyes like acid and they left hot trails down his face.
"She is not over you completely and some affection may linger forever, but being with him helps her heal. You feel her loss so acutely because you hold it in and up until now you would not allow anyone to get close, especially not the one person who could have eased your pain just as quickly as Jake eased Annabeth's." Cupid came to a stop right in front of him as he wiped at his tears viciously.
"Are you talking about Nico? Why are pushing us so hard? You did this to him too didn't you, in Croatia with Jason?" Cupid gave him a humorless smile.
"Oh it was not quite the same. Nico had been holding on to his pain a lot longer than you and he is more stubborn. I had to use force. And I am so interested in you two because I see potential here."
"What potential?" Percy asked skeptically.
"I do not yet know. Maybe you two will find the eternal love you thought you already had with Annabeth. Maybe you will go down in history as a great love story. In this day and age when the freedom to love whoever you want regardless of gender –the old ways of ancient Greece and Rome—are so forgotten, maybe you two would be the answer."
"But you don't know for sure?" Percy asked scornfully.
"No. It's possible this relationship will end prematurely as well and you will be hurt again. It is a risk you have to choose to take. But Percy," Cupid gave him a gentle look, something he thought wasn't possible with those eyes. "I do see that the risk of pain is less with Nico." He gave Percy a few seconds to absorb that information.
"Is there nothing you find appealing about the son of Hades?" Cupid asked. "His smiles make you happy. You like listening to him –a special quality in any relationship—and he needs you far more than Annabeth ever did –though he will not easily admit it." Percy blushed because he did like spending time with Nico.
"He said he would never leave me unless I told him to go," Percy said feeling uncertain and looking at Cupid.
"He meant it," Cupid confirmed, "though people do change over time and I cannot see if the two of you will last, in that moment, he meant every word. I'll send you back now. Think on everything we've said here and if you decide to go to Nico, I will help you."
"Wait!" Percy said. "Your mother, Aphrodite, she told me once that she would make my love life interesting. Have you guys been planning this all along?" He asked with a hint of disbelief and anger.
"My mother puts the pieces on the board and steps away, from there it is my job to watch the struggle and guide as much as I can –though she will occasionally interfere at times. We do no more than that and neither of us knows the absolute ending." He waved his hand and Percy was back in his room again. The music was still playing outside and he could still hear people laughing and yelling.
He went into the bathroom and stared at the door to Nico's room. It was silent on the other side, Percy didn't even know if he was in there. He stripped off his ruined costume and stepped into the shower. He let the water wash over him and replayed the whole conversation with Cupid in his mind. It was true that while he was with Nico here in Venice, he felt happy and he thought about Annabeth less. Is this how she felt with Jake?
He did care about Nico and he had worried about him too over the years, especially while he was angry and on the run. And now that Nico had come into his own, he was kind of fascinated by him. He had never had romantic feelings for another boy but he didn't feel grossed out when Nico kissed him. A sudden warmth flooded into his face and the pit of his stomach when he remembered how Nico had been so close -looking at his lips and promising to be with him forever. Percy backed out of the spray until he was leaning against the back of the shower. He was attracted to Nico. It was subtle and quiet but it was there. He felt overwhelmed but his pain over Annabeth was easing in the face of his realization like the idea of having love again was a balm for his soul. He still cared about her but Nico…
After getting dressed in his pajama bottoms and a tank top he found himself back in the bathroom staring at the door again. It was locked, he knew it. Nico was angry and hurt and keeping him out. Half of him wanted to break the door down but the other half was still unsure and frightened of what he just learned about himself. One thing he knew was that he wasn't ready to leave Venice. This situation felt so fragile and he knew that if they went back it would all be ruined. Nico would leave camp, maybe even go back to Lance. Percy would have to go home or stay at camp and watch Annabeth and Jake and the potential Cupid saw would pop like a soap bubble and maybe never come around again. He didn't know what he wanted but he didn't want that gone. It made no sense, nothing did and he felt like screaming.
He made it his mission to wake up before Nico, which meant up at 5 a.m. with hardly any sleep at all. He scribbled a note in golden ink from Riptide's pen form and left it on his bed. He got out of the hotel quickly and headed for the bridge. He just let his feet take him where ever they wanted as he looked around. There were still traces of that intoxicating feeling in the air and evidence of last night's festivities was all over the place. Confetti littered the streets and there were still some people roaming around in costume. He crossed the Rialto Bridge and strolled along the Grand Canal on the other side. The sun was warm but there was a nice breeze blowing. He walked past little shops and cafes were other tourists were laughing and smiling. He wished he could go back to being one of them. On his own without Nico, the language barrier made him feel more closed inside of himself than ever. All around him he heard words and conversations he didn't comprehend. How ironic that he could only understand himself and that's what he was struggling with right now.
He was stalling for time and it wouldn't work long. What was he going to do? He cared about Nico, was attracted to him in more ways than one –he accepted that now that he'd slept on it. He even missed him. He wished Nico were walking next to him. They could fake argue over something stupid or he could listen to Nico point out all the art around them. After visiting the church with him, Percy was suddenly interested in something he had no interest in before. It was strange how Nico could go on about art history like how Annabeth could about architecture and really the two were very often the same but Nico's passion didn't remind him of Annabeth's. When she talked about architecture it was all about the math, structure, and technical things. Nico could talk about the same building but turn it into a masterpiece. He was all about the history and what it represents –the beauty and symbolism of it. He was so lost in thought that he didn't notice it when someone started walking beside him.
"Hello Percy." He nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned and saw his Dad, Poseidon, walking next to him.
"Why do you guys like sneaking up like that?" Percy asked, calming back down. His Dad chuckled but didn't answer. Poseidon looked as casual as always in his Birkenstocks, khaki Bermuda shorts, and Hawaiian shirt, and a battered cap decorated with fishing lures. His black hair and sea-green eyes were exactly like Percy's.
"What are you doing here, Dad?" He asked curiously.
"Well Venice has always been one of my favorite places to visit." Percy nodded. He could see why a water city like Venice would appeal to the sea god. Percy found himself liking it too.
"So you came to visit?" He asked.
"Well I sensed you were here and that you were…troubled." Percy blushed and kept walking.
"You are, aren't you?" His father asked lightly.
"I…I guess so," Percy mumbled.
"About this son of Hades?"
"I don't…it's," Percy sputtered but his father only laughed and clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"I had a message from Cupid," he said.
"Oh great…" Percy muttered. If this is what Cupid called helping…
"Percy we have never had a chance to be…just father and son. These last few years you have had to shoulder many responsibilities and I'm afraid I may have put some of them there. But now there are no wars to fight…at least for a while. Allow me this one chance to give some fatherly advice." They stopped about halfway across a bridge and leaned their forearms on the riling and overlooked the Grand Canal.
"Tell me about this boy," his father said. It was embarrassing to say the least. He had never even discussed Annabeth with his father. But he told him everything about his break-up, Nico's confession and all his confusion. Poseidon listened without comment or judgment and when Percy was done his father asked:
"So you do like him?"
"I think I do," he said apprehensively.
"Then you should go be with him," his father said. Percy looked at him. He didn't know what he expected but it wasn't this.
"You think so?" He asked.
"If he makes you happy, why should you not be with him? Percy, your mortal lives are so short, and demi-gods lives are often shorter. You should be as happy as you can be while you have the time."
"I still love Annabeth," he said sadly.
"And what if this young man can help you move on from that?"
Percy only nodded. His father's acceptance made him feel better. Now he had to figure out how to handle the situation from here. He didn't know how fair it would be to Nico if he was still mourning the loss of Annabeth, but the thought of losing Nico –maybe forever—was suddenly a dark one.
"Of course, it may be dangerous having you two together…" Percy looked at his father in confusion.
"Why? The monster attacks?" His father shook his head.
"Two extremely powerful demi-gods together…" Poseidon had a little worried frown and he still wasn't making sense to Percy.
"But the children of the big three aren't fighting, how is it dangerous? You just said…"
"Percy, not all conflicts have been caused by our children fighting among themselves. Sometimes when the children of the "big three" –as you call us—are getting along it can cause just as much damage."
"I don't understand," Percy said.
"Don't worry about it," he said smiling and putting a reassuring hand on Percy's shoulder. "If you find the son of Hades worthy then I'm sure he is."
His father turned back to the canal and a gondola appeared in the water. It was made of dark wood and there were a bunch of green silk and velvet pillows and cushions.
"This will take you back."
"Thanks Dad," Percy said looking at him gratefully.
"There are times when I wish your mother had taken my offer and stayed with me," he said looking at Percy. "Never doubt that you are the result of love. If your mother had agreed I would have made her immortal and you would have been born a true god but…" he paused and sighed. "Do not lose him, Percy," said Poseidon, looking at his son sadly. He put one hand on the side of Percy's face, as if admiring his good work and then he was gone.
Percy jogged down the other side of the bridge and stepped into the gondola. It had no gondolier but as soon as he thought of the hotel it began to move. No one stared at the boat and he could only assume the mist was at work. He was kind of nervous to see Nico mostly because he didn't know what to say. I like you. Wanna date and see where this goes? That seemed unbelievably lame after what Nico said to him. He spent the entire boat ride running over lines in his head until he just gave up. The boat glided in front of the hotel and stopped. Percy tied it up but he had no idea if it would stay there or disappear. He went straight to Nico's room and knocked on the door.
"Nico, open up, I need to talk to you," he said through the door. He heard rustling and footsteps and the door opened. Nico looked at him stoically. He was wearing a black t-shirt with a red apple and the words "Death Note" in white and a pair of grey skinny jeans. His room was dark, the curtains drawn and the light off. Percy could bet that he'd been in there like that all morning.
"Hey," he said softly.
"I'm almost packed," Nico said, "we can leave in a few minutes."
"I'm not ready to leave. You can't be done showing me your city," Percy smiled at him and for a second he saw that blank exterior falter but only a little.
"There's nothing else to see."
"Can we at least do the one thing we haven't done?" He asked.
"What?" Nico asked suspiciously.
"Go for a gondola ride on the Grand Canal," Percy smirked and Nico looked a little surprised.
"I'm not sure I'm up for that, or any pity trips from you," Nico said bitterly.
"It's not a pity trip. I really want to go and I have a boat ready and everything. If you still want to leave after we're done, then we will." Nico stared at him for a minute and then rolled his eyes.
"Fine. I'll put on some shoes." He shut the door in Percy's face but Percy was just happy he'd made it this far. He was even happier that his gondola was still there when they came out of the hotel. He hopped in and began untying it but Nico stayed on dry land.
"What is it?" Percy asked.
"Where's the gondolier?" Nico asked looking around.
"Oh, that would be me," laughed Percy. "This was a gift…from my Dad."
"Are you serious?" Nico asked.
"Yeah, he came to visit me. Turns out Venice is one of his favorite places," Percy said smiling. "So, are you coming?" He held out his hand to Nico who looked down at it. Percy laughed again.
"Come on Nico. I'm Aladdin and this is our magic carpet, now do you trust me?"
"What are you talking about?" Nico asked looking at him like he was crazy. And he supposed that to someone who was locked away in a magic hotel for decades and had never seen a Disney movie, he did sound crazy.
"Okay, we have got to get you a Disney education after this." He held his hand out farther. "Nico, please come with me," he said seriously. Nico ignored his hand and stepped into the boat on his own.
He sat down on the opposite end, leaning against the cushions watching Percy untie the rope. When he was done, Percy sat down on the other side and imagined the boat gliding away and down the water. Nico looked a little panicked when the boat started moving on its own. He looked at Percy who grinned at him. Nico looked away and said nothing and after a while of sailing in silence, Percy understood why Cupid called the younger boy stubborn. He was determined not to speak so Percy took the lead.
"Nico, we have to talk about what happened," he said. He could see Nico gritting his teeth but he still didn't say anything. Percy sighed in frustration.
"So we're just going to leave things like this? You're okay with having this bad air between us?"
"I just want to get this over with and leave. This whole trip was a bad idea," Nico replied in an angry tone. Stubborn didn't begin to cover it. Fine, Percy thought.
"You said you would never leave me unless I asked you to go," he said throwing the words back at Nico. It was a cheap shot but he took it. Nico stared at him with wide eyes and he didn't try to hide the pink that spread across his cheeks.
"You said it and now you're running away from me," Percy pressed. Nico's expression turned into a glare.
"I said if you were my boyfriend, which you are not!"
"That is what I wanted to talk to you about but you keep biting my head off!"
"What is there to talk about? I don't need the gentle-let-down talk! I know at best you're not interested –why would you be? And at worst you're revolted!" Nico shouted.
"Well I'm glad you think you're so right! Gods, Nico! Did you ever think that maybe I do like you?" He shouted back.
Everything froze. Percy didn't even look to see if people were staring at the two teenage boys screaming at each other in a gondola. He just looked at Nico, who was staring back.
"Nico…just let me talk okay?" Percy took the silence for a yes.
"I still have feelings for Annabeth but…I have feelings for you too," he said honestly.
"You're serious?" Nico asked skeptically. Percy nodded and waited for him to go on.
"Percy, if that's true…you were so hung up on her…" Nico stopped and Percy could see the muscles in his neck tensing like he was choking something back. "I just…I don't want to be an Annabeth substitute," he forced out. "So if that's what this is…"
"You're not!" Percy assured him frantically. "I had a talk with Cupid…"
"Why is he butting in again?" Nico growled.
"I know you didn't get the best first impression from the guy, but he helped me realize some things and I think he's actually rooting for us, for this," Percy said. "You are not Annabeth. You're Nico di Angelo," Percy said looking him in the eyes. "And I liked it when you kissed me."
Nico was kind of speechless after that. He blushed and tried to hide his smile, which Percy found very cute. When Percy asked if he wanted to go be alone, Nico only nodded and Percy turned the boat around. Back at the hotel they went to the inside café for bunch, not exactly "alone" but no one bothered them. He had never experienced anything like this, not even with Annabeth. Sure, when they first started dating it was exciting but they'd only had a few months together –which he mostly spent in school away from her- before Hera snatched away his memories and made him disappear into the Roman camp. They were always embroiled in a problem, no wonder they never saw the truth until now. Being with Nico felt like being a kid again because they couldn't stop smiling and blushing like nine-year-olds.
"Are we gonna stop this?" he laughed.
"I hope so. I always hated couples who acted like this," Nico said smiling.
"So we're a couple?" Percy asked smirking. Nico blushed and they laughed again.
"What are you going to do about Lance?" Percy asked suddenly.
"We broke up before I came back to camp," Nico shrugged.
"Oh," Percy said surprised. "You just kept saying you two weren't serious."
"It just didn't seem important. Plus you were so sad over Annabeth and I just wasn't that bothered about Lance."
"So we've got no road blocks? You're all mine?" Percy asked smiling. Nico looked at him and his expression turned serious.
"Are you all mine?" He asked uncertain. Percy knew he was still worried about Annabeth and Percy's feelings for her. He slipped his hand under the table and took Nico's.
"Yeah," he said looking right at him.
"Since this was once a true palace it also has prison cells. These are the very cells where the infamous Giacomo Casanova spent many years before his escape," said the guide.
"You know he was rumored to be a child of Aphrodite?" Nico whispered to him as the tour guide continued talking.
"That actually makes a lot of sense," Percy said.
They were taking a tour of the Doge's Palace Museum. After clearing the air they decided to stay in Venice. It was Percy's opinion that they needed time away from everyone to get used to being a couple and Nico agreed. So they were back to sight-seeing, which made both of them happy. Maybe it would be different if they weren't in Venice –though he doubted it—but listening to Nico recite history and explain the art of a building was fun. When they were standing outside, Nico pointed out how the palace was an example of Venetian Gothic Architecture and launched into a full lecture.
His whole face came alive, his eyes lit up, and his hands started flying around as he talked with them. This was a whole new side to Nico and Percy felt like he was getting to know him all over again. It reminded him of a ten-year-old boy he'd met once who was obsessed with Mythomagic and brought a smile to his face as he listened. When he was done Nico must have noticed how he'd let his personality slip out because he looked at Percy like he just remembered he wasn't alone and got quiet. Percy took his hand again –which made Nico blush—and asked him to keep talking.
Now they walked through the museum lagging behind the tour group and holding hands. They also went to see San Marco Basilica since it was so close –avoiding the tower- and Percy practically had to drag Nico out. It was either that or let him stay there forever, mooning over the gold ground mosaics and everything else. Percy started off mesmerized too, the place was pretty spectacular. It was like walking into a treasure chest but Nico was too entranced to talk and then Percy's stomach started growling.
They decided they wanted to really be alone for dinner and went to a restaurant called Alfredo's where they could get fresh pasta to-go. Nico laughed when Percy got two full orders of fettucine alfredo but he ended up gaping at him later when Percy actually finished it all and even dipped into Nico's pasta.
"How?" Nico asked amused. "How do you –no—where do you put it all?"
Percy shrugged and grinned. "I don't even know. I think it's just the food here. I don't think I eat like this all the time," he said lying back on Nico's bed.
"So Venice agrees with you?" Nico asked smiling.
"It does, like more than I thought it would. My Dad said it's one of his favorite places and I think it's all the water, you know?" Nico nodded and a thought occurred to Percy.
"Isn't that weird? That I feel at home in this city and it's where you're from? You were born in a city of water that appeals to sea gods…"
"And then I fell in love with the son of Poseidon," Nico finished and then he dropped his gaze to the bed. A slow smile spread over Percy's face.
"I still can't believe you've felt that strongly about me all this time," he said reaching for Nico's hand.
"Why?" Asked Nico.
"You just hid it so well. I had no idea. I thought you hated me."
"I tried but I couldn't. You're too good," Nico said. There was something in his tone, an underlying hint of self-loathing that broke Percy's heart.
"And you think you're not?"
Nico laughed bitterly. "The gods are so changeable and their personality make-up is something beyond our comprehension. Whatever personality or mood they're in, and consequently the partner they choose, determines the nature of whatever child they conceive during that time. That's why all the children of gods are so different. Why there can be an evil son of Poseidon like Antaeus and then one like you." He looked at Percy like it hurt to do so. "If the rule holds true then you are the embodiment of everything good about Poseidon. You're brave, selfless, caring, everything a hero should be." Percy sat up and cupped Nico's cheek in his left hand.
"Then you are the embodiment of everything good in Hades," he said running his eyes over every inch of Nico's face. "Nico, you're all of those things too."
"It was Bianca, not me," said Nico sadly.
"Bianca was good, but if we're talking the best of Hades then it's you. Look at what you've been through. Your life has taken you to dark places and you came out better. You walked through Tartarus on your own, something I couldn't even do! If Hades had any sense he would look at you and learn something. Maybe if he conquered his flaws and stopped holding grudges he would be more like you and would be more accepted." Nico stared at him in such open shock, like he couldn't believe Percy thought this much about him.
"And the son of Poseidon is falling in love with you too." Percy leaned forward and kissed him. He didn't want this kiss to be sweet he wanted to show Nico how he felt. That he was just as good as he thought Percy was and that he was truly wanted.
Nico opened his mouth and the kiss became more urgent and they ended up with Percy flat on his back and Nico on top of him. Percy's hands rested on Nico's hips as he straddled him. He had never gotten this far, not even with Annabeth. If he had any doubts about being physically attracted to Nico they were gone, crushed under the sensation of how good it felt to have Nico on top of him with his tongue in his mouth. Nico bit his bottom lip gently and a moan escaped his throat. His hands slid under Nico's shirt so he could rub the skin underneath. He heard Nico moan in turn and it made him fiercely pleased that he could coax those sounds out too. Nico pulled away from his mouth and before he could protest he felt warm breath at his ear.
"Ti amo, Perseus." I love you, Perseus.
It was like Nico sent warm electricity into his ear with those words. It traveled down his spine making him gasp and buck against Nico and he felt himself getting hard fast.
"Nico, stop," he breathed and moved to sit up. Nico pulled back, looking at him in confusion. His eyes were bright and he was breathing a little hard too. His lips were a swollen from kissing and Percy had to resist the urge to attack them again.
"Have you ever…did you and Lance have sex?" Percy asked in a breathy voice.
"No, we never got farther than this. Did you and Annabeth?" He asked searching Percy face. There was a slight panic in his eyes now.
"No," Percy said, and the panic died away.
"Do you wanna stop?" Nico asked softly. He was still sitting in Percy's lap and twining his fingers in Percy's hair.
"I think we might be moving too fast," said Percy.
"What you don't wanna have your first time in Venice?" Nico asked smiling.
"I think we should wait," Percy said, resting his forehead against Nico's. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," said Nico. And then he looked down at Percy and gave him a wicked smirk. "At least now I know what happens when I whisper Italian in your ear." As if to prove a point he ground his crotch against Percy's partial erection, making them both grunt.
Mercifully he climbed off of Percy after that and they lay down side-by-side trying to control their breathing. Percy was doing everything he could not to remember what Nico's words had done to him. The second he remembered the feeling of Nico's breath against his ear, the husky tone of his voice, and the way he'd said his name -that feeling of electricity came back and he had to squeeze his eyes shut against the rush of blood he felt going to his crotch.
"I need a cold shower," he said getting up.
"Is it wrong that I feel proud of that?" Nico asked with a little laugh.
"Not as long as you use that power for good and not evil," he said walking to the bathroom door.
Since he didn't actually want to stand under cold water, Percy thought it would be easier to just handle his problem on his own during a warm shower, while fantasizing about his new boyfriend. He had to bite his lip to stay quiet when he orgasmed. He didn't want to get Nico riled up again. He couldn't help thinking that sex this soon was a bad idea. They were just getting use to casually touching each other. He didn't want to jump from holding hands to sex. Honestly, he was afraid he was going to screw this up. Cupid saw less risk with Nico but there was still risk. He'd become attached to Nico so quickly, and even though Nico seemed more than willing, he didn't want to rush sex and end up losing him.
The second night of Carnevale was in full swing and Percy was kind of sad they weren't out there but not very. He listened to the sounds of the party as he went to his room and got ready for bed while Nico showered. He was close to drifting off when he heard his bathroom door open and close. Then he heard Nico walking slowly across the room in the dark.
"Can I stay with you?" He asked softly.
"Yeah," Percy said smiling in the dark. He pulled the covers back so Nico could crawl into the bed in front of him and then he wrapped his arm around the smaller boy's waist and snuggled into his back.
Nico had the bright idea to spend the next day testing the limits of Percy's stomach. He picked a restaurant called Al Buso close to the hotel, just in case he had to carry Percy back. It was just past the Rialto Bridge and had bunch of tables outside next to the Grand Canal with canopy umbrellas. They got there around lunch time and Percy accepted his boyfriend's challenge. They both had the marinated beef and polenta and then Percy was on his own. He followed that with a huge plate of pasta primavera, then prawns in butter sauce, and Nico thought he was done for until he discovered they had fish soup on the menu. He had that and even helped Nico split a piece of apple tiramisu.
He didn't have to be carried but he did lean on Nico the whole way back to the hotel. They were trying to get back before the third night of Carnival really got going. It was quiet and Percy was too full to walk and talk at the same time. He could listen, however, and he noticed someone following them. His hand went to his pocket.
"Nope," Nico said aloud. "Dude, a ninja you're not." He turned around and snapped his fingers. The pavement split open and the undead flooded out. They grabbed the man anywhere they could reach him –ankles, legs, arms, and even around the neck. They were dragging him into the pit they came from but the man was putting up a fight. Percy couldn't remember Nico being able to summon this many so quickly, but then again Nico's powers seemed to have grown since the battle. Suddenly something came zipping at them through the air. Riptide made a loud ping as the spikes were deflected by Percy. It almost seemed like his sword moved on its own.
"Manticore," he said uninterested.
"Yep," Nico agreed with his arm still around Percy. The Manticore's tail was visible now as he began to shed his human disguise.
"I will destroy you, Olympian spawn!" He roared as the dead dragged him back. He was half way in the fissure, but Manticores were strong. Percy looked at the Grand Canal and felt that tug in his stomach. A wave from the Canal suddenly crashed into the sidewalk slamming into the monster and knocking him in the ground. Nico concentrated and the ground pulled back together.
"Cannot believe I was scared of those once," he said.
"Yeah is it me or was he a wimp?" asked Percy. He threw his arm back around Nico's shoulders and they kept walking. Back in the hotel room Percy was useless. He showered and crawled into his bed and lay there trying to digest while Nico snuggled next him.
"Hey," he said suddenly, "the day you came to my cabin to tell me about the trip. Why wouldn't you look at me?" He heard Nico laugh softly and looked down at him.
"You know what you said about it being ironic for me, a Venetian, to fall for you? Well, sometimes you give off a sea-breeze smell. I mean you always have a hint of it hanging around you but I guess being cooped up in the cabin kind of concentrated it because when you opened the door the smell of the sea just hit me in face. When I use to catch it coming off of you, it would remind me of home." Percy rolled over onto his side and wrapped his arms around Nico.
"Tomorrow is our last full day here. What do you want to do?" Nico asked quietly.
"Not leave?" Percy whispered against his forehead. Nico laughed.
"We have to. I told Chiron we would be gone a week and you know that if we're not back all the alarms will go off. Even if I Iris message first, he'll still be worried." It was true. Normally lost heroes were a hard reality and there was nothing you could do. But losing two children of the big three would be unacceptable. Chiron would send search parties without a doubt, probably even tell Percy's mom. It was better to go back and reassure everyone they were fine.
"I wanna go to the Carnival one last time but my costume is ruined."
"We have the cloaks and the masks and that's good enough," Nico said.
Their second attempt at Carnavale was much better. They danced, explored the city, and ended up making out in an empty alley. When they stumbled back to Nico's room at 4:48 a.m. they were too tired to shower or even strip and just collapsed on the bed.
They shadow traveled back to camp at noon the next day and came up in the green in the middle of the cabins at 6 a.m. again. It felt surreal, like Venice was reality now and not the camp he'd practically grown up at. He shouldered his bags and looked at Nico. They would have to be apart now -in separate cabins and sit at separate tables. That bugged him more than he thought it would. Nico looked at him and he knew he was thinking the same thing.
"We should go unpack and tell Chiron we're back," Percy said.
"Yeah," Nico said unenthusiastically.
"I'll see you later, okay?" Percy said hopefully. Nico smirked at him.
"Yeah, okay," he said, "but are you going to kiss me good-bye?" He was still smirking at Percy as if daring him.
"You think I'm worried about kissing you in front of people?" Nico said nothing and Percy smiled. He grabbed Nico by the front of his shirt and pulled him forward and kissed him.
"I am not ashamed of you or us," Percy said against his lips and kissed him again.
When they did finally pull apart, Nico went to his cabin smiling which made Percy smile. He wanted that to be his goal. Nico had lost so much and besides Hazel he had no one left. They were together now and Percy wanted to make him happy, make him smile every day. He turned and walked to cabin three. The inside was a mess, just how he left it. It was a reminder of his depression over Annabeth which stung now but didn't make his insides twist like it use to. He sighed and dropped his bags. First, he called his mom in the fountain.
"How was Venice?" She asked happily. Percy broke into a grin and laughed.
"So, good?" She asked confused. He told her everything, well, not everything but all the parts that really mattered. She was surprised but happy especially when she noticed how he couldn't stop grinning.
"Well, Nico seemed like such a nice boy. And even your father approved?"
"Yeah," he said, still smiling.
"Well I'd like to meet him again but really I'm just happy for you. I love you, honey. You and whoever you love," she said.
"Thanks mom. I love you too."
After that he set to the task of cleaning up. It was boring and he daydreamed his way through it thinking about Venice. He'd just unzipped his first duffel bag when there was a knock and he abandoned the task in favor of the door. He opened it and grinned.
"It's still early so Chiron's probably not awake and there's no one to tell on us…" Percy grabbed Nico's hand and pulled him inside.
Nico was still tired from such a long distance shadow travel and fell asleep in Percy's arms. He watched Nico as he slept and found it almost unbelievable how content this made him feel. When he woke up they untangled and left Percy's cabin trying not to make it obvious that Nico had been inside.
"Maybe we can go back soon?" Percy asked. Nico grinned.
"Have you turned into a Venetian?" Nico asked.
"Maybe," he said, "or maybe I just like Venetian boys." Nico grinned at the ground and Percy took his hand.
He didn't let it go even when they got to the big house and were standing in front Chiron. Nico squirmed like he was nervous but Chiron only glanced at their linked hands and arched an eyebrow. Percy smiled and Nico tried to hide his blush.
"The trip seems to have been good for both of you," Chiron said.
"It was," Percy said confidently.
Other campers saw them holding hands and gave them confused looks mostly. Percy just squeezed Nico's hand and smiled at him. It wasn't as bad as it could have been since Nico had already come out about his sexuality and dated a guy before. It was Percy who was the surprise. He hadn't really thought about it but he supposed he was bi-sexual. He'd loved Annabeth and thought she was sexy and beautiful, but now those thoughts were about Nico.
Later on Percy, Nico, and Piper were sitting in the Amphitheater. Leo was gone when they came back from Venice, off on a personal quest in the Argo II. Jason was back at Camp Jupiter though it was rumored that he was moving to Camp Half-Blood permanently after he was done helping Reyna and Frank rebuild the legion. When they ran into Piper, who wanted to know all about Venice, they told her the edited version how the trip brought them together. She laughed and said her half-siblings were hearing –and maybe spreading—rumors about it since they had been seen holding hands and making googoo eyes at each other. But other than that Piper was happy for them and promised to Iris message Jason and tell him the news.
The only bad spot was the Ares cabin. Even though none of them said anything to Percy or Nico directly some of them did shoot dirty looks and snicker. Surprisingly, Clarisse was the most mature about it. The only time she addressed the situation was to yell that as far as boyfriends went, Nico could do better. Her time with Chris had really softened her.
On their second night back Nico shadow traveled into Percy's cabin, scaring the life out of him. Out of nowhere the shadows thickened and then he felt a presence in the room and his boyfriend slid into bed next to him.
"You're as bad as a god!" Percy said to him in mock anger.
"Sorry," Nico grinned, "it was the only way past the harpies."
"So is this going to be a regular thing?" Whispered Percy as he kissed his cheek.
"If you want…but Percy?"
"I need to ask you, why do you think sex is moving too fast?"
"I mean, you're seventeen and I'm fifteen and some people think that's young but some of the stuff we've been through…I think we're mature enough to handle anything," he said.
"It's not that," Percy said.
"Then what?" Nico ran his thumb across Percy's bottom lip. "I dreamed about you for so long…"
"What if I screw this up?" Percy asked suddenly. "What if I drive you away?"
"You think you drove Annabeth away?" Nico asked.
"I don't know," he said in a frustrated voice. "But I can't lose you." He wrapped his arms around Nico tighter.
"Percy, I told you I would never leave you unless you wanted me to. I meant it," he said softly.
"I know you did, but I can't help worrying about it."
"Okay, no sex…but I do feel frustrated. I'm sorry but I do. Maybe it's because I've been fantasizing about you longer and now that we're together…" Nico sighed and let it drop.
"You don't…take care of yourself?" Percy asked slowly.
"Umm! Uh what?" Nico sputtered and flinched back and Percy couldn't help it, he burst out laughing. He wished the lights were on because he knew Nico's entire face was red right now and the fountain wasn't giving off enough light to enjoy it.
"You heard me," he chuckled. "How can you seduce me and talk about having sex with me but freak out when I ask you if you touch yourself?"
"I…well that's just something people keep to themselves!" He said indignantly. Percy laughed again and pulled him close.
"You're so cute," he said amused.
"I am the son of Hades, I am not cute," Nico huffed at him.
"Yeah, yeah Ghost King. Now, answer my question," he said in husky voice.
"Percy, don't…" Nico whined.
"Oh, but you were so proud of your power over me," Percy teased. "I wonder what would happen if…" He pulled Nico against him completely and put his mouth to his boyfriend's ear.
"I told you how I touch myself when I think about you..." Nico's breathing changed. He balled his fist into the back of Percy's shirt and pressed himself even closer. Percy pressed a kiss to the side of his neck.
"Do you want details?" He murmured.
"How can you work me up like this when you know there's nothing we can do about it?" Nico mumbled into his shoulder, having buried his head there against the pillow.
"What if I do something else about it?" He said pushing Nico's shaggy dark curls behind his ear.
"Just trust me. Now do you want details?"
"Ho potuto ascoltare tutta la notte," he whispered into Percy's ear with his head still buried between the pillow and Percy's neck. That feeling was back, like his skin was vibrating in tune with Nico's voice. Percy whimpered.
"How does this work when I don't even know what you're saying?"
"I said I could listen to you all night. Now, what details?"
"It was that night in hotel when you first did that to me…" he whispered.
"I was with you in bed that night."
"I did it in the shower," he said and Nico groaned.
"Percy Jackson in the shower naked, wet and touching himself," Nico summarized. His fist balled even tighter in Percy's shirt and Percy could feel his hardness pressing against his thigh.
"And thinking about you," he added as rolled them over and sat up on his knees so he was looking down at his boyfriend. In the soft glow from the fountain Percy could see Nico looking at him with wide eyes. His breathing was heavy, but so was Percy's. He hooked his fingers in waist band of Nico's black sweat pants and boxers.
"I kept thinking about you whispering in my ear and I couldn't take it," he said pulling gently. "I think I need to show you exactly how I did it," he continued as he tugged the pants from Nico's hips. "And once you've see how it's done you can try it out on me."
When they woke up in the morning Nico reluctantly shadow traveled back to his cabin and Percy plucked a towel up from where they'd thrown it on the floor and shoved to the bottom of his hamper. After breakfast he and Nico were walking to the lake holding hands. It was sunny as usual at camp and besides training there was really nothing to do.
"So, I'm supposed to go visit Hazel soon," Nico said.
"When?" Percy asked.
"Whoa," said Percy coming to a stop. It forced Nico to stop too because Percy still had his hand.
"Why are you just telling me now?" Percy asked.
"I kind of forgot," said Nico looking sheepish. "I'll only be gone for a day!" He said hastily because he could see Percy getting mad.
"Okay, when are you leaving?"
"Tomorrow morning. I just need to check on her," he said squeezing Percy's hand.
"I know," said Percy nodding, "but how about more of a warning next time?" He smiled at Nico.
"Percy?" They both turned around and Annabeth was coming their way. Nico dropped Percy's hand immediately and shoved his in his jean pockets.
"Hey Nico," Annabeth said smiling.
"Hi Annabeth," he said back. She gave him a small smile and turned to Percy.
"Can I talk to you for a second?" She asked hopefully.
"Umm…" Percy looked at Nico.
"I'll go to the lake," mumbled Nico. He stalked off without looking back. Percy watched him for a second and then turned back to Annabeth.
"Sorry, I just…you and Nico…are you…?" She fumbled.
"He's my boyfriend," Percy said.
"Yeah that's what everyone is saying…did it happen on your trip or before?" She asked looking confused.
"In Venice," he said.
"Percy, can we please not be awkward like this? I want to ask again if we can be friends," she said looking at him.
"Yeah," he said nodding. "I think I can now," he smiled at her and relief flooded her face.
"Good," she said smiling, "so you're okay? He makes you happy?"
"Yeah," Percy said blushing slightly, "he does."
"That's good! Who would have thought, right?"
It still felt so uncomfortable between them but maybe that would go away with time. They hugged awkwardly and made promises to hang out and left. Percy found Nico sitting in front of the lake and sat down next him. Nico just stared at the water, acting like he didn't notice him. Percy bumped his shoulder against Nico's and saw the corner of Nico's mouth twitch. He grinned and did it again.
"Hey," he said softly.
"How did it feel?" Asked Nico still staring at the lake. "Seeing her again?"
"Weird," Percy started, "like I know her and I don't know her. We're going to try to be friends. Will that bother you?"
"No," Nico said shaking his head.
"Good, now can we forget it? Because you're leaving tomorrow and I want to spend the day kissing you." Nico finally smiled and relaxed into Percy.
He felt bored the second Nico was gone. He was lying in bed wondering when he'd become so clingy when an idea came to him. He spared a second to wonder if it was possible and decided he needed to just ask and see. So he jumped up and went to find Annabeth. He jogged across the green to the goddess' side and straight to the Athena cabin. Annabeth opened the door when he knocked and looked at him in mild surprise. Her hair was up in the usual ponytail and she had a couple of pencils stuck in it as well as a ruler in her hand, which meant she was working on some blueprint.
"Hey, I have a weird question and you're probably the only one who can answer it," he said smiling faintly.
"Okay, shoot," she said.
"Do you think it's possible to put a tv in my cabin?"
"Umm…" she pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. "It might be but there's no way you'd be able to bring one in. I can ask Jake if you want. The Hephaestus cabin is lousy with hidden televisions."
"Really? Well that would be cool. How fast do you think it can be done?"
"I can go ask right now. Do you wanna come?" She asked cautiously.
"Sure," he said shrugging.
"What brought this on?" She asked as they walked to cabin nine.
"Oh, Nico's never seen Disney movies, you know, from being in the Lotus hotel. So I thought we could do a movie marathon some time," Percy explained. Annabeth looked at him as if she were examining a blueprint.
"You've changed," she said, "and you blush a lot when you talk about him."
"I'm happy for you, Percy," she said honestly.
"Thank you," he said.
Jake was looked a little panicked when Annabeth and Percy showed up on his doorstep, like he thought they were coming to tell him they were back together, but once Annabeth explained Percy's request he relaxed and was only too happy to help. They went to the Poseidon cabin and spent the afternoon discussing. Eventually, Annabeth excluded Percy from the conversation saying he knew nothing about construction. Even he had to admit that they made a great team. She and Jake picked out a space of wall thick enough to crave a secret space into and started talking about how big the tv would need to be.
"I'm guessing a built-in DVD player would be best?" Jake asked.
"Yeah! Even though I don't know how I'll get the movies yet…" Percy said.
"Please, the Stoll brothers have a ton of DVDs," Annabeth said rolling her eyes. "I'm not saying they're all legal but check with them."
When it was over, Jake said he would get a couple of his bunkmates to help and they can have the tv in by that night. Percy was surprised, especially since they would be building the tv from scratch. If anyone thought it was weird that Annabeth and a bunch of Hephaestus kids were going in and out of Percy's cabin all day, they didn't say anything.
Percy took a trip to see Connor and Travis Stoll. When he asked if they had Disney classics the two looked at each other and grinned.
"We've got platinum editions of all those!" Beamed Travis.
Percy asked for all of them and got a special bundle discount, but still ended up giving them a fist full of drachma. When he came back to the cabin the tv was finished. Jake and Annabeth displayed it proudly. It was installed into a panel that slid out of the wall opposite to his and Tyson's beds. It looked as good as any brand name flatscreen and had a glowing golden Omega on the power button. All he had to do was slide it out, remove the masking from the side and pop the DVD in.
"Guys…this is amazing!" He said grinning at them.
"Nah, Leo probably could have done better," Jake said sheepishly.
"No way, man. You did great," Percy said.
There was a sense of ease that came with being on good terms with Annabeth and Jake. Cupid was right. Being with Nico healed him faster than anything else probably ever could. He made a mental note to make a burnt offering to the love god and relaxed on his bed and stared at the tv.
Percy went to breakfast the next morning expecting to see Nico at the Hades table but he wasn't there. His first thought was that Nico was late, which was odd in itself because Nico was never late. He walked to cabin thirteen and knocked on the door but got no answer. He was so incredibly disappointed but tried to stay positive by telling himself that Nico would be back soon. Maybe he got caught up spending time with Hazel. His positive mood got lower as time passed with no sign of his boyfriend. He decided that the best option was to keep distracted and decided to try climbing the lava wall. He was back in his cabin putting nectar on his burns when the salt water fountain glowed a bit brighter.
He walked over to the fountain and saw Hazel looking back at him. He figured she was calling to tell him that Nico was staying another night but her expression was too concerned for that.
"Hey Hazel," he said.
"Percy, is Nico there? Tell him he shouldn't just leave without saying good-bye!" He knew his face looked shocked and the rest of him was frozen numb by fear.
"Hazel, he isn't here! I thought he was still with you!" Hazel's gold eyes widened in surprise.
"No! He disappeared last night and I just thought he'd left. He does leave suddenly sometimes but he always says good-bye to me! Do you have any idea where he could be?"
"I don't know. He can shadow travel anywhere or he may be back in underworld?"
"It doesn't answer why he left without warning like that! He has never not said good-bye. Not ever. I should ask Reyna to send a search party," she said.
"Hazel wait, maybe he's just doing something? We can't freak out yet," he said trying to calm her down.
"Then what?" She asked.
"If he's not back tomorrow afternoon then I'll go to Chiron and you go to Jason and Reyna. Does Frank know?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Then you already have one Praetor informed. If he comes back here, you'll be the first person I call," Percy promised.
"Okay, if I see him, I'll call you. Percy…he was so happy about you and him…" she said sadly.
"Hazel, don't talk like that. We're probably just overreacting and we'll both get laughed at when he shows up," he said smiling.
When the Iris message from Hazel ended fear and anxiousness engulfed him so quickly that he thought he was going to throw up. He went back to his bed and tried to take deep breaths. Nico was missing. The thought was like a cold hand gripping his lungs. He tried to calm down and use all the logic he'd learned over the past years. He knew he was right in waiting a little longer before going to Chiron. But that didn't mean he couldn't go to someone else.
Percy was out the door with no shoes on but he didn't care. Banging on the Athena cabin door at 7 p.m. was probably rude but he didn't care. Malcolm threw the door open and eyed Percy in confusion.
"Is Annabeth in there?" Annabeth appeared and nodded at Malcolm who shot Percy one more "wtf?" look before leaving.
"Percy, what is the matter with you?"
"Nico's missing!" Annabeth's eyes widened and she stepped outside, closing the door behind her.
"He's missing?" She asked.
"He went to visit Hazel at Camp Jupiter. He said he'd only be gone for one day and he would back this morning, but he never showed up and Hazel just called me and said Nico disappeared without telling her he was leaving," he explained. He was finding it hard to stand still.
"Okay, Percy you've got to calm down. Is Hazel as panicked?"
"Yeah, she wanted to go to Reyna and Jason but I stopped her said we should wait to see if he shows up tomorrow."
"That was smart, Percy. Nico leaves all the time without telling us, he could be doing something that's taking longer than he expected," Annabeth said soothingly. She was looking at Percy like she expected him to burst into flames or something. He wanted to calm down but a nauseating feeling had settled in his stomach.
"Yeah, I'll wait but no later than tomorrow afternoon. If he's not back by then…" Percy shook his head and dropped his gaze to the soft green grass under their feet.
"I agree. If he's not back tomorrow then we'll go to Chiron together," she said.
He went back to bed and tried to sleep but couldn't. Paranoia weighed on his mind like an anvil. He wondered if Nico was more upset about his friendship with Annabeth than he let on. He ran over at least a hundred things he'd done that could have caused Nico to run for it, including not having sex with him when he wanted it. In his attempt to do things right and keep Nico, it was possible he had driven him away. When sleep finally came he had nightmares, which he thought he was done with now that the wars were over. In his dream he saw Nico lying down on a pillow with his eyes closed surrounded by flowers and plants. He was tossing and turning and whimpered through gritted teeth.
"Shhh…" someone pacified, "it's okay just relax," the voice whispered.
"Per-cy…" Nico gasped.
"No, no more of that. It's over now. Just stay here with me…"
Percy's eyes flew open. He was covered in sweat and his heart was racing. Years of these dreams had finally taught him that they weren't just products of stress from his A.D.H.D. mind. Nico was in trouble. Someone had taken him and they were hurting him.
There was no way in Tartarus he was going back to sleep but he couldn't leave either. He had no idea where Nico was. He felt helpless and frantic and he itched to punch something. He got up and paced around until his eyes glance at the floor and he saw a piece paper that had been slid under the door. When he picked it up and read it, his heart stopped.
This isn't working for me.
We're too different and I
just don't think you're right
Annabeth checked on him when she woke up and told him cabin thirteen was still empty and asked if Nico was with him. He must have looked terrible because her face reflected it. When he told her about his dream and showed her the note she hugged him.
"Percy, we can't go after him now. Chiron will say the note is proof that he's fine and just doesn't…want to be here," she said carefully.
"Annabeth, I know him, almost better than I ever knew you. This isn't him. You know demi-god dreams are different. Someone forced him to write this note."
"I'm not going to tell you you're wrong but what can we do if we don't know where he is?" She said looking at him sadly.
"I don't know," Percy said, his fists clenching. "But when I find whoever it is they'll be sorry."
"Percy…don't do anything stupid," she said.
"I won't. You should go to breakfast."
"Aren't you coming?" She asked looking him over. "Have you even eaten?"
"Not hungry," he said turning away and going back to sit on the bed.
He called Hazel to tell her about the note. When he held it up for her to see, her eyes went wide and she said it was Nico's handwriting which felt like a hit to stomach for him. Neither of them could think of anything to do. The note eliminated any suspicious of kidnapping and he couldn't leave camp just to chase down his "ex-boyfriend". But that's what he was determined to do. All he needed was one clue –one—and he was hoping he would see it in his next dream.
He had never tried to direct his dreams, how could he when he was asleep? But he thought about what Kronos said once before about how his father's nature made him hard to keep out. He needed that now. He closed his eyes and thought about water. It could slip between any crack, find any opening, and go anywhere. If there was no path, water could cut one -even through stone. He didn't fall asleep so much as glided into it and he was back in the flower field once again. Nico still lying on a giant cushion and he was still fighting some invisible force Percy couldn't see. His nails clawed at the fabric of the cushion and his brow was dripping with sweat.
Tell me where you are! He tried to shout but he had no voice. Or maybe he did because Nico opened his eyes and it was horrible. Those black eyes that he could gaze into forever were gone. Nico's irises were bright red now and they almost glowed. He looked right at Percy and gasped.
"Shad..ow travel…" and then he began panting like breathing was too difficult. He closed his red eyes and his face contorted in pain.
"Trying to shadow travel now would kill you, Nico." It was the voice from before and Percy wished more than anything that he could see who it belonged to and put his sword through their stupid face.
"Nico, look you've killed some of the flowers I brought you. They're all wilted," the voice said.
"Please…Percy," Nico whimpered.
"Here, swallow this it'll help you forget about that." There was a struggle and vision faltered when it came back Nico was quiet and his mouth was stained with red. He opened his eyes and the red glow was even brighter.
Percy woke up on the floor completely tangled in his sheets. He felt weak like he was just disassembled and put back together again.
Flowers, he thought.
He wouldn't have! But small voice in the back of his mind said, why not?
Percy had never met Lance. He only knew that Lance was a son of Ceres in Camp Jupiter. Nico always said they weren't serious but maybe only Nico thought that. They had dated for a while and then Nico ended it. But if Lance took him, how was he keeping him and hurting him like that? Nico was the son of Hades, a child of the big three, how could some son of Ceres even stand a chance? Percy growled in annoyance. It was his only lead and he was taking it. He walked over to the fountain and scooped up a drachma.
"Oh Iris, goddess of the Rainbow, please accept my offering," he said tossing the coin.
"Show me Jason Grace in Camp Jupiter." The mist swirled and the image of Jason asleep at a table hovered in front of him.
"Jason!" The son of Jupiter jumped awake and looked around. His eyes were still droopy and he had a piece of paper stuck to his face. He finally spotted Percy and looked confused.
"Percy?" He said and then yawned. "Hey man. I was just working on regiment reassignments," he said pulling the paper from his face.
"Jason, where is Lance? The guy Nico was dating?"
"Why?" Jason said looking at him in confusion again.
"Nico is missing. Hazel said he just disappeared and he hasn't come back here. I've been having dream-visions and I think Lance might have taken him," Percy said, he spat Lances name like a curse.
"Percy…" Jason said, finally waking up, "that is a serious accusation. You better tell me everything."
Percy even told him about the note, he couldn't lie to Jason, they'd been through too much together and he owed him nothing but honesty. The dreams disturbed Jason more than anything.
"Okay, here's the plan," Jason said, dropping into his military tone, "I'm going to get Reyna and Frank. I'm not officially a Praetor anymore so I need their say-so before anything. If they agree then we'll go to Lance. He should be in his barrack right now. Percy," he said, looking serious, "do not make a move until I call you back. I've still got some drachma so I can Iris message."
"Okay," Percy said. Jason continued to eye him.
"I know that look Percy. You have to let me do this, okay?"
"Yeah," Percy sighed and nodded.
He still couldn't just sit still. When the message was over, he got dressed, determined to leave and go to Camp Jupiter no matter what Jason said. He still couldn't figure out why Nico said "shadow travel". Was he trying to in that moment but he was too weak? He put Riptide in his pocket and strapped on his watch shield. He was still mulling it over when the fountain glowed and Jason appeared again with Reyna, Frank, and Hazel.
"Percy, we can't find Lance," Jason said.
"That dirty little-"
"Calm down Percy," Reyna said in her commanding voice. "We can't let anger take over right now.
"Percy, Jason said you dreamed and saw Nico. Is he okay?" Hazel asked looking tense and desperate.
"No. I don't know what Lance is doing to him but it keeps him in pain and his eyes were turning red," he said darkly. Hazel just looked at him in disbelief.
"Is there anything else? Something about where he is?" Jason asked. "We've got soldiers combing the camp but that could take a while."
"He's surrounded by flowers that's all I could see. But he managed to say "shadow travel" before Lance…did whatever he's doing to torture him. But only Nico can shadow travel."
"And I can only boost his powers. I can't shadow travel on my own it's more of a Hades power," Hazel said.
"A place with flowers…" Reyna said. "A place with flowers and something about shadow travelling…" she said thinking aloud.
"We need to question all of Ceres's children," Frank said. "Maybe they know where this place is."
"It's all we got since none of us can shadow travel," said Jason. It clicked in Percy's mind like a puzzle piece falling into place.
"You can't," he said slowly, "but I have a hellhound."
Why didn't he see it before? Nico was the one who taught him how to shadow travel with Mrs. O'Leary and she had always gotten along with Nico. Jason and the others bothered him things like, "you can't go alone, what if you need back up?" None of that mattered to him. All he could see was Nico in pain with those red eyes. He walked into the woods and called out. "Mrs. O'Leary, here girl!" She materialized out of the darkness and came bounding at him. He scratched her behind her ear and climbed up.
"Can you take me to Nico, girl?" She barked and he took that for yes.
"Then let's go see Nico."
They were wrapped in darkness and for a second Percy was frightened that he would be too late. What if Nico was dead when he got there? And then his mind wandered over to darker thoughts of what he would do to Lance if that was the case. When he could hear and see again they were in what looked like a greenhouse. It was full of plants and flowers and that made him hopeful that were in the right place. He slid down from Mrs. O'Leary who immediately lay down, tired from the effort. Percy patted her leg and walked forward slowly. This greenhouse was more like an enclosed jungle. None of the flowers or plants were potted and some of them had grown to abnormal size.
He pushed past bushes and vines until he saw Nico lying on stone slab topped with a giant body cushion. He was still but he was breathing. Percy walked forward slowly. This felt unreal. It also felt like a trap but he didn't care. He ran forward and put his hands on either side of Nico's face. He felt even colder than usual and the dark circles under his eyes had grown darker.
"Nico! Nico wake up, please!" His eyes opened and it was just like in Percy's dreams. They were bright blood red but he was awake.
"Oh my gods, Nico…" Percy kissed him and Nico's lips felt sticky and tasted bitter.
"Per-cy…" Nico rasped.
"It's okay, I'm here. We're leaving." He put Nico's arm around his shoulders and started to lift him off the bed.
"Run…" Nico grunted.
"I'm not leaving you here," Percy said.
"Don't touch him!"
Percy was snatched off of his feet and hit the ground on his back. Nico fell back on the cushion, too weak to stay up without help. Percy looked down and a root was wrapped around his ankle. He looked up at the person who'd shouted and a boy around Nico's age was standing in the greenhouse door. Lance was a little shorter than Nico with short honey colored hair and brown eyes. He was glaring at Percy furiously as if he hated the very sight of him. Percy pulled out Riptide and uncapped it. He sliced the root and got to his feet quickly. He stood in front of Nico defensively and tried to block him from Lance's view.
"What have you done to Nico?" He asked.
"What have I done?" Lance repeated. "I am trying to fix him, to cure him of you!"
"What are you talking about?" Percy demanded.
"The great son of Neptune who retrieved the Eagle and faced down giants! The all-adored hero! You didn't even care about him and you were still all he thought about!" Lance looked past Percy and focused on Nico. His expression changed to one of longing.
"When I saw him on the battlefield, an army of dead soldiers under his command…he saved my life…"
"Well I'm with him now and I am not going to let you hurt him anymore," Percy said pointing his sword at Lance. "Now tell me what you've done to him."
"Tell me Percy, are you well versed in history? No, you're probably not," Lance mocked. "Nico and I would lie awake at night for hours discussing history and lore…" Lance walked around to a table covered with watering cans and glass pitchers of strange liquids. Percy kept his sword pointed at him as he listened to Nico's uneven breathing.
"For instance, there's a legend that once a stray shot from Cupid's bow landed in a field of flowers and imbued them with its magic, turning them from white to purple. These flowers, called Love-in-idleness, were even a plot device in a Shakespearian play. But I doubt you knew that either," he sneered and turned his back on Percy in favor of the table.
"What does any of that have to do with how you're hurting my boyfriend?" As soon as the words left his mouth Lance turned on him, seething with rage. The plant-life in the greenhouse moved unnaturally. More roots sprang from the ground wrapping around Percy's legs. He hacked with Riptide until a vine caught his arm. It wasn't long before he was held spread-eagle and immobile.
"Your boyfriend," Lance sneered. "As if you could appreciate him!" He turned back to the table and Percy heard glass rattling.
"That flower? It's said that if you spread the essence of it on someone's eyes then they fall in love with whoever they see next…"
"Is that what you've been trying to do?" Percy asked incredulously. Lance laughed loudly.
"You think something like that could work on my Nico? He's the son of Hades! It would take something much stronger!" Lance turned around and he held a jar in his hand. Inside the jar was a…pomegranate on a stick…
"No, I was much more interested in the arrow that fell. That field is heavily protected by the mist now so mortals can't wreak anymore havoc with those little love flowers but my mother is Ceres and my sister, Proserpina, is the goddess of springtime. Finding a field of flowers was easy. And low and behold, the arrow was still there."
"Lance…" Percy said slowly.
"It was just an experiment," Lance was staring at the pierced fruit in wonder. "I never really expected it to work and he's is still fighting it but it's working. Pomegranates are the fruit of the underworld. Pluto trapped Proserpina with one so why couldn't it work the other way around? I dripped a little of my blood onto the arrow and stabbed it into the fruit."
"You're poisoning him!" Percy roared and struggled against the vines holding him. "How can you think this will end well?"
"How can it not?" Lance laughed. "I can use my power to keep this fruit alive and healthy and as long as I give him regular douses he'll be mine."
"How did you even get it in him the first time?"
"I told him I wanted to buy him dinner in New Rome for old time's sake and hear all about you," He said smirking. "A few drops in his drink and I was able to suggest that he write you a little note to end things. He started resisting after that but once I've got him, I'll be able to make him love me again." Nico moaned and Lance walked over to him, passing by Percy like he was another plant in the greenhouse. Lance rolled Nico over on his back and took the pomegranate out of the jar by the end of the arrow. He parted Nico's lips with his fingers.
"Don't!" Percy screamed. He watched in horror as Lance gripped the fruit and squeezed –crushing the seeds inside- until red drops trickled down the shaft of the arrow and dripped off the tip into Nico's mouth. Nico tossed his head from side to side and moaned in pain as Lance put the fruit back into its glass jar.
"Lance, listen to me. You're hurting him! How can you claim to love him?" Percy asked desperately.
"It only hurts because he's fighting it. Because he thinks you love him!" Lance spat. "Is that how you lie to him? What is it that you say to get him in bed and get what you want? He'll tell me things if I douse him enough and ask him so I know you two were in Italy together. But I want to hear it from you. So tell me, Percy, what did you coo in his ear to get him so fooled?"
"Why, do you want tips?" Percy asked, fighting fire with fire. "Nico told me that you two never got far, why is that? In that heated make out session, what went wrong?" Lance's eyes filled with pain.
"He didn't want you…because he wanted me?" Percy laughed now. "Oh, don't tell me he called you by my name!" Lance's face contorted in fury.
"Well we won't have to worry about you anymore," he said dangerously. Lance pulled and Imperial gold dagger and Percy struggled harder.
"Mrs. O'Leary!" The hellhound barked and came running through the plants and flowers, crushing them under her giant paws. Lance had a moment to look confused and then the hound sprang at him. Lance fell back and swiped at the air with his dagger trying to keep the dog at bay.
Percy concentrated on the vines and roots holding him. Plants needed water and he pulled it out of them. His bonds weakened as trickles of green water ran on to the ground and down his arms. He ripped his sword hand free and cut the other limbs loose. He went to Nico as Mrs. O'Leary snarled at Lance who was backed into a corner.
"Nico?" Percy called softly. "Stay with me. I'm going to get that stuff out of you." He rolled Nico over and leaned his head off of his makeshift bed, keeping his arm around him so wouldn't fall, Percy leaned down and stuck a finger in his boyfriend's mouth. "Come on, come on," he begged. Nico gagged and Percy snatched his finger out and held him as he wretched. It looked like he was vomiting blood.
"No!" Lance yelled. Taking his eyes off of Mrs. O'Leary was a mistake. Her paw swept across his arm, knocking the dagger away and leaving a shredded, bloody mess. Lance howled in pain dropped to one knee but Percy ignored him. He only had eyes for Nico, who he laid back on the pillow gently.
"Nico?" Percy pushed his hair back and when Nico opened his eyes the red was more like a tint and not the burning crimson of before.
"Percy, are you real?" He breathed.
"I'm real, I promise," he said smiling down at him. A disgustingly sweet smell tickled at Percy's nose and all his instincts screamed that something wasn't right about it. He looked up and it was like he could see the pollen floating in the air. Lance laughed through gritted teeth as he held his ruined arm.
"This greenhouse is full of my experiments, including a flower that can incapacitate demi-gods. I wonder if it's fatal to breathe in too much?"
"Idiot! You'll kill yourself too!" Percy yelled and coughed.
"I won't let you take him away from me," Lance said firmly.
His vision began to blur and Percy looked down at Nico. Mrs. O'Leary whimpered. They had to go right now. He tried to lift Nico up but it was harder than before. More roots caught his feet and he growled in frustration.
"Percy?" Nico called, his voice a little stronger now. Percy looked down at him through the blurriness and felt Nico take his hand. He felt a tug in his stomach, like he usually felt when he controlled water but stronger. He'd felt this before in the forges of Mount Saint Helens. The ground started to shake and he looked at Nico.
"Your father is the Earthshaker. I need to tap into that part of your power, it's closer to mine. I'll try to make an opening and summon the dead but I might end up dropping us all into the underworld," he said weakly. Percy gripped his hand tighter, and the pull in his stomach became stronger. He pressed his forehead to Nico's.
"I don't care as long as I'm with you. I love you," he whispered. He gasped as he felt the yank of his power in his stomach. He could feel it, they were in California and there was the San Andreas fault. Fissures opened up in ground as it rumbled in earnest and the greenhouse cracked until the glass finally broke and fell around them. That allowed fresh air in which dulled the effects of Lance's flowers. He could hear Lance's frightened shouts as the ground broke apart. It even crumbled the roots around Percy's legs. He was able to breath and think clearly again. He pulled Nico off the slab and called Mrs. O'Leary. She knelt down so he could help Nico on. He hesitated and then ran to grab the jar with the tainted pomegranate. He had to make sure that was destroyed. Percy climbed up onto the dog with the jar tucked under his arm.
"To Camp Half-Blood! The big house!" Percy yelled over the noise.
They came up right in front of the porch and Mrs. O'Leary slumped on the ground. Percy slid off and sat the glass jar on the ground.
"Nico, come one, I got you," he said as he reached up to help him down. He had to help him stay upright but at least he wasn't as weak as before. The front door flew open and Chiron cantered out with his bow and quiver slung across his back. Annabeth, Jake, and Piper were with him.
"Percy what happened?" Asked Chiron.
"Nico's been poisoned," he replied. Chiron took Nico from him and took him into the house. Percy was about to drop when Annabeth ran over and caught him. She supported his weight and looked at him.
"Percy, where were you? Jason and Reyna called and said you'd gone off to find Nico and they didn't know where you were!"
"It was Lance. He was poisoning Nico with that," he nodded at the jar and Annabeth frowned at it.
"Jake, bring the jar, but do not touch that thing inside," she said. They walked into the house with his arm still thrown across her shoulders.
There was very little Chiron would venture to do. He was an expert as poisons but this was something he'd never seen before. They had Nico in a bed and at first Percy refused to leave his side until Nico smiled at him and said it was okay. They went into the study and Chiron called Camp Jupiter with an Iris message. Reyna, Jason, Frank, and Hazel appeared. Percy recounted the story for all of them and it ended with Chiron holding up the jar and staring grimly at the arrow and pomegranate inside.
"So Nico's okay?" Hazel asked.
"As okay as we can get him anyway," Percy said.
"Percy?" Reyna called and room on the other side of the message rumbled. "There are still aftershocks here. We turned on the mortal news and right now they're saying it's a 7.0."
Percy cringed. The last time he released that power he weakened the seal on Typhon and now he may have actually killed people.
"One of the Parks is completely destroyed," Reyna continued. "There seems to be ruins of a greenhouse so we're sure it's the same one. They're blaming the earthquake of course saying it caused and cave-in or a sinkhole. I doubt Lance survived. If he was experimenting with such dangerous things then I cannot bring myself to say I hope he's alive, but these quakes…"
"There's nothing we can do about any of that now, but what about this thing?" said Annabeth looking at the pomegranate.
"We have to assume it would have taken away Nico's free will and even killed him eventually," said Chiron. "I cannot say if it would affect other demi-gods, but I am most positive that it is lethal to all underworld children, including you Miss Levesque."
"Perhaps I should handle it?" They turned around and Cupid was standing in the doorway.
"Lord Cupid," Chiron greeted. The god walked forward and Chiron handed him the jar. Cupid looked at the pomegranate inside.
"Poisoned love," he said. He reached and pulled out the arrow with the fruit attached. The pomegranate disappeared, dissolved into red dust and vanished. Cupid stuck the arrow in his quiver and looked at Percy.
"I am glad you chose the right love to fight for, Percy," he said smiling faintly. Annabeth looked a bit uncomfortable and Jake looked confused.
"Why me?" Percy asked looking utterly lost. "Why did you help me with Nico, but not Lance?"
"His love was not as pure or true as the love I saw forming between you and Nico. Lance was obsessed, poor boy, he wanted to possess Nico."
"Did you see this? With me and him?" Percy asked. Cupid walked over and put a hand on his shoulder.
"All love must weather trails, Percy. Your love survived this one and became stronger."
"What about Nico? He's still sick."
"Then we will see to that," Cupid said simply. They went to Nico's room and he was sleeping. Cupid walked forward –his snowy wings taking up space- and waved his hand over Nico's form. Percy saw his boyfriend shutter and then he was awake, his eyes were completely normal and he looked around. When he noticed Cupid next to him he jumped. The god chuckled.
"It is good to see you again Nico," he said.
"Is it over?" Nico asked looking at Percy.
"Yeah," Percy smiled at him. "Cupid destroyed the pomegranate and took his arrow back."
Nico shot Cupid a grumpy look. "Dude, keep it in your quiver next time."
Cupid smiled but then got a distracted look on his face.
"Well, it seems this is not quite over yet," he said.
"Is it Lance?" Percy asked.
"I'm afraid not. Lord Zeus has summoned both of you. I must take you to Olympus."
Call it a hunch but Percy knew things were about to get bad. They followed Cupid into the throne room of Olympus. It was so not good. His father, Zeus, and Hades were already there, sitting in their thrones and looking very unhappy. Percy thought that it must be the first time since it was included that Hades was able to sit in his throne on Olympus. Percy looked at his father and Poseidon raised a hand to stroke his beard. As he did, his index finger pointed to Zeus. It wasn't very subtle but Zeus wasn't paying attention. Percy took the hint. He needed to kneel to Zeus first for once and not only was his Dad giving him permission, he was advising it.
Percy walked forward with Cupid but Nico broke off and went to kneel before Hades. Zeus didn't seem to care about that, which meant his main problem –as usual—was with Percy. He kneeled before Zeus with the love god.
"Lord Zeus," said Cupid, "I have brought you Perseus Jackson and Nico di Angelo as you commanded." They stood up and Zeus seemed to be eyeing him a little less severely.
"Brother," said Poseidon, "I believe this is all unnecessary. I have stopped the quake and quieted the aftershocks and so far no loss of life has occurred."
"Then you are blinded, Poseidon. And you also, Hades," said Zeus looking at both his brothers in turn. "These two present a danger. Together they are too powerful. You said there was nothing to the Manticore incident in Venice but here we see the true result." Percy and Nico looked at each other in shock.
"My lord," said Cupid, "I think we should hear the circumstances behind what happened in California."
Nico and Percy retold the story again and it was more than a little embarrassing. While Poseidon and Cupid were well aware of their relationship, Percy wasn't sure if Nico had come out to his father. They listened without interrupting and when the story was over Percy glanced at Hades. He was looking down at his son with no hint of amusement, but that was kind of how he always looked.
"Clearly the blame lies with this son of Ceres," said Poseidon.
"Indeed, he stole my arrow and used its power to terrible effect," Cupid concluded.
"It is an insult to me," said Hades darkly. "Though the question of how my son allowed himself to be fooled comes to mind." Nico tensed. "Had Nico died I would be within my rights to demand the life of Demeter's boy."
"Come now," Zeus said rolling his eyes, "demi-gods kill each other all the time…"
"In combat!" Hades shot back. "This attempt to enslave my son was a threat more dangerous than this little union. I find it hard to believe that Demeter knew nothing of her son's actions!"
"You think she sought to have your son taken? As you took Persephone?" Zeus asked pointedly.
"I only did so with your permission, brother," Hades sneered.
"Can we at least agree that Percy and Nico are not to blame?" interjected Poseidon. "They were driven to extreme measures and furthermore they are young and still learning to control their powers."
"Yes, but what happens when they grow? What happens when they grow too full of each other and themselves? Their combined power could be used against us," Zeus said and thunder rolled over head.
"My son has always been loyal to us," said Poseidon looking a little angry now. "He has been a great asset to Olympus. You yourself offered him godhood!"
"My son has always fought for the causes of Olympus as well, even in the face of its discrimination," Hades said glowering.
"Brother," Poseidon said his voice a bit more gentle. "They are not Alexander and Hephaestion."
Percy was beginning to get a headache and he had no idea why they were even on trial here. It should be Demeter getting the book thrown at her. There was a flash of light behind them and when he turned around, Aphrodite was sitting in her cushioned pink marble throne. She changed the longer he looked at her. Whatever he found attractive seemed to reflect in her, she even took on Nico's midnight hair and deep dark eyes. That freaked him out so he turned away. He saw Nico look from him to the goddess and smirked. Nico blushed and he knew the same thing had happened to his boyfriend. He wanted to kiss him so badly. If they were about to be blasted to pieces, he wanted to at least kiss Nico one last time.
"Mother," Cupid said inclining his head.
"I do not remember summoning you, Aphrodite," said Zeus shooting her an angry look.
"And you should have," said the goddess sounding stronger and more confident than Percy remembered. "These two young lovers are set apart by me. I always intended that they find one another. They not only have my blessing but my son's as well and if you are talking about ruining this match then I should be present."
"Nico di Angelo, son of Hades, step forward," ordered Zeus. Nico came to stand a few steps in front of Percy.
"You tapped into Perseus's power, correct?" asked Zeus as he glared down at Nico.
"Yes," Nico said.
"I want to hear exactly what you thought to accomplish." Nico explained how they tried to escape but Lance and his poison weakened them.
"I was already weak from the poisoned pomegranate and I thought that Percy's earth based power would help me summon the dead. I tapped into it and I lost control," Nico said. Percy stepped forward because he could see what Nico was doing.
"But I let him. We both lost control."
"Brother, we cannot overlook all the good they have done in the face of one accident where they were not even the perpetrators," Poseidon reasoned. Zeus looked at his brothers and then at Aphrodite.
"Poseidon, Hades, I will speak with both of you alone. The rest of you leave us."
Percy took Nico's hand and they walked out with Cupid and Aphrodite. They left the throne room in favor of one of the gardens. Aphrodite looped her arm through Percy's and guided him away from Cupid and Nico. She had stopped shifting and looked the way he remembered from their first meeting in the limo.
"Did I not promise your love life would be interesting?" She said smiling wickedly.
"Umm I think you may have overdone it," he mumbled.
"Oh?" She arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at him. "Would you like me to shift Nico's love and yours? Take away all you have built and accomplished with each other?"
"No!" He said quickly. She smiled.
"Good, because I think you two may be my new favorites. You're just so cute together and you complement each other much better than you and Annabeth did."
"Umm thanks?" Aphrodite's expression turned more serious.
"You have also done my son a service. The truth is that he'd forgotten that arrow. It was fired when he was young and not so careful with his aim and he never retrieved it. The removal of the arrow has also ended the power of the Love-in-idleness flowers –though they were fun—it's better that they are gone. For this, I will grant you one favor."
"Don't use it now," she interrupted. "Trust me, it's better if you save it. One day you will know exactly what to ask for."
Before he could ask her what she was talking about his father walked up to them. Aphrodite smiled.
"I take it we won't be killing them?" She asked.
"It seems our mighty lord was able to see some small amount of reason," Poseidon sighed.
"Good. Your son has been one of my most favored pet projects," she beamed.
"I think you have done enough on that subject. Let them be happy now," Poseidon warned.
"Of course," she said sweetly and turned back to Percy. "I'll hold on to that favor." She winked and walked away to join Cupid.
"Percy, we have managed to escape Zeus' paranoia again, but I hope trouble stops finding you," his father said.
"I hope so too, trust me. But why does Zeus have it out for me?" He asked in genuine curiosity. His father sighed.
"Well the truth of the matter is that you could be a threat one day if you had a mind to, which I know you don't," he pacified. "And I say this without ego. And also hoping it doesn't go to your head. But you are the most powerful demi-god alive today. More powerful than either of Zeus' children and he knows it. And you have accomplished more. I believe that he wishes you were his son, that he looked at you and saw himself and not me. He would take you if he could, change your eyes from green to blue and proudly display you for all to see but he cannot and so he's left between needing you whenever there's a conflict and destroying you out of envy and fear."
"But he won't…right?" Percy said hopefully.
"No, he will try to make us do it. He fears young Nico also. If I had to rank the demi-gods, Nico would place after you with Jason Grace coming in at third. So my brother has just forced Hades and myself to swear on the Styx that if you two –in your union- ever become a clear threat to Olympus, we must strike down our own sons." Percy looked at him in shock and horror. He glanced over at Nico and Hades and suspected he was being told the same thing.
"I believe it would weaken us, Hades and I, to do such a thing." Poseidon looked over at his brother and Nico. Hades was standing stoically with his hands clasped behind his back as he explained something to his son. Percy was proud to see Nico holding his head up high in the face of his father.
"He loves the boy but it's hard for him to show it. Hades as always valued his children, maybe because he has had so few compared to the rest of us. Killing that boy would change him. As killing you would change me." He turned back to Percy. "I hope it never comes to pass." There was that look of pride again that made Percy feel like a happy kid. "But I don't believe it will."
"Is it wrong that I liked Aladdin better? I mean I like this, but Aladdin was better," Nico said popping Life Savor Gummies in his mouth.
"Nah, I mean we're Greek demi-gods and Hercules is cool, but Aladdin was better," agreed Percy.
They were back at camp in Percy's cabin. Cupid zapped them back from Olympus and he remembered their movie date. When he brought Nico inside and showed him the tv, at first he thought Nico hated it because he just stared at it and then he looked at Percy like he couldn't believe he had been worth the trouble to do it. He got snacks from the Stoll brothers –more drachma in their pockets—and now he and Nico were lying at the foot of his bed. They'd watched Aladdin first –Percy sang A Whole New World to him as Nico giggled and called him an idiot—and now they were watching Hercules. He actually blushed when Percy pointed out how Meg's song "I Won't Say I'm in Love" was kind of exactly what Nico went through.
The credits rolled and Percy stopped the DVD. "What do you wanna watch next?"
"Nothing. I just wanna lie with you like we used to in Venice," he said. Percy smiled turned the tv off, tossing the remote across the room onto Tyson's bed. They snuggled under the covers and ran his fingers through Nico's hair.
"I'm sorry," Nico whispered.
"I said I'd never leave you and I did. I broke my promise," he said sadly. Percy found his lips in the dark and kissed him.
"You didn't leave me. You were taken and that doesn't count."
"I still feel bad. I never should have gone with Lance but I thought…I thought maybe we could be friends like you and Annabeth."
"He tricked you. It's not your fault," Percy assured him.
"My Dad thinks it is," he sighed. "He said I should have seen through it."
"Your Dad's not right about everything," said Percy.
"Then he was wrong in saying he approved of us?" He could hear the smile in Nico's voice.
"He said that?"
"Not in so many words. Just that he couldn't deny that you were useful and having your love was an advantage I shouldn't lose."
"Nice," Percy giggled.
"He tell you what Zeus said?" Percy asked.
"Yeah…" They got quiet for a few minutes.
"If I had taken godhood when they offered I could have granted you immortality and then Zeus wouldn't be able to do this," he mused aloud. "Or if you wanted to stay mortal I could just visit you. Come to you disguised as a shower of gold and be all pompous like him, "he laughed.
"If you had taken godhood when they offered it, you would have made Annabeth immortal and you would be with her," Nico said gently.
"Well then I guess the trade-off is worth it," he said and kissed Nico again.
"You mean it? You don't still wish you were back with her?" Nico asked in a small voice. "You can tell me the truth."
"I don't. I don't know when it went away but it did. I love you Nico di Angelo," he said planting kisses on Nico's neck.
"Ti amo, Perseus," Nico whispered. Percy instantly felt his body temperature go up and he smiled in the dark.
"Do that again?" He asked. Nico snuggled closer and put his mouth at Percy's ear.
"Ti amo, ti amo, ti amo." It was like little shocks of pleasure jolting through his body.
"I still don't know why that works!" He groaned.
"I'm just glad it does," Nico laughed. "I'll stop now."
"I didn't say you had to stop," Percy whispered. "I think we've waited long enough."
"Really?" Nico asked, a note of hope in his voice.
"Really," Percy replied and kissed him.
"Tu sei l'unica cosa che voglio in questo mondo. You are the only thing I want in this world."
There was no slow seduction this time. Everything was rough and desperate. They kissed and pulled at each other's clothes. Nico's mouth was still sweet from the candy and his cool skin felt amazing against Percy's rising body temperature. Percy forced Nico to lie back on the pillows while he kissed his way down his body, adoring every noise Nico made. He pulled at Nico's boxers as he kissed down the flat plane of his stomach and listened to his surprised squeak when he teased his belly button with his tongue. Nico's boxers were down around his knees now. Percy ran his hands over his boyfriend's hipbones and nuzzled the dark hairs he found below. Nico's breathing turned rapid and Percy flicked him a dark look before slipping his mouth over Nico's length.
"Percy!" Nico cried out and arched his back. He could hear Nico's nails scratching at the sheets as he gripped them and it made him suck harder.
"Stop! Percy please!" He released him from his mouth immediately.
"What's wrong?" He asked. Nico was panting and he crawled back up to lay next him.
"I wasn't going to last long with you doing that," he breathed. Percy grinned wickedly and kissed him.
The only time he felt hesitation and regret was when Nico hissed in pain as he entered him. And for a while he just held him whispering how much he loved him. Nico got past it and urged Percy on but he still took it slowly. In the midst of it all he looked down and thought to himself that nothing or no one else in this world held more sway over him than the boy underneath him. When they orgasm and he heard Nico call his name he wasn't himself anymore. He knew that in that moment Zeus was right. If Nico asked him he would do anything to make him happy. He would shake the world to pieces with earthquakes, batter every coast with storms and hurricanes, or even rip Olympus down.
When the moment passed and his reasoning flooded back in he knew that would be a death sentence for Nico, nevermind himself. His face was buried in a pillow and Nico was still panting under him. He vaguely registered the taste of blood and realized he'd still had enough control to bite his lip to keep from moaning out his damning promises. He pulled out of his boyfriend and heard him whimper.
"You okay?" He asked as he wrapped his arms around him.
"I can handle it," Nico whispered and kissed him. He pulled back suddenly.
"Percy you taste like blood."
"It's okay, I just bit my lip," he said holding him close.
"You could have let go. No one can hear us."
"Maybe next time," he said burying his face in Nico's hair.
"What are you hoping he will do with that favor?" Cupid observed his mother as she plucked outfits from wracks in the empty department store. She turned around and smiled at him before going back to her shopping.
"It's set now. Going through this has pretty much written their fates in stone. They will be together and nothing can pull them apart."
"That is not what I asked," he said pointedly.
"I'm hoping that one day when they're all grown up, they will ask for a child…"
"A child?" He asked confused.
"Yes, a child. They could adopt or use surrogates but I will bet that Perseus Jackson will ask me for a child. One that will be made from love, truly, and have his and Nico's genetic make-up."
"The child of the two most powerful demi-gods alive. A grandchild of both Poseidon and Hades…" he said looking at her.
"And created by the goddess of love," she said smiling at him.
"And what do you expect this child to do, mother?" He asked and Aphrodite shrugged.
"Change the world."
Notes: About the Carnival of Venice: In this story Carnival takes place in the summer since that's when Percy returns to Camp Half-Blood. In the real world Carnival is held in February and March and ends with Lent. So it's more like a Mardi Gras celebration that lasts for fourteen days.