Title: The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Disclaimer: Characters, locations, etc are the property of Rick Riordan.
Edited by the fantastic Lordandladiesofthesilverscreen
Summary: Nico didn't like to be touched and he didn't know what a big problem that would become.
The mixture of conversations in the dining pavilion had turned into background noise that he could easily tune out. The Hermes table was the liveliest since all the young, unclaimed half-bloods were stuck there. Not that it would be any quieter otherwise thanks to the Stoll brothers. They were busy doing impressions of various monsters at the moment and the table kept erupting into laughter. Camp was okay now that he had a cabin of his own. He didn't stay often but that definitely made it more tolerable.
The truth was that he still liked camp even though it reminded him of Bianca and the last hours he spent looking at her. She joined the Hunters of Artemis and so they were separated the entire time they were here. He had come to peace with that memory though. The real reason why he spent as little time as possible at Camp Half-Blood was because he hated seeing Percy –specifically Percy with Annabeth. Watching Percy hug her, kiss her, hold hands with her, and stare at her the way he did –it actually caused him physical pain at this point. Words like "heartache" and "heartbreak" didn't begin to cover it. It felt like he was being stabbed in the chest and stomach with rusty knives, like he was drowning but just wouldn't die. He should have just left like he wanted but he couldn't with Hazel begging him not to go.
He would have given anything to not feel the way he did about Percy. Sometimes it made him angry at everything and that's usually when he went to the underworld. In the beginning when he left camp he spent a lot of time in the underworld speaking and training with the dead. They feared and served him but they didn't detest him the way the living did. In a way he thought he had an advantage, he got to train with some of the most legendary warriors and he learned from the greatest minds in history. All he had to do was summon them.
He was mastering his powers, or at least he thought he was. Lately his skin was having a bad reaction concerning human contact. At first it made his skin crawl whenever someone touched him –which he thought was just him because he didn't like it when people touched him anyway- but now it burned. It was just another reason to keep people away and keep himself from getting hurt emotionally. He saw how they flinched at the coldness of his skin and at the prominence of his bones. Besides, it only made him wish he could have such casual contact with Percy. But when Percy did touch him it only made him angry because he liked it so much and wanted more and why would Percy ever want to touch a gaunt boy with ice cold skin?
There were times when Hazel wanted to hug him and normally he would force himself to do it and ignore the pain but it was getting worse. Maybe it was all those trips to the underworld? He didn't know if this was "normal son of Hades development" and he couldn't ask his father. It was October and Persephone was with her husband. That was the reason why he was at camp in the first place. It wasn't like he couldn't go to the underworld when she was there, it was just better if he didn't. He always felt in the way and his father paid no attention to him. So here he was at Camp Half-Blood sitting at the Hades table all alone with his burger. He liked Camp Jupiter better because he had more respect and an official title; also there was no Percy and Annabeth. But he couldn't stay there because he wasn't Roman and wasn't enlisted in the legion.
Percy was sitting alone at the table in front of him but at least his back was to Nico. He tried not to keep glancing at him but he was failing, as he usually did when they were in the same room. His feelings had gotten stronger after the battle when Percy had been lying near comatose and they all thought he was going to die. Nico could feel his soul and it had been so weak that even he doubted Percy would make it. When Percy finally came around a few days later, Nico had gone back to his cabin –slamming the door and holding up in there for hours- because he felt like he was going to fall apart from relief and happiness.
"Hey, Nico?" He was walking back to his cabin when he heard the sound of Percy's voice. "Do you wanna come sit with us at the campfire sing-a-long?"
"Not really," he replied.
"It'll be fun and you don't even have to sing." Percy had that easy smile on his face and his sea-green eyes were bright. Nico could see Annabeth and the others hanging back to wait on them and that alone made him want to say no. But he looked at Percy and he knew that if he said no those eyes would turn sad and that smile would drop. Percy was always putting him in this position. He just wanted to assume his rightful place on the outside of demi-god society but Percy was always trying to include him, asking him to stay, and inviting him to things. Why did he have to be so nice?
"Yeah, whatever," he said shrugging. Percy smiled brighter and that was kind of worth it. They walked over to everyone else who greeted him and he guessed that wasn't so bad either even though he knew he made them uncomfortable. At the campfire he sat beside Piper –if about three feet away could still be called "beside". Leo was sitting on her other side, fingering a woven bracelet given to him by Calypso on her last visit. Percy sat in front of them with his arm around Annabeth's shoulders. Nico tried not to look at them. He sat with his knees pulled up under his chin and his arms wrapped around his legs and just stared at the flames. Everyone else sang and it made the flames burn higher and change color with the mood. If he closed his eyes and focused he could hear Percy singing clearly and he had to hide his smirk because Percy wasn't that bad.
When it was over he cut out quickly because he could see Percy was about to kiss Annabeth goodnight. Back in the Hades cabin he snuggled under his blankets and stared at the ceiling. There were no windows in the cabin so it was dark just how he liked it. There were some lamps on the walls but they didn't give off much light. The darkness only bothered him when he tried to walk in the middle of the night and then he would trip over all the clothes he'd thrown on the floor. They were all black so they all blended in and made it harder to watch his step.
He missed Hazel especially now since he told her about his feelings. Besides Jason she was the only other person who knew and like Jason she didn't have a problem with it. When he told her it wasn't long before she figured out that it was Percy he liked and not Annabeth. Hazel had only hugged him –which hurt—but he let her do it. The pain in his skin had eased a little after that so he was hopeful that it was going away but the next time Frank had grazed his hand in passing it felt like he'd touched a hot iron. Maybe he really was turning into a ghost. Whenever a spirit came into contact with living flesh they would dissipate because the two didn't mix. His last thought before drifting off was to wonder if Bianca would be experiencing the same thing if she had lived.
The next day he was walking past the sword fighting arena when Percy ran over in armor. He shrank back and just looked at the son of Poseidon. The helmet framed his handsome features and made his sea-green eyes more prominent.
"Hey, I just wanted to tell you that Jason is supposed to be coming tomorrow for Camp Exchange," he said. He had that smile on his face again and his cheeks were flushed from exercise.
Camp Exchange was a new idea to help promote goodwill between Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood. If you wanted to you could volunteer to switch places with someone from the other camp for two weeks. The idea came from the stunt Hera pulled with Jason and Percy and everyone figured since it kind of worked once, maybe it could work again.
"Okay," he shrugged. Maybe he should have tried to start a conversation but talking to Percy had become harder for him.
"I just thought you'd want to know," Percy said simply.
"Well you two are like best friends, right?" He asked confused.
"Jason's okay, but I don't have best friends," Nico said flatly. Percy looked at him seriously.
"Well can we at least be your regular friends?"
"Percy, I'm fine on my own. Stop trying so hard," he said exasperated. He was about to walk away but Percy's voice stopped him.
"No. No, I won't stop trying." He looked at Nico with a determined expression. "Nico, I know you think you don't belong and that you have to do everything on your own, but it isn't true. I want to be your friend. I'm here, okay? If you need anything," he said looking at Nico expectantly.
"Whatever Percy." He stalked back to his cabin without looking back. Of course he wouldn't stop. Of course he wanted to be friends. He didn't want Percy to know about his feelings because it was pointless. He was with Annabeth and knowing how Nico felt would only complicate everything, it might even make Percy hate him as much as he hated himself. But still, he wished he could tell him how his constant goodness was like torture.
Jason arrived the next day and knocked on Nico's door. He'd honestly hoped he wouldn't be bothered but when he threw the door open Jason grinned. The son of Jupiter was standing there in jeans and his purple camp t-shirt.
"Hey man, I didn't see you at arrival assembly." He was telling the truth when he said Jason was okay as a friend. He just hated that Jason knew about his secret.
"I didn't feel like going," Nico shrugged.
"Can I talk to you?" He said looking serious.
"You're not allowed in a cabin that's not yours," said Nico. Jason seemed unfazed by his obvious attempt to turn him away.
"Nobody's looking," said Jason shrugging.
"The golden boy wants to break a rule?" Nico smirked.
"I must really want to talk to you," Jason said smirking back. Nico moved aside and let him in and then shut the door.
"Dark," Jason commented.
"Nico listen," he said stopping in the middle of the room. "Percy told me what you said."
"So?" Nico flopped down on his bed and looked at Jason.
"Nico, I understand why it would be hard to be friends with Percy, but me? Come on. I told you before, I'm your friend. You could take advantage of the fact that I want to be your friend and that I already know what's bothering you," Nico shot him a glare but didn't interrupt, "and talk to me about it."
"Talking about it is useless. I can't change him or me. This is the way things are," he replied in an annoyed tone.
"Just getting it off your chest might help. You're so mad and brooding and it's not good for you," Jason chided.
"Look. If you don't want to talk to me, just listen. It bothers him when you pull away like this." Nico looked up at him and disbelief. "I don't know why, it just bothers him. That has to mean that he cares about you, and that has to be better than nothing." Jason said. Nico glared at the floor of the cabin.
"Watching him with her is too hard," he said painfully. "Until I can figure out how to get over him I need to keep him at arm's length, it's just easier."
"Being a jerk to him obviously isn't working. You can at least go easy him for the two weeks that I'm here because Annabeth is gone."
"What?" Nico asked looking at him curiously.
"Yeah, she did the Camp Exchange. She's at Camp Jupiter so you won't have to see them together." Nico relaxed a little but he was still resistant to the idea of getting too close to Percy. It would only make him wish for things he couldn't have.
"I don't think this is a good idea," he said shaking his head.
"Just talk to him. I'm glad you didn't leave like you said you were going to but that means you need to learn to deal with him. Maybe actually being friends with him will help you get over your romantic feelings for him."
"That doesn't make sense," Nico said annoyed.
"If you get used to being near him you might see he's not worth crushing on. Sometimes getting to know a person helps you see they aren't your type," Jason said helpfully. Nico sighed heavily and wiped a hand down his face.
"Fine! I'll try to be…" he struggled for a word.
"Nicer?" Jason supplied.
"I'll try to be nicer to him!"
After that Jason made him promise to come to sword fighting practice the next day. He walked to the sword fighting arena in a bad mood. Would it be nice to hang out with Percy without Annabeth around? Maybe. It's not that he hated Annabeth. She was nice to him but he was still jealous of her.
"Hey Nico!" Jason called out to him from the arena. He was in armor with his Imperial gold sword in his hand. Percy was next to him also in armor and with Riptide. Nico didn't say anything he just walked down the steps to the arena. There were other campers there too scattered around and practicing. Some of them were from Camp Jupiter. He could tell by the way they fought. It was interesting to see the Greek and Roman style clashing.
"Hey," he said walking over to them.
"You need some armor," Jason said looking him over.
"Why? The majority of the time when we're fighting monsters they don't wait for us to put armor on," Nico pointed out.
"He's got a point," Percy said looking at Jason. "I'm usually in normal clothes when a fight happens."
"Wearing it in practice helps you get used to the armor and teaches you discipline. And armor provides much needed protection in battle," Jason said seriously. Percy burst out laughing and Nico smirked.
"Whoa, Roman! Calm down!" Percy teased.
"Yeah, yeah whatever," Jason said rolling his eyes. Percy started stripping off his armor and Nico shook his hair into his eyes when he caught himself staring too long.
"Come on," Percy said to Nico, "let's see if he can beat the both of us with armor on."
"Two against one, really?" said Jason looking at both of them.
"Yeah but we don't have on armor," Percy said smiling. Nico almost laughed and Jason looked at him.
"Well, if it helps you learn to fight together…" Jason said.
"Nico and I have fought together loads of times. He's saved my life." Percy had an appreciating look on his face that made Nico blush and his old defenses almost kicked in but he caught himself.
"I've told you before…you've saved me so much. I guess it's just a thing we do," he said looking away.
"Alright, you two should be easy to handle," Jason said smiling.
"Hey," Percy said looking at them. "No powers, okay? It can get out of hand with all three of us and we don't need to make Mr. D drown us in wine."
They agreed and took their stances. For a few seconds none of them moved. They just stared at each trying to gauge each other.
"Sometime today, guys," Jason mocked.
Percy came at him from the right, sweeping up high to knock his helmet off but Jason deflected him at the last minute. Jason jabbed but Percy danced away lightly to avoid his sword. Nico came around on Jason's blind side and went after his left hip. His stygian sword dinged on Jason's armor.
"One, nothing!" Percy shouted and charged Jason just as he turned around to deal with Nico who was already gone. Percy's sword scraped against Jason's shoulder guard.
"Two, nothing!" said Percy. They continued that way, Nico sweeping in from below because he was shorter than the other two and had a lower center of gravity. Percy would attack higher since he and Jason were almost equal in upper body strength. It was clear Jason was getting tired but he was also getting determined. He was ready for Nico when he came in low again and smacked him on his upper right forearm with the flat of his blade. Nico grunted in pain and Percy interceded so he could fall back.
"You okay?" Percy asked as he and Jason paused for a second.
"Yeah, I'm fine," said Nico rubbing the sore spot on his arm. As if to prove his point he gripped his sword and took his stance again. Jason attacked Percy and they were moving so fast that Nico had to watch and wait for an opening.
Jason was pushing Percy back and Nico came up from behind, instead of attacking with his sword he kicked the back of Jason's knee. As the one Nico kicked gave out, Jason dropped to the other knee and Percy was able to recover. They attacked at once, but despite the armor Jason was able to roll out of the way, though it took some doing for him to get back to his feet.
Eventually Jason had to admit that the armor made him slower. He stripped it off and beating him got more difficult even with Percy and Nico working together. They were forced to strategize and take more hits. When it was all over and they were sitting on the ground panting and laughing, Jason admitted that he'd lost and the two Greeks admitted he was a serious challenge. Percy sitting fairly close to Nico but for once he didn't really notice or mind because he was having fun.
"So, do you think you'll be able to move here permanently?" Percy asked Jason.
"I don't know. Piper really wants me too…" he replied.
"You should, I mean Reyna and Frank must have everything under control at Camp Jupiter," said Percy.
"Yeah but some part of me still can't give it up." Jason looked over at Nico as a new thought just occurred to him. "Hey, how's the arm?"
Nico looked surprised, like he'd forgotten about it, and then rolled his sleeve up. A dark blue bruise was blooming where Jason's blade smacked him. Percy whistled when he saw it.
"Wow, that's a beauty. Does it hurt?" As if on reflex Percy reached out and lightly touched the patch of injured skin. Nico bit back a cry and jerked away –clamping his hand over the spot. Percy snatched his hand back and looked at Nico in shock.
"I'm sorry! I didn't think it would hurt like that!"
"Nico, I didn't think I hit you that hard!" Jason said. They both looked distressed and he wanted to tell them that it wasn't the bruise but the touch of Percy's skin that felt like a thousand needles stabbing him in one spot.
"I'm fine," he breathed his hand still shielding the bruise on his arm.
"Are you sure?" Percy asked.
"Yeah, I'm just gonna go put some ice on it." He scrambled to his feet, sheathed his sword and ran off.
That night at dinner Percy sat on the other side of his table so he could face Nico. Jason was at the Zeus table at the front of the dining pavilion but he kept glance back at them. Nico felt so uncomfortable between both of their worried glances that he lost his appetite. When it was time to go to the sing-a-long they cornered him.
"You sure you're okay?" Jason asked.
"Guys, really? It's a bruise not the end of the world," he said sarcastically.
"Good," said Percy, "You coming to the campfire?"
Nico glanced at Jason and his knowing expression and sighed. He did promise…
"Yeah, let's go," he said defeated. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his aviator jacket and tried to keep as far away from them as possible without raising any suspicion. He sat behind everyone at the campfire. Jason had his arm around Piper and Leo sat next to Percy. He was careful with his facial expressions. He couldn't close his eyes and listen to Percy's singing because Percy kept glancing back at him, like he was making sure Nico hadn't melted into the shadows and escaped. When it was over Jason said he wanted to talk to him and asked to walk with him to cabin thirteen. Percy watched them go and Nico was sure that Percy had been planning to bug him about whether he was okay or not.
"So, thanks. You really are trying and I think you're doing good. How are you…you know, with him?" Jason asked. Nico shrugged and kept looking at the ground.
"It was okay today," he admitted.
"I mean I was worried about your arm but he really fusses over you," laughed Jason.
"I think you both were overreacting," grumbled Nico.
"You two really do fight well together," Jason said.
"We've had to do it enough so guess we're just used to it."
"Well, you looked happy today…or were you faking?" Jason looked at him, studying his face.
"I wasn't faking. It's…easy to have fun with him but…" Nico exhaled and let it drop.
"Just keep trying, it'll get easier," Jason assured him. He said goodnight and walked back to cabin one.
"So what's it like?" Jason asked.
"It's nice –pretty really—well I mean, when I was there it was a little beat up from the war with Oceanus," said Percy.
They were walking around the lake talking about their fathers' palaces. Nico didn't remember how they'd gotten on this subject but Jason was trying to make him spend more time outside and they ran into Percy and just started talking. He had to admit it was kind of nice just spending time with people who wanted to spend time with him.
"And you met your stepmom?" Nico asked, looking around Jason who was walking in the middle.
"Yeah and my half-brother," Percy had a humorless smile on his face. "They don't like me very much…or maybe at all."
"Persephone ignores me," Nico said, "I mean she seriously acts like she doesn't even see me."
"How would you like Hera as your stepmother? She's famous for her hatred of Zeus' children, and to top things off my Dad basically handed me over to her to save his own skin," Jason said, a bit of resentment coloring his voice. "I've never even been to Olympus…"
"Don't take it too hard. Going there is usually a sign you've done something incredibly wrong," Percy said.
"Or right. They offered you godhood," said Jason.
"But the time before that they were debating killing me on the spot. And the time before that, your Dad accused me of being a thief and cursed me so I can never fly."
"Seriously?" Jason asked stunned.
"Yep, it all comes with being Percy Jackson," he said in a weary tone. Nico was quiet because he remembered different things about that day, like how his heart had almost stopped when he thought Percy would stay on Olympus.
They walked in silence for a few minutes and then the naiads broke the surface of the water and called out to Percy. They wanted him to "come and play" and giggled when he waved at them.
"Sorry," he said looking embarrassed.
"Do all water spirits get like that around you?" Jason asked looking from Percy to the naiads.
"No," Percy shook his head. "I've met a couple who didn't like sea gods at all. And they wouldn't be doing this right now if Annabeth were here." The naiads started splashing at them and they ended up soaked. Well, Jason and Nico were soaked, Percy was still completely dry. The water just beaded and rolled off of him.
"Okay, girls that's enough. I'll swim with you some other time," he yelled. He turned around and looked at Jason and Nico and laughed.
"Sorry guys, here I can try to dry you off." Percy went to Nico first. "Just stand still," he said. Percy stood in front of Nico and concentrated on his shirt. He was so close Nico could smell the faint salt water scent that lingered around him. He felt his shirt move against his skin and had to suppress a gasp.
"Hold on, I've never had to be this gentle before," said Percy his brow furrowed as he bent forward. He was only a few inches away. Nico glanced at Jason who was staring at them in mild surprise. Percy held his hand in front of Nico's shirt and droplets of water started to bead and roll off of him. Nico could smell his hair now and his heart was starting to beat faster.
"You know, it's not a big deal. I'll just go change." Nico tried to move back.
"No, I've almost got the hang of it," Percy said. Maybe he was concentrating so hard on the water clinging to Nico's clothes that he didn't think, but then again he didn't know the problem so how could he? And Nico had never warned Percy against touching him like he'd done with Jason… Percy reflexively reached out to take Nico's hand and pull him back to his previous position. The second Percy's skin made contact with his everything went wrong.
It felt like Nico had dunked his hand into acid. He cried out but so did Percy. In an instant they were both down on the ground on their knees -Nico holding his right hand and Percy holding his left. Nico's hand was shrouded in black mist but otherwise looked fine. He didn't understand -it felt like he'd stuck it into a fireplace. He stared at the dark fog shifting around his hand and then looked at Percy. Percy was staring down at his hand in horror. His skin was going transparent and Nico could see the skeleton underneath.
"Oh my gods…" Jason breathed looking between the two of them. Both Percy and Nico were panting, trying to breathe through the pain. The black fog faded with his pain and his breathing slowed down as relief came. He crawled a little closer to Percy looking between his terrified face and his almost see-through hand. His skin and muscle faded back to solid and he stopped panting and looked at Nico.
"I'm sorry! I don't-" He just shook his head and looked at the ground when he saw Percy's face. He was afraid of him…just like everyone else.
"Okay, is everybody alright?" Jason said, trying to take control of the situation.
"Yeah…I'm…I'm okay now," breathed Percy. He was still looking at Nico like he didn't know him.
"Nico, what was that?" He demanded. Nico only shook his head without looking up at them, his hands balling up and crushing the grass in his grip.
"Nico…you gotta talk here," said Jason seriously.
"I don't know!" Nico shouted. "I don't know what's wrong with me! Every time someone touches me…" He shook his head again, unable to explain. "It keeps getting worse!"
"We gotta go to Chiron," Percy said looking at Jason.
Nico wanted to protest but he knew he couldn't. He was scared –scared of himself and scared for himself. And he felt so bad for hurting Percy. He raised his eyes to look at him and the look on Percy's face made him drop his gaze again. There was fear and maybe some concern and he hated it.
"Nico, please tell me you can walk because we can't touch you to carry you," said Jason. Nico only nodded and got to his feet. Percy did the same, although a little more slowly. They walked to the big house with Nico in front and the two of them keeping their distance.
When they got there Chiron was in his wheelchair playing pinochle with Mr. D. Chiron looked up as they approached but Dionysius just sipped his diet coke and searched for his next move.
"Is there something wrong?" Chiron asked looking at their grim faces.
"Is there ever anything right when these three are involved?" muttered Mr. D. "What calamity have you brought us today?"
"It's…Nico is…sick?" Jason tried. Chiron looked at Nico who still had his head bowed, refusing to look at anyone.
"Mr. Di Angelo?"
"I don't know what it is," Nico said annoyed at world.
"I touched him and…it hurt and it was like my hand turned ghostly," Percy said, trying to be gentle about it.
"You touched him?" Chiron asked curiously.
"Nico, maybe you better explain?" Jason said.
"It's been happening for a while but never this bad," said Nico miserably. "When people touch me…at first it only hurt me but just now when Percy touched me it hurt him too."
"And this happens every time someone touches you?" Chiron asked. Nico only nodded.
"Well, then…" Chiron held his hand out and Nico looked at him apprehensively. Jason and Percy came up on either side to look and even Mr. D was looking on in bored interest. Nico took a deep breath and with the greatest effort at doing as little as possible –he touched Chiron's palm with his fingertips. Chiron jerked back like he'd been burned and Nico did the same. It wasn't as big a reaction as with Percy because the touch was so small but the black fog was back, making it look like Nico's finger tips were smoking. Chiron examined his hand and the spot where Nico touched him was transparent with his bones peeking through.
"Well, that's interesting…" said Mr. D looking from Chiron's hand to Nico's.
Chiron looked at Nico's fingertips and then to the boy himself. "You'd better come inside."
Jason and Percy stood back looking as Will Solace finished singing in ancient Greek. He was standing over Nico who was sitting on a bed in one of the big house guest rooms. Will held his hands over Nico without touching him. He was a son of Apollo with the special gift of being able to heal with song and they were hoping Nico's problem was something that could be healed like any injury. When Will was done they all looked at Nico.
"We need to see if it had any effect," Will said.
"I'll do it," Percy said. Nico scooted back on the bed.
"No Percy I've already hurt you." Percy was about protest when Jason reached out and touched Nico's forearm without a word. They both grunted and Jason pulled back quickly and gritted his teeth and looked at his hand. The skeleton of his hand was visible and Nico's arm was surrounded by a cloud of black fog. Jason sighed as his flesh became visible again and they all looked at Will and then Chiron.
"This is very troubling…" Chiron said. "Nico, we need to know everything. When did it start?"
"I don't know exactly. After…after Bianca I just…I wasn't near people a lot and then I just didn't want people touching me because…a side effect of my nature is cold skin…"
"And you thought it made people uneasy to touch you," Jason said.
"I know it did," Nico said darkly. "When people did touch me it felt odd but now I don't know if it was the beginning of this or just me."
"And when did it become painful?" Asked Chiron.
"Sometime after the defeat of Gaea. It stung at first, and then burned, and now this," he finished.
"And nothing significant happened to you in the battle?" Nico shook his head. "Nectar and ambrosia didn't work and neither did the healing song. Perhaps this is something you will have to ask your father about, Mr. Di Angelo," Chiron said.
"Actually, there's one more thing I'd like to try," said Will, "just…everyone be quiet." He knelt and started singing in ancient Greek again. Nico looked at Percy who shrugged and went back to watching Will. The room filled with light and they all looked around in shock.
"Someone call for the amazing sun god?" They around to the door and Apollo was standing there. He had on jeans, a white sweater, a black trench coat, and a pair of sunglasses. Pair that with his 1,000 watt smile and he looked like he'd just stepped off of a fashion runway. Nico hadn't seen Apollo since that night in the woods so long ago but he could see that Will had the same athletic build as his father and the same bright blond hair.
"Lord Apollo!" Chiron said is shock.
"Dad," Will said, standing back up. Apollo walked over and pulled Will into a hug that made his son smile. Apollo pulled off his sunglasses and looked at Will.
"Look at you! So handsome, just like your father!" Apollo said holding Will's face in his hands. "How's your archery?"
"It's good. Bull's-eye every time," said Will blushing from embarrassment.
"That's my boy!" said Apollo ruffling his son's blond hair. "So, as good as it is to see you, why did you call for me?"
"Did I bother you in the middle of something?" Will asked looking nervous.
"Not really. I was just at an Opera in Italy. It was boring though, I swear this is the reason why Opera has gone down in the arts. Things seem lively around here though!"
"We are honored, Lord Apollo," said Chiron formally.
"No big deal. I might drop by and visit the rest of my kids. So, what's the problem?" Will and Chiron quickly explained the situation to Apollo, with some interjections from Nico. Apollo knelt down in front of Nico and simply reached out and took his hand. Everyone flinched waiting for the recoil but it never came.
The black smoke did flare up under Apollo's touch but the god himself was unharmed, it didn't seem to hurt Nico as much either. He looked uncomfortable as Apollo turned his hand over inspecting the problem but that was all. The god's face was pensive and then he took Nico's other hand so he could observed both. The fog manifested itself there too. Apollo sighed and stood up letting go of Nico's hands in the process. He smiled brightly at everyone.
A collective "huh?" was the confused reply.
"I need to discuss the diagnosis and a treatment plan with the patient and so you all need to leave," he said taking on a slightly more serious tone.
"So, you know what's wrong?" asked Jason.
"And it can be cured?" asked Percy.
"That all depends on…well a few things but I need to speak to Nico alone first," he said pointedly. They began to file out of the room with Percy and Jason looking over their shoulders in concern. Once everyone was gone and the door was shut Apollo sighed again and looked at Nico sadly.
"Why so pale and wan, fond lover?"
"What?" Nico asked looking perplexed.
"Prithee, why so pale?" Apollo asked again. "Will, when looking well can't move him, Looking ill prevail? Prithee, why so pale?" Apollo looked at Nico and he could only look back.
"Why so dull and mute, young sinner?" Apollo continued. "Prithee, why so mute? Will, when speaking well can't win him, saying nothing do 't? Prithee, why so mute? Quit, quit for shame! This will not move; This cannot take him." Apollo said with a dramatic gesture. "If of himself he will not love, nothing can make him: The devil take him!" He said passionately.
"That was Sir John Suckling," said Apollo. "It was originally about a girl but I changed it to fit your situation," Apollo said sympathetically. Nico felt his stomach clench and his cheeks warm up. "You've changed a lot from that innocent kid I met five years ago." He said with a small smile. "I'm actually not sure if it's me or Aphrodite you should be talking to," Apollo said breezily.
"So long as it isn't Cupid," muttered Nico looking away.
"Oh, you've met Eros! His Roman form can be a bit ruthless," he said and Nico scoffed. "But I guess I can handle this since I'm here. I am the god of medicine and it's a cure you're after. I've also loved a lot in my time, women and men." Nico tensed up next him.
"Yeah I uh…met Favonius too…" he said cautiously.
"I'm not quite as angry about that as I used to be. Oh, I'd still punish Favonius if I could but it wouldn't be as brutal as burning him to ash and scattering his essence across Tartarus…" Nico made a mental note to never mess with anyone Apollo loved.
"So, down to your problem. You're starved," Apollo said looking at him. Nico looked back at him in confusion. "Your skin and your heart are both starved from lack of physical touch. Did you know that mortal babies can die from lack of touch?" Nico shook his head slowly.
"Well, they can. I'm not sure being a demi-god is better…" Apollo said lying back and clasping his hands behind his head to use them as pillows. Nico turned so he could look at him.
"Does this happen to all demi-gods?" Nico asked in disbelief.
"No, I'm afraid that as a son of Hades your powers are more connected to your emotions. Do you find it easier to access them when you're in an emotional state?" Nico nodded sadly.
"Like your father, your negative emotions are especially dangerous." Apollo looked at him seriously. "You're in love with Percy Jackson."
Nico winced like the words hurt him. Did every god know just by looking at him? He felt like he was going to be sick.
"And I'm assuming he doesn't reciprocate, and you're growing very bitter about it. You're starving yourself of human contact and this is only adding to the problem. Your powers are having a nasty reaction. They're turning inward and lashing out at the same time. You're poisoning yourself and I'm surprised you or anyone else hasn't noticed!" Apollo said incredulously. "Your skin –if you'll forgive the pun—is a dead give-away. Don't get me wrong, you'll always be a little paler and bit cooler than most because you are the son of Hades, but it shouldn't be to this extreme. This painful response to contact? It's a desperate attempt to save you. Your powers are trying to suck the life out of anyone who touches you, trying to feed." Nico looked at him with a mixture of shock and horror.
"How do I stop it?" he asked urgently.
"You need give yourself what you want," Apollo said. "You need touch -physical contact and a lot of it. A little emotional connection would help too."
"That's all?" He asked. If it was that simple he'd walk around shaking hands all day.
"Oh it's not so cut and dry. You and the person will have to bare the pain at first. It could kill whoever you latch onto. You could gobble them up in a sense, suck them dry of their life force all at once. Oh, and it needs to be Percy."
"What?" Nico shouted. "You just said it could kill him! I won't do that! And even if I could, what am I supposed to say to him to get him to agree? And am I just supposed to stay attached to him forever?"
"So, Percy doesn't know? About how you feel?" Apollo asked.
"No," Nico said softly. Apollo sighed and sat up.
"This is the only way. We have to shock and sooth your system, both physically and emotionally, by giving you what you truly want. And no, you do not have to stay attached to him forever. Once you get back to normal you'll be fine so long as you don't start avoiding normal human contact and stewing in your own negativity again." Apollo put a hand on Nico's shoulder and the foggy mist started to flare up.
"You said this didn't hurt anyone else but you until today, right?" Nico nodded. "And it just happened to be when Percy was standing close and touched you for the second time in two days?"
"Yeah," Nico said quietly.
"Not a coincidence. I wouldn't be surprised if it what started this wasn't something to do with him," Apollo said lightly.
"He almost died in the battle…" Nico whispered.
"Oh? And what did you do?" Apollo asked.
"I…I stayed away mostly but I would shadow travel into his room at night and watch him. I could see his soul struggling to stay connected and I wanted to be there, to make sure…"
Apollo was completely focused on him now. "Did you save his life?"
"I tried. I tried to strengthen the connection between his body and soul but it wasn't working! I'd never used my power that way before!"
"But he came around…" Apollo reasoned.
"I'm still not sure if it had anything to do with me," said Nico.
"What did you do when he woke up?"
"I stayed in my cabin," said Nico.
"Oh man!" Apollo laughed and Nico shot him a dirty look.
"I'm sorry, but wow! He's lying there dying, you sneak into his room at night and try to save his life because he means so much to you, and then when he wakes up you lock yourself away! All you wanted was for him to live and you wouldn't even give yourself the satisfaction of being with him when he woke up! There is no way this wasn't the catalyst for your problem!" Apollo said in exasperation.
Nico stared at the floor. He felt helpless and out of control and that made him nervous and scared.
"Nico, can you imagine what your father was like before Persephone? Can you imagine what he would be like now without her? Or mortal women like your mother? Even the lord of the dead needs contact -needs to connect."
"What happens if I don't do it?" asked Nico stubbornly.
"Prognosis? The problem could grow until you're killing people with a single touch." Apollo looked at him seriously and Nico's eyes widened. "I don't know what will happen after that," said the sun god. "Either you'll become a monster to be hunted by your fellow half-bloods or maybe you'll die on your own. You could become a big enough problem that we, the gods, will have to destroy you."
"I can't," Nico said looking miserable. "I can't tell him! He'll be disgusted! He'll hate me!" Apollo sighed again and smiled at him.
"Why are you so sure of that?"
"He has a girlfriend…" Nico said.
"That still doesn't mean he would hate you or be unwilling to help you. He seemed pretty concerned to me, even after getting burned by you…literally."
"I just can't," Nico said. He could feel that he was about to cry –like when Jason tried to comfort him in Croatia- and he loathed it.
"I think this is more about you than him. You can't accept yourself and so you can't imagine other people doing it, especially not him," Apollo said.
"I was born when people thought how I felt was wrong. I'm still not quite used to this time and the thought that it's more accepted is…unreal to me." It was weird, pouring out his fears to Apollo but it felt good and he was desperate for an answer.
"You know in the good old days of ancient Greece you could love who you wanted –as long as your social status was right—but today…" Apollo sighed. "It is more accepted but not nearly enough. You shouldn't be afraid here though. Many of your fellow demi-gods are the children of a free loving god. Actually, I'm pretty sure all of my kids are bi-sexual," said Apollo with a shrug.
"Are you serious?" Asked Nico.
"It's a little side effect of being our children since we gods still cling to some of the old ways. The Aphrodite kids are probably the same way." Nico could barely process the thought that a guy like Will Solace could be like him. Interesting as it was it still didn't help with Nico's problem. Apparently Apollo could see that because he was looking at him sadly again.
"There's got be another way," pleaded Nico.
"Sorry kid, you'll only grow worse. If you try using someone else there's the risk they won't work at all or they won't work fast enough and you'll drain them before you're healed. Your feelings for him are strong and you've been holding everything in so tightly that now those feelings are driving you into a corner."
"Do we…do we have to tell him?" Nico tried.
"I'm also the god of truth and generally I'm against lying," Apollo said smiling ruefully.
"What if I lied?" asked Nico. Apollo sighed.
"You are one stubborn little guy," he said. "If you're going to lie I'd rather not be present so you'll have to do it alone."
"I might not…" said Nico standing up. He ran over to the door, opened it and poked his head out.
"Jason! We need to talk to you." Nico moved away from the door as he heard fast footsteps. Jason came jogging in like he was expecting to find the room on fire. He looked from Nico standing next to the door to Apollo sitting on the bed and arched an eyebrow.
"Did you figure out what's wrong?" He asked.
"Yeah and it's…not good," said Nico looking at Apollo. "I might need your help." Jason looked surprised. Nico knew asking for help was way out of character for him but this was a special situation. They explained his problem and Jason looked just as shock and lost as Nico.
"How in Hades are we going to get Percy to touch…and wait, what kind of touch are we talking about?" Jason asked Apollo.
"As much as possible," said Apollo.
"Okay," said Jason. He looked seriously thoughtful like he was planning something. "I've got it," he said, "but Lord Apollo we will need you to convince him. I mean all we have to do is lie about the reason why it has to him, right? Everything else is the truth."
"Since this is such a delicate problem," Apollo sighed, "I guess I could not say anything while you lie."
"Thank you," Nico breathed.
"Let's call them back," Jason said going to the door.
"Wow, Nico I'm so sorry!" Percy said looking at him in shock. They had just got done explaining that Nico's bad social skills were causing his powers to go out of control. Chiron had a frown etched into his face but said nothing. Will looked like he was processing the info and Apollo was lying back on the bed again.
"So how do we stop it?" Will asked.
"We don't," said Jason. "Nico needs physical contact and it needs to be someone strong enough to handle it..." Jason, Apollo, and Nico all looked at Percy. Well, Nico glanced and looked away quickly.
"Me?" Percy asked.
"You are the most powerful half-blood we've got," Jason said frankly. "I think the final battle with Gaea proved that."
"It's still dangerous. It's possible Nico's powers could drain you to death," said Apollo. Everyone got quiet while they waited for Percy to answer.
"Percy." Nico spoke without looking at him. He was hiding behind his shaggy hair. "Trust me, I wouldn't ask you if I had another choice. I can understand if you don't want to. I can always just live in the underworld where I can't hurt anyone…"
"Nico, I don't want you to run away to the underworld or die," said Percy honestly. "I'm just not sure how to avoid dying myself because I'd really like to keep doing this living thing." Nico looked at Percy got a small smile from him.
"Could being in water help?" asked Will. "I remember Percy heals in water. If he's submerged during this then maybe he can survive it?"
"Water healing…" Apollo mused, "Could work!" He hopped off of the bed and smiled at them. "How about a pool?"
The "pool" –curtsey of Apollo- was really no bigger than a family sized Jacuzzi. It was enclosed in a little building made of gold bricks and was placed behind the big house. Inside there were benches, a white tiled floor, two little changing rooms, towel racks, and a mini-fridge fill with nectar and ambrosia because Apollo said Percy still might need it after this. The pool itself was yellow on the outside and white porcelain on the inside. It had a little control panel with buttons for fresh and salt water –Percy told him salt water was better—and it had water jets. There was even a radio. Apollo being the god of music, said there was always a need for some tunes. They stood at the pool house, giving each other uncertain looks.
"Okay," Apollo said clapping his hands together. "I recommend we all be present for the first time since this is just a theory right now and Mr. Jackson is still in danger of dying," he said brightly. He snapped his fingers and Nico and Percy were both suddenly standing in swimming trunks. Percy's were green, Nico's were black and they both had "Apollo Wear" scribbled across the butt in fancy red calligraphy. Percy just looked down in surprise but Nico crossed his arms over his chest like he was trying to cover himself.
"In you go," said Apollo.
Percy hesitated for a second and then threw a leg over the side of the pool and hopped into the cool salt water but Nico just stood there looking nervous and even paler than usual.
"Nico, it's okay," Jason said gently. He nodded at the younger boy and Nico nodded back and headed for the pool. He climbed over the side like Percy but once he was in all he could do was stare at him. The thought that he was going to be touching Percy was only eclipsed by the fact that he was about to hurt Percy.
"Nico, it's alright," Percy said. But Nico knew it was a furthest thing from alright. Everyone was looking at them. Percy stood up and moved cautiously toward him and Nico took a step back on reflex.
"Nico, you have to do this," Percy said. "We can handle it," he assured. Nico walked forward through the water slowly and Percy held out his arms as if to hug him. When he was only few inches away, Nico closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and let Percy pull him in. It burned all over. It was all he could do to not scream. Instinct told him to pull back and stop the pain but Percy's arms were locked around him. He felt Percy tense and heard him grunt and his eyes flew open. He looked at Percy's face and saw that it was strained, his eyes clamped together as tightly as possible. Nico noticed that his body was shrouded in black mist and it looked like it was trying to spread to Percy. He tried to pull back again but Percy wasn't letting go.
Apollo came over and put both his hands on Percy's shoulders and Percy immediately relaxed. He was able to open his eyes and his breathing slowed down.
"Percy, how is it?" Apollo asked.
"Well it hurts," he gasped. "Feels like I'm being scorched." When Nico heard that he tried to push away.
"Nico, stop!" ordered Apollo. "You fighting him is making it worse! You need to relax. Calm down and accept him!"
"Nico, do what he says!" Jason said firmly. Nico tried but he couldn't force himself. He was with Percy in a very intimate way but he was also hurting Percy. He felt like he was between a rock and a hard place –wanting to get away but not wanting to let go. Apollo gave a frustrated sigh and reached out with his index finger and touched Nico's forehead. Everything went black and the last thing he felt was his cheek coming to rest on Percy's shoulder.
He felt so comfortable and it was amazing, like everything was perfect. He was warm but not too warm and he felt so incredibly relaxed. His mind was fuzzy though. There was something important right on the edge of his memory and he knew he should pay attention to it but somewhere he knew that if he did he would have to give up this feeling. He couldn't remember ever being so at ease and why would he ruin that? But his consciousness was reforming, senses coming back online. Everything that was comfortably fuzzy and blurry was now coming back into focus. He could smell water, it reminded him of someone. Percy. That's right, Percy was very important.
As his absolute threshold came back he became aware of his sense of touch. That was important too. He could feel something…he was pressed against something warm and solid on his left side but something lapped at his right side –water. The last straw was realizing his warm, solid pillow was breathing and had a heartbeat. Everything from the last few hours flooded back. His powers were going out of control, burning Percy, seeing Percy's bones and his petrified expression, his talk with Apollo, and the pool. The pool. Him and Percy in the pool together. All of this came back in a split second as his brain fired up again. His eyes snapped open, his heart started hammering, and he realized he was still in the pool…with Percy.
They were sitting in the pool with the water jets going softly. He was turned in Percy's lap, lying against him on his left side. And Percy had his arms wrapped around him. He knew his face was red, he could almost see a glow from his blush. His body hadn't come back as fast as his brain. He was telling it to move but there was no response.
"Nico, don't." Percy's voice made him freeze.
"Percy," he said hoarsely.
"Apollo had to knock you out to make you relax," Percy told him quietly. Nico realize that he had his arms around Percy's waist and he felt a sharp pang of embarrassment.
"Is it hurting you?" he asked in a small voice.
"Not really. Once you stopped fighting the pain went down a lot, it only stings now, but you need to stop getting worked up. I know it's weird but I think it's working," Percy encouraged.
"How long have we been here like this?" Nico asked, doing his best to sound irritated.
"Hour and a half maybe? Apollo left Will in charge, he and Jason have been taking turns sitting with us. You can't see it but right now Jason is knocked out on one of the benches," Percy laughed softly and Nico could feel it vibrate through them both and blushed harder. This was the cruelest joke his life had ever played on him. He felt like the target of some hateful god. Why was he in this situation? How could he be so physically close and still so far away from what he wanted?
"I kind of envy him. Jason can sleep anywhere; he just needs to get horizontal and he's out. So are you okay?" Percy asked trying to angle his neck to look down at him.
"Y-yeah, how long has that black fog been gone?"
"Almost since you passed out. You're not hurting?"
"No, does that mean it's over?" He asked hopefully.
"Not yet," said Percy, "Apollo said we'll probably have to do this for two hours every day for at least a week to get you back to normal."
"Great…" Nico said in dour tone.
"Yeah, I know it's a little awkward but it's making you better so…" Percy shrugged with his arms around Nico.
"So you're…okay with it?" Nico asked in surprise.
"Well it was painful and after you passed out it was weird. I've never, like held another guy like this and I'm guessing you're not big on cuddling. So, yeah I mean it's awkward for me too but we have to do this," Percy said easily.
"I still can't believe this insane plan is working," mumbled Nico.
"Me too, I'm glad we figured something out though to help you and keep me from dying," Percy said. They fell into silence after that. Nico was doing his best not to get too comfortable against Percy and fall asleep again but it was hard because he could hear Percy's heartbeat and feel the gentle rise and fall of his chest. The memory of how relaxed he was kept creeping back and he was ashamed to admit to himself that he wanted to feel that again. A buzzer went off on the control panel and Percy's arms unclasped from around him. He let go quickly and moved away through the water to the other side of the pool. Jason was awake and rubbing at his face groggily.
"How do you guys feel?"
"The pain really calmed down," Percy said. He stood up and his water logged swim trunks sagged on his hips a bit, giving Nico a peek of Percy's V shaped pelvis and he quickly pretended to look somewhere else.
"Wow!" Percy said surprise as he staggered. Jason rushed over steadied him on his feet. Nico stood up in the water and stared in concern. Jason walked Percy over to a bench and sat him down. He looked exhausted.
"It's just because I left the water…it's not that bad. It just feels like fatigue," He said leaning his head back against the wall. Jason went over to the fridge and pulled out a tiny shot glass and some nectar in a bottle. He walked back and sat down next to Percy.
"Remember, Apollo said small shots," he said while pouring one. Percy downed it and waited a few seconds.
"One more," he said handing the glass back to Jason. Nico climbed out of the pool on the other side, staying well away from the other two boys. He watched as Percy downed the second shot of nectar and felt annoyed at himself for being the cause of it. Percy looked up and caught his eye.
"Hey, don't do that," he said.
"Do what?" Nico said aggravated.
"Start to get all anti-social and negative. If you send yourself back into a relapse then we did all this for nothing," Percy chided.
"Well, what do you want me to do?" Nico almost growled. How was he supposed to do anything differently?
"Come sit with us," Percy said. He looked at Jason who nodded. Nico walked over with angry tension in his shoulders. Jason and Percy parted so he could sit between them. Nico sat down and immediately tried to make his already small frame even smaller. He slumped his shoulders, pressed his knees together and kept his head low.
"You okay, man?" Jason asked Percy.
"Yeah, I feel fine now. Looks like two shots is enough and I don't think I even need the ambrosia." He smiled down at Nico. "See, I'm fine. No problem." Nico nodded stiffly but didn't say anything. He just wanted to put his clothes on and run from the pool house.
He couldn't help but notice that Percy had the beginnings of really nice muscle definition. His arms and shoulders were already toned and muscled from swinging a sword around for so long, but Nico could see a six pack of abs forming along with pecks. He forced himself to look elsewhere and dug his nails into his palms. It was pointless to look –to even think about Percy like that. He was in love with Annabeth –smart, pretty, amazing, female Annabeth. He felt so angry at himself for even being so weak as to look in first place.
"Nico, you okay? You're frowning really hard," said Jason.
"I'm fine. Can we leave?"
"Wait!" Will Solace came through the door. "Sorry, Dad started critiquing everyone's poetry. We need to test the reaction now," he said walking over to Nico. He stood in front of Nico with his hand held out and Nico just looked from it to him. Will arched an eyebrow and Nico sighed. He leaned forward and grabbed Will's hand. There was a slight pain but the black mist didn't come.
"It stings," Nico said letting go.
"Yeah me too," said Will looking at his hand. "At least the major effects have stopped." His hand was still solid. "I'll go tell my Dad that it looks like we got this under control."
Will left and Nico and Percy found their clothes in the little changing rooms and got dressed, leaving their trunks behind for tomorrow. Jason hit a button on the control panel that emptied the pool and they left.
The next day Jason promised Piper they would spend some time together. Apparently she was feeling ignored. Nico had spent the night tossing and turning nervously as he anticipated being with Percy in the pool again. He knew he shouldn't enjoy it or look forward to it because it was a lie. It would be over soon and if he didn't guard himself he would only be crushed when it was time to stop and Annabeth came back and took her rightful place in Percy's arms. But he was looking forward to it. He was nervous and excited and filled with shame but he tried not to show it on his face. Percy was walking beside him now as they made their way to the pool house.
"How do you feel today?" Percy asked looking over at him.
"I feel fine but there's no way of knowing until I touch someone," he replied.
"Well, we'll see in a minute, I guess," Percy said smiling.
They walked into the pool house and Will was already there. He was dressed in yellow athletic shorts and a white tank top with his bow and quiver slung across his back.
"Hey guys," he said with a smile that was like his father's.
"Hey Will," said Percy.
"Hey," Nico mumbled.
"Okay, so day two. I'll be back to check on you but I'm teaching archery today. If anything goes wrong just scream and Chiron will come," he said hitting the salt water button. He turned to look at them as the pool filled.
"But seriously, if something does go wrong Nico you need to let go of him and get out of the water immediately. Put nectar and ambrosia where he can reach it but don't touch him," Will instructed. Nico nodded but Percy smiled.
"It'll be fine as long you relax," he said.
Will left them to it and they went into the changing rooms and put on their trunks. Nico still felt self-conscious and how could he not next to Percy's toned body and lightly tanned skin? When he walked out, Percy was just getting in the pool. He watched as older boy's eyes closed and this look of serenity came over his face. It was only for a second and then Percy opened his eyes and looked at Nico expectantly. Nico walked over slowly and climbed into the pool. The water was cool and he walked forward a few steps before sinking down into it. He blushed when Percy held his arms out to receive him.
"You don't need to be embarrassed, it's just us, Nico," he said but his cheeks were a little pink too.
Nico drifted into his arms with his heart bouncing around in his chest. There was a stinging feeling where ever their skin touched but Percy didn't stop pulling him in until he was pretty much sitting on his lap. They assumed the same position as before but Nico's head was bit higher on Percy's shoulder now. Since Percy was still almost a full head taller than him it meant he was actually pressed closer today.
"It's still stinging," Percy said a little uncomfortably. "You need to relax more." Nico tried to obey. He loosened up and let himself rest against Percy's body and even looped his arms around Percy's waist. It felt good, and Percy was practically ordering him not to resist. He closed his eyes and tried to recapture that content feeling from yesterday.
"Nico?" He tensed thinking Percy was going to tell him they were too close but Percy's arms actually tightened around him just a little.
"Yeah?" He answered cautiously.
"For what?" he asked confused.
"This is my fault," Percy said sadly. He was starting to panic. How could Percy think it was his fault unless he knew… He didn't say anything and his heart sped back up.
"I'm so sorry about Bianca. I never really got to apologize like I wanted. If I had stopped that robot she would be here and you never would have run away and you wouldn't be sick like this," Percy said sadly.
"Percy that's ridiculous," he said trying to hide his relief. "I forgave you a long time ago and I'm still not sure if I was even mad at you or myself because I couldn't go on the quest and protect her. Anyway, it doesn't matter. This is happening because I just don't feel close to people," he said. It was partly true. When he thought about it, even if Percy knew this was really happening because of the feelings Nico had for him, it still wouldn't be his fault. Percy was the object of his desire but it's not like he asked for it. No, Nico couldn't blame him for this either.
"There's no guarantee that Bianca being around would have stopped this from happening. Hazel is here and it still did," said Nico.
"But you were closer to Bianca. You two looked after each other and you were so happy back then," Percy said quietly. "I still remember how excited you were about everything."
"I was a kid Percy," Nico smiled contritely. "It's not something you should worry about. I don't blame you and you're helping me. Stop feeling sorry."
"Thank you," Percy said sincerely and then he smiled. "But you have to be more social now. It might help if you didn't always walk around with this look that says, hug me and die". Percy laughed some more.
"Just drop it, Percy," Nico said scowling at him.
"Fine," Percy said sighing and settling back down so Nico could lean against him. With his face back where Percy couldn't see, Nico smiled softly.
"Is that why your birthday cake was blue?" Nico asked. He was sitting between Percy's legs today. It was a new position they came to the day before when Percy's leg started to go numb from him sitting on it. Now his back was pressed against Percy with his head reclined on his shoulder. Percy still had his arms wrapped around him and Nico resisted the temptation to hold them with his. He just let his arms rest by his sides but he couldn't decide if having them occasionally rub against Percy's inner thigh was worse. Feeling Percy's breath on his ear was another problem. He was trying very hard to fight the blush that he could feel blooming on his cheeks.
"Yeah," Percy laughed. "Mom started buying blue food coloring and adding it to anything she could. I think it was her way of passively aggressively getting back at him but it ended up being our special thing." They were talking because Percy mentioned he was craving sweets. It got Nico thinking about that blue birthday cake and how nice Percy's parents were. He was surprised when Percy said that his new stepfather was much better than the last one. He was shocked that Percy's first stepfather was abusive, but not as shocked when Percy told him how he would defend his mother when he was home from school.
"Did you have to do it a lot? Stop him from hitting her?" Nico asked.
"I never knew he was hitting her. I just thought he might so when I was at home I would distract him from her," he said with a humorless smile. "I was a stupid kid, it never occurred to me that he would hit her while I was away."
"Do you hate him?" Nico asked curiously and looking over his shoulder.
"I did," he said without emotion, "but he's gone and now I just feel indifference when I do bother to think about him. Mom's happy and that's all I care about." For a few minutes there was only the sound of the water being stirred by the jets –something both he and Percy found soothing.
"I hate bullies, Nico. I think that's why I don't get along with a lot of the gods. Most of them use their power to push us around and I just hate it," he said with an edge in his voice.
"Me too," said Nico looking behind him at the boy he loved. There was no way he wasn't sure now. He didn't need any more proof that everything about Percy appealed to him. He never would have guessed that Percy had gone through something like that but it made his good qualities shine brighter. He could have grown up to be as awful as Gabe but instead he fought against him and became someone who stood up to bullies. It was so heroic, so Percy. He wanted to say something but he knew he couldn't. He just turned around and enjoyed being in Percy's arms. Maybe this was as close as he could get but he would remember this feeling forever.
"Anyway," Percy said sounding normal again, "if you liked my birthday cake I can ask my mom to make one for you. When is your birthday, Nico?"
"March 30th," he replied.
"I'll be home then so it's perfect. I'll tell my mom and we can throw you a party," Percy said smiling.
"I don't need a party," Nico said shrugging it off.
"It'll be a good way to socialize. I'll be gone at school and Jason will probably be back at Camp Jupiter. I don't want you spending the whole time in the underworld and bringing this problem back," reasoned Percy.
"I wasn't going to go back to the underworld, at least not the whole time. I could hang out at Camp Jupiter or something," he said shrugging again.
"And then you can come to your party," Percy insisted. "You can bring Hazel and Frank, or Jason. It'll be fun," he said light-heartedly. "Do you want a blue cake like mine?"
"Are you sure, it's not a big deal? Like for your mom?" Nico asked tentatively.
"Nah, she loves throwing parties. To tell you the truth I didn't want that birthday party after everything that had happened that summer but she talked me into it."
"Umm okay then, yeah a blue cake is fine," Nico said sheepishly.
"So what happened after that?" Nico shouted jerking his head away from Percy's shoulder to look at him in shock.
"Scar comes up to him and tells him it's his fault Mufasa died, and Simba is scared and crying-"
"Hey guys." Jason came through the door of the pool house.
"Hey," said Percy and Nico together.
"How is it today?" Jason asked sitting on a bench and smiling at them. Nico thought the smile was carrying a hidden meaning but maybe that was just his paranoia.
"It's fine. It only stings at first now," Percy said.
"Cool, what were you guys talking about?" Jason asked.
"The Lion King, Nico's never seen it," said Percy.
"Oh, I love that movie!" Jason exclaimed. Nico shot him a dark look. Maybe it was stupid but he had come to a place where he was possessive over this time with Percy. He liked being alone with him, something he used to dread, and now Jason was interrupting. Jason saw the look, although Percy could not due to the position Nico was in.
"Well, you guys seem fine so I'll go tell Will and get out of your hair," Jason said standing back up.
"You sure, man? We don't mind it if you stay," Percy said. Jason glanced at Nico, who made sure to glare extra hard.
"Nope, I need to go chill with Piper," He said waving as he walked out.
"They're a good couple," said Percy after Jason was gone.
"So are you and Annabeth," Nico replied trying not to sound bitter about it.
"Thanks," Percy said.
"You miss her?" He didn't know why he asked. He knew the answer and perhaps he was just being cruel to himself in order to remember that this isn't where Percy wanted to be. He was not the person Percy wanted entwined in his arms. This was nothing more than a necessary evil Percy was enduring in order to help him get better. And he was only doing it because he blamed himself.
"Yeah I do, but it's actually not as bad as I thought it would be, you know? I IMed her last night and she's fine too. She's having fun in Camp Jupiter and New Rome," he said.
"Does she know about my problem?" Nico asked.
"I told her and she thought it was interesting."
Of course he'd told her. Nico thought. Why wouldn't Percy tell his girlfriend that he was spending his time in a pool cuddling another boy?
"I mean, she's worried," he said hastily. "But daughter of Athena and everything, she kind of got intellectual about it," he laughed.
"So, what happened to Simba?" Nico asked suddenly.
"I'm sorry about earlier," Nico said looking at the ground. It was after dinner and they were walking to the sing-a-long – straggling behind the others so they could talk without being overheard.
"What's going on with you?" Jason asked.
"I just…" he shook his head and stopped talking.
"Nico, you're supposed to be trying to get over him. I know being that close to him is…actually what are you feeling right now?" asked Jason.
"My feelings haven't changed. They might even be stronger now," he said sadly. Jason sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
"I tried okay? You said getting to know him might help me see that he isn't my type, but he is my type! He's the only type I've ever had, the only person I've ever…" he shut himself up.
"Nico…are you sure you don't want to tell him?" Jason asked empathically.
"No!" Nico said firmly, glaring at him.
"It's still your call, man, but I think it's getting too strong for you to keep it in," he said scratching the back of his head.
"It won't do any good, Jason," Nico said quietly. "It'll only make problems and I won't even be able to be his friend anymore."
"I don't think Percy would push you away like that. He's just not that type of guy. I don't think you would have these feelings for him if he was." They looked at each other. Jason knew he was right and for a second he knew that Nico knew it too. There was nothing else to say and they kept walking in silence.
"Yeah I don't really get modern music," Nico said shrugging.
"You just need someone with taste to turn you on to it," said Percy. He reached over and turned the volume up on the radio. "This band is great and this is one of their best songs. Just listen to it."
Nico blushed as Percy hummed the song because he could feel the vibrations traveling from Percy's chest and thrumming his own body. He focused on the music to distract himself. The song was apparently about a girl –typical—and this guy was in love with her but she was with someone else. It was frighteningly close to his own situation. He was about to decide that he hated the song and then Percy's hums turned into soft singing. He closed his eyes and listened like he did at the sing-a-longs and failed to stop the smile that touched his mouth.
"Do you like it?" Percy asked, jerking him out of his trance.
"Y-yeah, what's it called?"
"Mr. Brightside, it's by The Killers."
"Yeah I really like it."
"See, it's easy once you find something worth listening to," said Percy.
"Can you play all their songs on there?" asked Nico.
"Yeah, this thing is great, you just say the name of the song and it plays it."
"And you know the words to all their songs?" Nico asked looking over his shoulder.
"Umm most of them, my favorite ones at least. Why?"
"Just wondering," he said turning back around and shrugging.
"You actually talked to Achilles?" Percy asked in disbelief as he tried to lean over and look at Nico's face to see if he was lying. The water jets were going as usual and the two boys had slipped into the routine of coming to the pool house every day. They had also grown comfortable being so close to one another without noticing…well Nico noticed it but only mildly.
"Well, I tried to talk to Hector first," Nico said smiling.
"Really? What was he like?" Percy asked excited.
"Arrogant, but he was a Prince after all and the most celebrated Trojan warrior. I ordered him to teach me sword fighting but he was just too bitter about Achilles defeating him. He kept pestering me, asking me to summon Achilles and let them fight one another as a demonstration," said Nico.
"But you didn't?" asked Percy.
"No way, it would have been a never-ending battle since neither of them can die again. I just released his soul and summon Achilles instead."
"And you trained with him?" Percy asked.
"Yeah, he was more willing."
"That makes sense. Your sword work improved really fast," Percy said.
"Thanks," Nico replied. He didn't mention the rest of the story, that he had also summoned Achilles to ask about his relationship with Patroclus. It was interesting because Achilles was so forthcoming about his affections and he had asked Nico what could make him ashamed if the man he loved was of acceptable rank and worthy of his tender attentions.
"Who else have you summoned and talked to?" Percy asked.
"Well, the first Perseus…" he said smirking.
"Seriously? What? Were you comparing us?" Percy asked amused.
"Not really," Nico shrugged, "it was just curiosity."
"Yeah because there's no way I can I measure up to him," Percy said with acceptance as he leaned back.
"He wasn't that great," said Nico, "and you do alright."
"Thanks," Percy scoffed and laughed and Nico smiled wider to himself.
He didn't know why he felt so sad. He knew it would be over soon. Nico would get better and there would be no need to do this anymore. As weird as it was –and it was weird—he liked spending time with Nico. Nico was interesting and although it came out of a bad turn of events, Nico was also very mature for his age. Percy liked making him smile, especially since he felt responsible for how sad Nico looked all the time. Even if Nico didn't blame him, something told him he was the reason why those smiles were so few and far between and laughter was just nonexistent. Everyone was encouraging Nico to be more social but he seemed to only feel the most comfortable around Percy and Jason. They could sword fight and sit together at the sing-a-longs and maybe they could get him to do other things on occasion.
Percy stepped over into the water and immediately felt whole, like the water had been waiting for him. Nico walked over –awkward as always—and stepped into the pool too. He was always so hesitant at first about approaching Percy. He just waited patiently for a few heartbeats and Nico made his way through the water and into his arms. He didn't know if it was because they were in this situation or because of his own lingering guilt from the last couple of years, but he felt kind of protective of Nico. It was stupid because Nico had proven time and again that he could protect himself just fine. He'd survived outside of camp with monsters roaming around for so long. Still, he felt this need to be there for the younger boy. He had always wanted to help Nico and get him back to camp where he would be safe but the feeling was more prominent now.
It scared him a little because it didn't seem like the kind of feeling he should be having for no good reason and so he pushed it away. Nico settled between his legs and leaned back while he wrapped his arms around him. There wasn't any pain when he touched Nico now and that was a good sign. He would still miss this because he felt like their alone time together had helped Nico trust him and they had gotten to know each other in this pool.
"You're quiet today," Percy said.
"Oh, I was going to ask if we could listen to the Killers today," Nico asked. Percy smiled, happy to have gotten Nico interested in something.
"Sure, which song do you wanna hear?"
"Mr. Brightside," answered Nico.
They were half-way through Hot Fuss when Apollo walked in with Will and Chiron in his chair. Nico tensed up immediately and Percy turned the music down.
"The Killers, nice!" said Apollo happily. He was wearing a black peacoat and black jeans today.
"How's the patient?" He asked walking up to the other side of the pool. "Let's see how you've healed up." He held his hands out and Nico scooted away from Percy's embrace before stand up and walking over to Apollo. The god took both of his wet hands in his and waited. Nothing happened, no black smoke and no pain.
"Looking good!" Apollo said flashing his perfect smile. "Percy, I might have to use you for all supernatural illnesses!" Nico pulled his hands away looking uncomfortable.
"I doubt my hugs cure everyone," Percy said blushing. Thankfully, Apollo didn't tease any closer to the sensitive area.
"I think you'll be fine now Nico, so long as you do what we discussed." Nico nodded stiffly and he and Percy climbed out of the pool.
"I'm not sure what to do with this place," Apollo said looking around the pool house. "I could wink it out of existence but that seems a waste," he said turning to Chiron.
"Why don't I donate it to the camp? It can be a water therapy facility!"
"I see no reason why it can't stay. And there is the chance of Mr. Di Angelo having a relapse," Chiron said.
"Okay then, the pool stays," Apollo said finality.
Nico and Percy got dressed, taking their trunks with them this time. They emptied the salt water from it and left with Apollo locking the door and manifesting a little gold key and giving it to Chiron. Percy was a little unhappy that their last session was cut short but at least Nico was better.
"Hey, you wanna hang out?" He asked Nico. Before he could get an answer Apollo walked up and put his arms around both of them.
"I think you two should try your hands at archery!"
"I'll pass," Nico mumbled.
"Yeah, I'm more of a sword guy," Percy said.
"Oh no, I insist!" Apollo squeezed them a little harder. "Will can help you get started." Percy looked at Nico and shrugged. An eyeroll was his response and they walked off to the archery field with Will.
Nico was surprisingly good at archery but Percy was only moderately good. Nico usually landed arrows on the outside of the second closet ring to the bull's-eye. Percy was lucky if he got that close. Will was alternating between them, giving tips and helping, but Percy suspected he liked helping Nico more because Nico was actually making progress, whereas Percy was growing frustrated. He took his stance, drew the arrow back, even tried using his mouth as an anchor like Will said. When he loosed the arrow it only hit the second ring in, almost on the very outside. Percy sighed and looked over at Nico. Will was standing behind him watching intently. Nico drew his bow back until his hand rested against his mouth. Standing there in that stance defined his profile so well that Percy couldn't help but think that Nico was actually good looking. The silky, ink-black hair and his slightly frosty skin combined with his Italian features –he was striking. He looked like a born archer right now and he would grow up to be a real heartbreaker if he could stop scaring people away.
Nico released his arrow and Percy heard a solid thunk as it hit dead center. Will grinned and laughed and walked forward pat Nico on the back. He didn't flinch away from Will's touch, which was good. Nico was even smiling and his cheeks were a bit pink. Percy smiled when Nico looked over at him.
"You're good, man," he said nodding.
"It's probably just beginner's luck," said Nico but that small smile was still on his face.
Percy, you might need some more practice," Will said looking at Percy's arrow. "But Nico, you've got real talent. If you keep this up you'll be an amazing archer." Nico laughed and tried to shrug it off but he was blushing again. It made Percy smile and he was happy Nico was having a good time.
"Can I get a yes?" Will asked. He was using the trademark smile and Percy thought that was a little unfair. Nico's smile was shy but he nodded in agreement and Will smiled wider. That kind of made Percy irritated because he felt like Nico was being tricked, but if it got him to be more outgoing then Percy would support it. And he would come with Nico to archery every day just to make sure Will didn't ruin all of Nico's progress.
He and Percy had become closer –much to Jason's concern—but Nico knew it was just friendship for Percy. He was trying to accept that it would never go beyond that. Maybe things were easier since some people weren't shying away from him like they used to and he was trying not to do it anymore either. The death-touch thing with his skin had really scared him and Jason and Percy were encouraging him to be more social. He still didn't like it when too many people touched him but thankfully not a lot of people did. Percy and Jason were okay. He had tried to apologize for that warning he gave Jason in Croatia but the son of Zeus only smiled and told him not worry about it. Will Solace was alright but only during archery. Sometimes he had to touch Nico to correct his stance and that was fine.
They had fallen into archery as another group activity. Jason was actually okay. He wasn't as good as Nico or as bad as Percy. Jason and Nico teased Percy saying he was going to kill some poor unsuspecting kid with a stray shot if he didn't get any better. Percy teased back calling Nico "Legolas" whenever he shot and hit the bull's-eye.
"I don't even know who that is," he said rolling his eyes.
"Oh yeah, you haven't seen Lord of the Rings," Percy said handing his bow to Jason. "It's a trilogy of movies and one of the characters is an elf named Legolas and he's the best archer ever."
"Well, that isn't me. I only hit the center sometimes. Will's better," Nico said shrugging.
"I don't know about that, but Legolas would definitely be a son of Apollo," Will said laughing. Nico and Jason laughed but apparently Percy didn't find it that funny.
That night at the sing-a-long he sat between Percy and Jason and there was more laughing than singing as the Stoll brothers did everything they could to ruin the song. Usually it was the Apollo cabin that led the sing-a-long but Connor and Travis started shouting out how boring their songs were.
"Don't you guys take requests?" shouted Connor.
"Yeah, come on, I'll gag if we have to sing Michael Finnegan one more time!" yelled Travis.
"Okay," Will said with tested patience. "I guess we can take some requests…"
"The Killers!" Percy yelled. "Mr. Brightside!" Nico looked at him and he grinned back.
"I second that!" Travis yelled.
"Fine!" Will said throwing his hands up in defeat. The Apollo cabin started but soon everyone who knew the lyrics were singing. The fire blazed bright green with pink and shot into the sky. Nico just smiled and then Percy nudged him. Percy scooted closer and sang louder while looking pointedly at Nico. He shook his head and tried to wipe the smile off of his face. He would not sing. Percy changed his expression to an exaggerated pout and mouthed the word "please" to Nico. Nico just turned his face away and looked at Jason who had his arm around Piper but was clearly watching the exchange going on next to him.
"You could have sang, no one but me and maybe Jason would have heard you," Percy said as they walked away from the fire. Jason was walking Piper to the Aphrodite cabin but he kept shooting them looks over his shoulder, which annoyed Nico.
"I don't sing, Percy."
"Hey, that reminds me. There's still a few hours before lights out and I wanted to ask if you wanted to come listen to this new song?" Percy asked hopefully.
"Right now?" Nico asked.
"Sure, why not?" Percy smiled at him. Maybe he should have said no. Jason was concerned he was getting to close to the fire and would be burned badly if he didn't pull back. But it was Jason's idea to be closer to Percy in the first place. Besides, he'd spent so much time alone with Percy –nearly naked in fact- and nothing had happened. He could control himself, that's all he'd done the last five years.
Back in his cabin he watched as Nico looked around and sat down on Tyson's bed looking awkward. Percy went to his desk and got his blue iPod –a Christmas present from Paul—and sat on his bed. He stuck one of the little earbuds in his left ear.
"You have to come over here," he said offering Nico the other. Nico walked across the room and sat down next him on his left. Percy helped him put the earbud in because Nico had never used them and then he turned the song on. They sat there side-by-side just listening.
"What's it called?" Nico asked.
"The band is Imagine Dragons and the song is called Demons."
"I really like this," Nico said with a tiny smile.
"It reminds me of you," Percy said quietly. Nico looked at him and they just stared at each other. He was nervous. His could feel himself blushing and he could see it on Nico's face too. His body temperature was rising and he knew he would be sweating in minutes but he couldn't look away. He didn't want to think right now. If he started thinking that excited happy feeling would go away. He brought his hand up under Nico's chin and tilted his face up slightly. The music kept playing in their ears but everything else was still, like the room was holding its breath. He looked down at Nico's lips and leaned in closer. It was probably the only time he could ever use the word cute to describe the son of Hades. But Nico's eyes were wide and there was no hostility in them for once just a kind of innocent wonder as he looked at Percy. He was, in that moment, so very cute and the urge to kiss him grew inside of Percy like a tidal wave. They were so close that he could feel the tickle of Nico's breath on his lips.
"Percy?" They jumped away from each other and Percy looked around in a panic because that was Annabeth's voice. He finally zeroed in on his calling fountain that was glowing softly. He ran over to it and Annabeth smiled at him. She was sitting on a bed in the barracks at Camp Jupiter in her PJs. Her hair cascaded down and framed her face in golden blond ringlets. She was beautiful and he felt like worst person on the planet. Still, he tried to smile back at her.
"I was hoping to catch you before you went to sleep. How is everything?" She asked.
"It's uh, it's fine…here. Everything's fine," he looked around and tried to be casual about it. He glanced toward his bed and Nico was gone. He'd shadow travelled away most likely. He had to work hard to hide his disappointment as it fell into the pit of his stomach like a rock.
"That's good. Listen, I wanted to let you know that I'll be staying here a while longer. I already talked to Chiron and Jason volunteered to stay there and keep helping you with Nico's problem. Is that okay?" She asked cautiously.
"Uh yeah, I mean is anything wrong?" He asked confused.
"No," she looked down and started playing with the sleeve of her top and looked back at him. Her smiled seemed strained but he was probably just imagining it. "I'm just comparing the architecture of the camp to the building in New Rome. It's just so interesting with all the little differences and stuff."
"Oh. Well, how long is a while?" Was he hoping for a long or a short while? The fact that he didn't know made him hate himself even more.
"I'm not sure. It might only be a few days," she said looking down again.
"Oh. I mean okay, yeah! Have fun, okay? I love you, Annabeth," he said seriously.
"I love you too, Percy. I really, really do," she said just as seriously and then message ended.
He walked back over to his bed and laid there staring at the ceiling. How could he? How could he do that to Annabeth? How could he do that to Nico? Percy had always thought he was good guy but not now. There was no way he could be a good guy when he loved Annabeth but wanted to chase after Nico. Anxiety rolled around in his stomach and made him sick at himself and the world. Had he been flirting with Nico this whole time? Leading him on? Was Nico even going to let that kiss happen? Or was he caught up in the moment? Percy couldn't even figure out how he felt about Nico in turn. He did love Annabeth but all his thoughts and feelings softened on the subject of Nico di Angelo.
He had no idea what to do so doing nothing seemed perfectly logical and he continued to lay there.
He was about to go to bed and catch an early night when someone started pounding on the door of cabin one. He opened it and a terrified looking Nico was standing there.
"You were right," he said woefully.
"Nico, what's wrong?" He asked.
"I…" he began but then looked like he was about to crumple.
"Just come in," Jason said moving out of the way. Nico walked in and just stood in the middle of the floor looking lost.
"Tell me what happened," Jason said gently.
"We," Nico shook his head and balled his fists up. "We almost…kissed."
"I just!" Nico looked like he was going claw his own face off. "I'm so stupid! All this time I hid it! And now he knows!"
"Wait," Jason walked over and put his hands on Nico's shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "You two almost kissed? He tried to kiss you too?"
"I mean…yes? But it doesn't matter! Annabeth called before…he's talking to her right now! He'll just! UGH!"
"Nico calm down!" Jason pleaded. He gripped the boy's shoulders and guided them both to the bed to sit down.
"Tell me exactly what happened."
Jason liked Percy. He had his doubts about the guy at first but Percy had proven himself over and over again. He considered them friends but all those other good qualities he thought he saw in Percy were in question now. Jason had worked hard to gain Nico's trust and he knew Nico needed to trust someone. The kid felt alone in more ways than one and even though Jason had not asked for it, it fell to him to be that one person and he didn't want to fail. They had been through a lot together, all three of them, and this situation was getting out of control. He had warned Nico about getting too close to Percy after it was clear his feelings were getting stronger, but he had never thought Percy would be the one to pop this can of worms. In a matter of minutes Percy had managed to ruin all the progress Nico had made the last week. That was the thought boiling in his mind as he stomped down the green right up to cabin three and started banging on the door.
"Percy!" he shouted. There was no answer. It was somewhere around seven in the morning so he was sure Percy was in there and started banging again. "Open up, Percy this is serious!" He heard movement and the door opened slowly. He pushed in and Percy didn't stop him. The son of Poseidon just gave him a sad look, like a child who was just caught breaking a rule. Jason slammed the door behind him and glowered at his friend.
"You look terrible," he commented.
"I've been up all night…" Percy replied.
"Oh, really? You know who else has been up all night? Me! And you know what I was doing all night? Trying to keep Nico from shadow travelling to the underworld, never to be heard from again!" Percy flinched and dropped his gaze to the floor.
"What were you thinking?" Jason asked fiercely.
"I don't know!" Percy moaned.
"Do you know what you could have done? We just got him better! You just got him better, and now he could start relapsing!"
"Is he okay?" Percy asked with genuine concerned.
"No! He's a wreck!" Jason said as if it should be obvious.
"I didn't mean to…I," Percy looked like he was on the verge of tears and Jason sighed.
"Do you like him?" he asked flatly. Percy only stared at him.
"If you like him, you need to tell him and if you don't, then you need to apologize. Now. I mean on your knees. You have no idea how this is messing with him," Jason said firmly. "We still might lose him."
"I don't know what to do," Percy whispered. He sat on his bed and put his head in his hands.
"Look, I know it's weird if you're suddenly attracted to a guy, but honestly that's the least of the problems with this situation."
"That doesn't bother me. I mean, I know it should but it doesn't. I'm just…angry at myself. I can't believe I did that and then I had to look at Annabeth…" he said without looking up.
"You still love Annabeth, that's obvious, but how do you feel about Nico?" Jason asked calmly. He sat across from Percy on the other bed and stared at his hair since Percy refused to look up.
"I think I have a crush on him…"
Jason had to resist the urge to laugh and he didn't even know who he would be laughing at –Percy, or himself for being put in another situation like this.
"Okay, we gotta go talk to Nico. I'm afraid he'll be gone if we wait any longer." Percy nodded dumbly and got up.
Nico was curled up under the covers of one of the empty beds in Jason's cabin. He didn't react when they came in but Percy looked at the bundle and Jason noticed how sorry he seemed. Jason pushed him forward and nodded at the Nico lump. Percy moved forward and knelt down beside the bed.
"Nico?" he called softly. "Nico, I'm so sorry. I know you must be mad at me but I didn't mean to freak you out like that." Nothing happened and Percy turned to look at Jason who only shook his head.
"It's just a stupid crush, Nico. I promise I will never do that to you again, but I want to still be friends-"
The covers were thrown back and Percy pushed away from the bed as waves of darkness rolled off of Nico who was glaring at him. He looked so angry and hateful that Percy was actually scared. When the darkness touched him he felt such incredible sadness and loathing that it almost made him cry out.
"Nico!" Jason said sternly.
"A stupid crush?" Nico asked darkly. The light in the room began to dim. "Do you know what I would have given to hear that a year ago? A week ago?"
"Nico…what?" Percy stuttered.
"Nevermind," Nico growled but the waves of darkness didn't stop.
"Nico, you have to. We agreed, no more hiding," Jason said. Nico shut his eyes and when he opened them they were filled with that wild light like his father's. He looked at Percy on the floor. Then just as quickly as it came, his anger died down. The darkness lifted slowly and the light finally filled the room again. Nico just looked broken now.
"You've had no idea this whole time, have you?" Before Percy could say anything, Nico blurted out, "I love you."
"Gods, I've loved you almost since the moment I saw you fighting that manticore and it just won't go away. I've tried. I tried to leave to get as far away from you as I could. I went to the underworld and Camp Jupiter, but nowhere was far enough. All I wanted was for you to look at me the way you look at her. And when I ended up in Tartarus..." he shuddered but kept going. "I just kept thinking about getting back Hazel…and you." Tears slipped out of Nico's eyes and Percy was stunned. When he looked at Jason he was met with a stoic expression.
Percy got up and sat on the bed. He grabbed Nico and hugged him and at first Nico's eyes were wide with shock and then he balled a fist into Percy's shirt and buried his face in the boy's shoulder.
Jason left them alone and went to see Piper. Percy didn't blame him. Now that he knew what had been going on, he felt bad for Jason. The guy had carried a secret that wasn't his and had been trying to manage this situation without making it obvious. He needed a break so Percy promised to take care of Nico. They were lying on the bed now. He was used to holding Nico thanks to all that time in the pool and he felt like the younger boy needed the physical contact to ride this out and maybe he did too. Nico's head was on his chest and he held him with one arm and rubbed his back with the other. Nico had broken down. The dam he'd constructed inside of himself to hold back his feeling had finally burst and all Percy could do was hold him while it happened, shushing him and promising it was okay. Now they were both quiet.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he whispered.
"I don't…boys aren't supposed to like other boys," Nico said softly. That shocked Percy more than anything he could have said.
"That's what I was taught," he said quietly then he pushed away and sat up in the bed. "Don't you remember when I was actually born, Percy? Apollo says it's…different today but I don't know what else to think. Besides, it was pointless anyway, still is, because you're with Annabeth." Percy said nothing at first because he was having trouble untangling this ball of yarn. He sat up and put a hand on Nico's shoulder.
"I am with Annabeth and we've been through so much together. I'm sorry, Nico, I don't know… I don't think I can leave her like that," he said honestly. Nico, who was busy hiding his eyes under his hair, shrugged off Percy's hand.
"Yeah, I know," he said and scooted off the foot of the bed and started putting his shoes back on.
"I don't want you to start pushing everyone away again," Percy said as he watched him. "I don't want you getting sick because of me again."
"I'll try not to." Nico turned around and gave him a downcast look. The sight of his puffy red eyes made Percy want to pull him back onto the bed. "After all, I don't think it would be smart for us to end up back in that pool. Wouldn't want to get too close again."
Percy watched him trail back to cabin thirteen with his hands in the pockets of his aviator jacket and his head hung low and then turned to his cabin and went inside. His eyes stung but no tears came. He was too overwhelmed to cry. He had feelings for Nico, and as it turned out Nico had been in love with him all along. He couldn't help but think back to every interaction he'd ever had with the son of Hades and realize how it all made perfect sense. That whole time in the Labyrinth... Gods! The way Nico looked back when he thought Percy didn't trust him anymore after handing him over to Hades. The way he acted when Percy tried to talk to him before he left with the Athena Parthenos. Nico's powers going haywire, the whole thing had been his fault.
He'd been hurting Nico this whole time. And then there was Annabeth. The kiss hadn't happened but it would have if she hadn't interrupted. He would have cheated on her, he practically had. He didn't leave the cabin for the rest of the day. Jason came to check on him and said Nico was much in the same condition. All that did was make him think about how he had forced Nico back into his old habits and how his powers could start reacting again. It didn't help anything when he started thinking about how his touched cured Nico. He hated himself for it but he wanted those days in the pool back. They had become so comfortable with each other and now it was back to the way it used to be.
And there was nothing he could do to fix it.
For the next few days they avoided each other, but true to his word, Nico didn't try to avoid anyone but Percy. He would still hang out with Jason, who tried not to leave him alone with other people and helped sooth any awkwardness. Jason went to archery with him, they even hung out with Leo and Calypso when she came to visit, and at the campfire Nico sat on the other side of Jason and Piper away from Percy. He was sad and it should have been a pain he was used to but not this. Now he knew Percy felt something for him and there was still no hope because Percy was loyal. He knew that, it was one of the things he loved about him. Jason had stopped trying to reassure him, even he had lost hope that this could get better. His feelings for Percy had gone as far as they could go. He tried to hide his sadness with his normal dark sense of humor but the truth was he was suffocating.
"Are you okay?" Will asked. Nico's performance in archery had dipped. His last shot had almost been worse than anything Percy ever had done.
"Yeah, I'm having tough time focusing," he mumbled and reached down for another arrow. Jason brought Piper today in order to spend time with both of them. Nico had felt so bad for basically stealing Jason away from her that he agreed to tell her what was going on. He'd never been hugged so hard in his life.
"You've been distracted for a few days actually…" Will said leadingly.
"Yeah…moodiness, it's a child of Hades thing," Nico said notching his arrow.
"Well, this might be a bad time to ask but would you want to do something with me sometime?"
"We are…?" said Nico in complete confusion as he tried to line up his aim.
"No, I mean alone together…on a date," Will laughed.
Nico fell out of balance and the shot went wild, sailing over a tree to land in parts unknown. He took a second to hope it didn't hit anyone and then his frantic eyes turned to Will who was smiling at him innocently, his blue eyes glittering with amusement.
"What?" Nico asked. Will smiled wider and fixed him with a look that made him slightly uncomfortable.
"I'm asking you on a date," he said stepping closer.
"Will, if this is joke…" Nico said dangerously.
"Why do you think I'm joking?"
"Because! How did you even know I was…" Nico stuttered.
"I've dated guys before. Call it a sixth sense. I think my Dad knew and that's why he pushed you to take archery lessons with me," Will was blushing a little and Nico could admit that it was cute. Will was good looking. He had Apollo's smile, sun kissed blond hair and skin with a body built for surfing –Nico tried not think about how Percy's body was the same—and his blue eyes were bright.
"Trust me, I'm not the dating type," Nico said bitterly.
"Why? Have you ever tried?" Nico blushed and looked at the ground.
"I'm not going to push you, just think about it," Will shrugged and smiled. It made Nico's stomach flipped and he had a sneaking suspicion that Will know how to use his smile too well.
"Why me?" Nico asked with sincere curiosity.
"Maybe I like bad boys? A little moodiness doesn't bother me," Will grinned one last time and took Nico's bow from him and went to put it back on the racks. Nico just stood there looking at him with his face on fire.
Percy's eyes were closed as he lay on the sand and felt the waves rush in to lap at his feet. The water was cold but that didn't bother him. He didn't even stop his clothes from getting wet and the water rushed in higher and higher, making his back wet almost up to his hair. The beach was the only place he felt peaceful now. It was also good because he was alone there most days and if he wasn't, he would go under water. Looking at Nico every day as they pretended each other didn't exist was harder than he thought it would be. He missed him. He missed talking to him, seeing him smile, and touching him. It was scary because he missed him more than he missed Annabeth. All he wanted was for his head to clear and it wouldn't.
He'd thought about it until he was sick of it. Turning everything from the last two weeks over in his mind and trying to examine it from every angle. Annabeth was coming back today and Jason was leaving tomorrow. Once that happened he was sure Nico would leave camp. What scared him the most was not knowing if he'd made the right choice. There was still time to change his mind but that thought was even worse because he hated second guessing himself only to do it again once he changed his mind. That near-miss-kiss weighed on his heart and filled him with guilt and there was no way he could live with it. He had never lied to Annabeth and he wanted to keep it that way.
The horn sounded signaling the return of a chariot. Annabeth was coming in a Roman chariot pulled by a Pegasus and there had to be some warning system so she wouldn't be fired at. Good terms or not, old habits were hard to forget. His heart started thumping out of control and he shot up and ran back. He had been hoping for some more time, as it was he wouldn't even have time to change. He ran to the big house barefoot. If he didn't get it off his chest first thing, he would lose his nerve. Annabeth was talking to Chiron when he showed up, out of breath, wet, and his back covered in clinging grit. Both Chiron and Annabeth looked at him in surprise and she said something to the centaur before walking over to meet him. Her hair was in a ponytail and she was wearing the new t-shirts in support of Camp Exchange. It was red with an eagle and Omega symbol on it.
She hesitated and then threw her arms around him but pulled away quickly. "Percy! You're all wet and sandy!"
"Yeah, sorry," he panted, "ran here from the beach."
"I'm happy to see you," she said smiling. His heart cracked and splintered into a million pieces.
"Annabeth, can we please talk…alone?"
"Yeah, that's a good idea actually because I have a lot to tell you."
They walked away from the big house and headed back down to the beach. He didn't know what her reaction would be but he hoped she wouldn't get too violent. They walked side-by-side and he spent a few minutes devising escape plans.
"So, I need to-"
"I think we should break up!" He blurted, cutting her off. Annabeth looked at him in complete astonishment and his heart was beating so hard that he could hear it and wondered vaguely if she could too.
"I'm sorry, Annabeth! But I just…I have feelings for Nico and we almost kissed and I feel so guilty! I can't be with you when I can't stop thinking about him!"
For a while there was only the sound of the water churning and meeting the sandy shore. It was after noon so the sun wasn't quit overhead but he still had to squint against it, which would make avoiding attacks more difficult. He stared at her waiting for a reaction and when she smiled at him he was sure he would be dead very soon. She giggled and he actually backed up a step.
"Well…I think I would have done it more gently than that. I had a speech ready and everything."
"Huh?" He said looking at her.
"I came back to ask you if you would hate me if I needed some time apart but…" she smiled sadly and shook her head.
"Annabeth, you're not making sense," he said.
"I…might have feelings for Reyna…" He was sure he had heard her wrong. He stared at her as she started to scramble to explain.
"We just…we click! We spent a lot of time together while I was there and I don't know how she feels but I…I mean at first I thought I was just homesick and missing you and projecting those feelings onto her but…it's not that. I wanted to tell you the last time we IMed but I was scared." Her cheeks were pink and he couldn't believe what he was hearing, it was so absurd!
"Oh my gods!" He was looking around the beach frantically trying to find a foothold in the moment. He felt like he was somewhere between hysterical laughter and a panic attack. Finally, he settled for laughter.
"Look at us!" he said between fits of mirth. "I don't even know what to say!" Annabeth started laughing too.
"So, Nico huh?" She asked smiling and arching an eyebrow. Percy blushed and smiled back.
"This have anything to do with his touching problem you were helping with?" She looked at him and he chuckled.
"So, you wanna be with Reyna?" He asked.
"Yes?" She said sheepishly.
"That's…hot actually," he laughed
"Don't be a pig, seaweed brain!" she said punching him in the shoulder. They kept walking and talked about everything. He told her about Nico and she told him about Reyna.
"Yeah, oddly enough it was discussing you that started this!" She said laughing. "She was kind of still crushing on you and wanted to be upfront about it. I guess she thought I deserved to know and it actually helped us get along more because I appreciated her honesty."
"Well, you're welcome," he said smugly and she rolled her eyes and laughed.
"Don't get arrogant. I don't even know how she feels yet. She might not even like me like that."
"How could she not? You're amazing," he said holding her hand and squeezing it.
They talked about how odd it all felt and Annabeth was actually a big help when it came to addressing their bi-sexuality. It wasn't something either of them were really worried about or considered a big deal. For a while he'd thought something was wrong with him for not being bothered by his attraction to Nico. It made him feel better that Annabeth was going through the same thing. They talked until sunset and then headed back to the cabins. Annabeth would set out for Camp Jupiter again sometime tomorrow. He walked her to the Athena cabin and kissed her goodnight one last time.
"Thank you. You have no idea how great you are," he said looking at her.
"I kind of do," she smiled and rubbed the side of his face. "I still love you, you know."
"I still love you too," he said, "I probably always will. I'm not even sure how it's possible to have feelings for both of you."
"Percy, we're not machines. The idea that only person is perfectly compatible with you is highly illogical. And maybe it won't work out with Reyna and Nico and we'll come back to each other one day and be better for having tried with other people. And if it does work out then we're still friends."
He hugged her tight, planting a kiss on the side of her neck and let her go. He felt lighter as he walked back to his cabin. It was such a relief he could almost feel the weight of it lifting off of him. He was still a little nervous about approaching Nico but excited at the same time. He looked down at his dirty, sandy clothes and frowned. Maybe he would talk to Nico in the morning after a shower.
He smiled to himself as he walked out of cabin three.
"Hey!" He turned around and Jason jogged up.
"Hey," Percy said grinning.
"Why is Annabeth leaving again?"
"She's um, she's going back to Camp Jupiter to ask Reyna on a date," Percy laughed at the confused expression on Jason's face.
"Yeah," Percy laughed again and stuck his hands into his pockets. "She kind of fell for Reyna the way I fell for Nico and she actually came back to break it off with me. I beat her to it though."
"Well…that's…yeah. Huh? Annabeth wants to date Reyna?" asked Jason blinking.
"That's what she said…" replied Percy.
"That's…actually…really hot…" Jason said slowly and Percy laughed. "Wait, you beat her to it? As in, you were going to dump her?"
"Yes." Percy smiled wider and then he was suddenly pulled into a bear hug.
"Thank the gods! You two idiots were driving me insane!" Percy laughed and was about pat him on the back when Jason pulled back suddenly.
"Oh no…" he said looking sad and terrified.
"What's wrong? I thought you were happy for-"
"Nico is on a date with Will Solace."
"Will? What the- Now?" Percy asked shocked.
"Yeah, Will asked him out a couple of days ago and since Nico thought you were sticking with Annabeth, he said yes. They went on a morning chariot ride, something about watching the sun rise." It felt like Jason had gut punched him.
"It's just one date, Percy, maybe if you talk to him?" Jason asked hopefully.
"Yeah," he said trying to sound upbeat.
Percy sat outside of the Hades cabin. His head bent as he studied the ground between his legs. Luckily he hadn't been there long before he heard footsteps approaching and looked up to see Nico staring at him from a few feet away. Nico looked a little shocked to see him. They had spent days not speaking and now he was waiting on the boy's doorstep like they were in some ridiculous romance movie. He stood up and tried not to look so awkward under Nico's scrutiny.
"Hey," said Percy.
"What are you doing?" asked Nico.
"I was waiting for you. Were you really on a date with Will?"
"That's none of your business," Nico said walking past him.
"Nico, please wait-"
"No! I don't want to hear anything you have to say! I'm done letting you get my hopes up when I should be moving on! Today started out good and now here you are to screw it up! I should have left like I said I was going to so I would never have to look at you again!" The grass under Nico's feet started to die. Percy could hear it wilting. Nico's eyes were furious and he couldn't understand where it was coming from.
"Nico stop, please!" Percy said backing away. "I didn't come here to fight!"
"Why did you come here? Why do you care where I was? If I was with Will or not? What? You having second thoughts again? I bet you heard about Will asking me out and you got jealous! You're selfish!" The ground cracked and it was like darkness was spreading out from the fissures. Percy looked at him in defeat.
"You're not even going to listen to me?" He asked sadly.
"Go away, Percy. Just leave me alone." Nico walked into the cabin and slammed the door behind him but the ground didn't close up.
He turned and walked away from the increasing darkness and the boy he cared about. Nico was right, he had been jealous when he heard about the date. He'd been jealous since Will started flashing his smile at Nico. Maybe it had made him want Nico more and that meant he was selfish. He even broke up with Annabeth over it, and what if she hadn't liked Reyna? Would he have tried crawling back to her? He headed to the only place that made sense.
He ran into Jason and shrugged him off, shaking his head and kept walking. He stopped at the water and the waves crashed into his legs, soaking his jeans up to the knee. He registered the noise of people coming closer to the beach and only wanted to shut it out. He walked deeper into the water until he could dive under. The sea was largely a peaceful place. Once you were away from the beach where the waves crashed, it became quieter. The noise was only on top and it could stay there as far he was concerned.
He had ruined everything. If he had only gone to Nico that night after talking to Annabeth –no—if he had told Nico he was going to talk to Annabeth, that he was planning to end it with her to be with him then Nico wouldn't be dating Will right now…or hating him. He floated under water watching the way the light rippled on the surfaced and broke through in scattered rays. He could see and feel the roll of the water as it built into waves and moved passed him heading for the beach.
Just when he thought it was over…
"Nico! What did you do?"
Jason ran to cabin thirteen after seeing Percy. He didn't have to get very close before he saw the fractured ground and seeping darkness around Nico's door. He was supposed to go back to Camp Jupiter today but how could he leave this mess behind? Piper and Annabeth ran over as Jason took a big leap and flew over the festering earth and landed right in front of the cabin door.
"Nico, you have to stop this darkness from spreading!" Jason yelled and he pounded on the door. Nico threw the door open and he looked livid.
"Nico, this is what you've been hoping for what went wrong?"
"Hoping for? Oh, I was hoping to see him hugging and kissing Annabeth last night like nothing ever happened between us? No! What I was hoping was that being with Will would make me feel…something! But it didn't because…there's got to be something wrong with me! Why can't I stop thinking about him?" Jason groaned and wiped his hands down his face. He took a deep breath and launched into damage control mode.
"Nico, fix the ground," he said simply. Nico blinked up at him with red eyes and whatever he saw in Jason's face must have commanded no argument because he focused on the ground and made it knit back together without a fuss.
"Nico," said Jason rubbing his temples and trying to contain his frustration. "Percy was saying good-bye to Annabeth, they broke up."
"What? No! They were hugging and-"
"It was a good-bye! Annabeth is going back to Camp Jupiter! She has a crush on Reyna!"
"A crush on Reyna? That's…weird," Nico said.
"It's true, Nico," Annabeth said walking up to the door. Piper followed her and started to rub Jason's back. He was lightly banging his head against the door frame in irritation. Nico looked wide-eyed at Annabeth. "Percy and I split up. He told me that he has feelings for you, that he can't stop thinking about you," she gently.
"So…?" Nico asked.
"He left her for you," said Jason. "It turned out to be a mutual thing because Annabeth wants to ask out Reyna, but Percy was fully prepared to dump her, break her heart, and leave her for you. Nico, I have never wanted to strangle you more."
Jason could see the truth settling into Nico's mind and he could see the exact moment that Nico realized what he'd done. It was like watching a car crash as Nico's angry expression shattered and reformed into one of dismay and disbelief.
"Where is Percy?" Nico asked so calmly, it was almost like he was in a trance.
"He was heading for the beach," Jason said exasperated. Nico pushed past them all and ran there.
Nico wouldn't see anyone and as far as Jason knew he hadn't been out of his cabin for the entire three days since he found Percy's footprints leading into the ocean. Nico stayed on the beach that whole day waiting for Percy to remerge from the surf and when Jason begged him to get some sleep he just never came back out. He wouldn't open the door either. Jason could feel the misery radiating from under the door whenever he got close and he feared Nico was inviting death-touch problems. There was no way of finding Percy since none of them could breathe under water and Iris Messages weren't being picked up. It was like Percy was blocked.
Annabeth didn't feel comfortable leaving with Percy missing either, but everyone was basically sitting around helpless. It finally got so bad that Chiron joined them in their effort to get Nico out of the cabin. The entire group just stood around begging and threatening him until he finally opened the door. The circles under his eyes were darker and his silky black hair was a disheveled mess. His clothes were wrinkled and he looked in desperate need of a sandwich.
"Hey," said Jason putting a hand on his shoulder. His thumb accidently grazed the skin of Nico's neck and he snatched his hand away.
"Dis immortales!" Jason swore. His thumb was see-through and Nico's skin was smoking but it didn't seem to hurt the son of Hades as it had before.
"Nico…" breathed Annabeth, her eyes wide with shock.
"I don't think anyone should touch me," he said calmly. "I'm going back to the beach." They parted like a red sea around him as he made a beeline for the shore.
"Maybe Hazel can…help?" Annabeth suggested as they watched him walk away. The rest of the campers backed away from him instinct so it was unlikely he would hurt anyone but this was bad.
"Yeah, I'll go IM her," said Jason.
"Brother Percy!" Tyson swam over and seized him in a bone-breaking hug.
"Tyson!" he gasped and sighed when the Cyclopes released him. "Hey buddy!"
"Percy!" He looked over and his father was sitting on a throne made of coral, sea stone, and shells. The two mermen who brought him in bowed deeply.
His father's palace was repaired from the battle with Oceanus, which made sense because that was a little over two years ago. Percy didn't remember how impressive it was though. The abalone panels on the walls were white and glowed with rainbow colors, giant pearls lined the floor and floated above their heads shining to provide light, and various sea creatures swam in and out through the windows. It had been a while since Percy had seen his father, especially here but unlike last time when he'd looked haggard because of the state of his kingdom, he still had his black hair and middle aged features.
"Dad," said Percy his voice vibrating the water to form sounds.
"This is unexpected," he said but not unpleasantly. "What brings you here?" And then he looked at Percy more closely. "Is everything alright?"
"Yeah!" Percy replied with fake enthusiasm. "I just came to ask for directions to the forges because I wanted to visit Tyson, but here he is!" It wasn't a complete lie. He had wanted to visit Tyson but that idea only came after swimming away from camp.
"I didn't mean to drop in unannounced and I can leave if-"
"No. It's alright, you should spend more time here. Tyson, show Percy to his room. I'm sure he's tired from the journey here." Tyson clapped and led the way deeper into the palace. Percy hadn't anticipated staying but he was kind of glad that he didn't have to go back right away. He didn't really know if he ever wanted to.
Nico sat on the beach and he knew he was causing chaos. Chiron was warning everyone against touching him, which would do wonders for his astounding popularity. Piper and Annabeth were watching him from further away, and he had no idea where Jason had gone. He just stared at the water. All he wanted was to see Percy rise out of the waves and come strolling onto the beach. And then he could tell him that he was sorry, he would beg Percy to forgive him and ask if it was too late for them to try.
"I didn't think our date was that bad." He looked to his left and Will Solace walked into his sight and sat down next to him in the sand.
"You shouldn't be so close, my skin is hurting people again," Nico mumbled and turned to stare at the ocean again.
"I already told you, Nico. I'm not afraid of you. Though now I see that isn't enough to compete with Percy," Will said while smiling gently. Nico blushed.
"I'm sorry," he said honestly.
"Don't be. I came in too late," he shrugged. "It's not your fault and I can see why you like him."
"I know it won't help. I know because I've been in this situation, probably still am. It's hard to like someone who just can't like you back but if I didn't feel the way I do about Percy, I probably would have these types of feelings for you," Nico said looking at him. Will gave one of his perfect smiles.
"That actually does mean a lot."
"Nico!" They turned around and Hazel was running down the down the beach toward him. Her curly hair flew around wildly as she ran and he could see the concern shining in her gold eyes. He didn't know how she had gotten to Camp Half-Blood or how she knew to come but he was glad. He was so shocked to see her and he didn't have time to warn her before she launched herself at him. She practically tackled him and then he heard her let out a surprised squeak and he panicked. He pushed her away gently and looked at her skin to see if she was turning ghostly but she was fine.
"Are you okay?" He asked. Hazel sat on her knees. "How did you get here?"
"I'm fine and I rode Arion," she said looking down at herself.
"Hazel, you can't just touch me like that anymore," he warned.
"Why didn't you tell me you were sick?" she asked sounding hurt. "Jason had to tell me about everything," she said and reached out to stroke his cheek. He flinched back, not wanting to hurt her but she touched him anyway. She frowned a little but seemed okay.
"She's not affected?" asked Will looking at Hazel's hand.
"Maybe because you're my sister?" Nico guessed.
"Either that or because she's also a child of the underworld…or both," suggested Will.
"The hug prickled a little but that's all," said Hazel looking between them.
"That's interesting," said Will. "But you two probably need to talk so I'll go. I hope he comes back to you, Nico."
Hazel hugged him again once Will was gone and he hesitated before relaxing into it. He was still afraid of hurting her but he really needed the contact. He wrapped his arms around her and snuggled his face into her shoulder. He had done it so much in the last few days that it seemed impossible he would have any tears left but somehow he found more and they began rolling down his face and absorbing into her camp t-shirt.
"It's okay," she said softly, pulling away and wiping his face for him.
"I screwed up so bad this time," he said his voice cracking from emotion. "What if he never comes back?"
"Then you'll have to go after him," she said firmly.
"I can't! Even if I knew where he was out there, I can't breathe under water or survive the pressure." Hazel took his face in her hands and looked him in the eyes.
"Is that the only thing stopping you?" she asked.
"What? Yes, what else would it be?"
"You're not scared?" He gave her a confused look and she sighed. "You kept your feelings a secret from everyone -especially him- it was almost a mission for you. Now it's out and he might return those feelings. Are you sure you're not just scared of that? Of having something you thought was impossible?"
"Maybe…" he said
"Well you shouldn't be. You have a chance to be with him and if you don't go after him, I will. I'll pull him up from the water on top of a mountain of pearls if I have to and I'll drag him back here to you," she said it with so much confidence that he laughed for the first time in days.
"Then I'd better go with you to protect him," he said smiling.
"Then let's go get Leo to load up the Argo II," she said smiling back.
Percy and Tyson were playing fetch with a killer whale out in the courtyard of his father's palace. The palace felt so alive, it was an eco-system that housed smaller eco-systems of coral. The gardens were pretty much made of multi-colored coral reefs and other plant life. Tiny fish swam around everywhere and crabs scuttled up the walls. Sometimes Percy couldn't tell if a shell was part of the palace or just little sea slug having a nap. There was never an end to activity under the sea, everything was always in motion and it made the palace feel busy.
The whale, named Alfie, was apparently used to playing with Tyson. His brother yanked a giant bone from the sea floor –probably from another long-dead whale—started tossing it who-knows how far until it broke the surface and Alfie would go after it and bring it back. Percy mostly watched since there was no way he could lift the bone let alone throw it as Tyson did so easily. He did toss Alfie a nice dead salmon whenever he brought the bone back.
He'd been in the palace a full day as far as he could guess and it was…different. He was learning about Mer-society and how they were a fearsome race that valued strength. He mostly kept to himself, Tyson was the only person he really spoke to. He'd tried addressing his stepmother, Amphitrite, but she was terse and glared at him mostly. Triton had come –apparently hearing that Percy was in the palace—and he'd leveled some cutting remarks about how it must be nice to be able to lounge whenever there wasn't a war going on. Percy didn't know why Triton was constantly hinting that he was lazy since he'd, you know, saved the world a couple of times. He didn't even know what Triton did and didn't care to.
Honestly, he was in no mood and he ached to tell them both off –Amphitrite and Triton—it wasn't his fault that Poseidon strayed from his wife. But he just knew that would make trouble for his father so he pretended it didn't bother him. He had enough to worry about without his estranged family's qualms with his existence. He missed camp. Most importantly, he missed Nico. He felt the most incredible pain whenever he thought of him, which was all the time. It was so much worse than when he thought Annabeth was in love with Luke.
Part of him wished he had stayed, that he had fought to make himself heard over Nico's anger. But the other side knew that when Nico wanted to shut someone out there was no getting through. Percy had been on the wrong side of his anger before and if trying to convince Nico that he wanted to be with him was anything like trying to convince him that Bianca's death had been an accident then he was up the Styx without a paddle. He was hoping Nico just needed to cool down, but was he doing that with Will? His window of opportunity was closing quickly. He as good as drove Nico to Will and he didn't know how to intervene.
"Percy?" He turned around and his father was standing in the doorway that led from the palace to the courtyard. A school of silver fish darted out of the way as his father floated closer.
Percy rubbed Alfie on the nose and waved to Tyson and then swam over to his father. He was expecting to get booted out, after all, how long could he stay and make things awkward? Poseidon turned and swam back inside and Percy followed. It was a little funny how his father still dressed like a beach bum even in his own palace. The Hawaiian shirt and kakis looked so out of place, but he had his trident and Percy supposed no one would dare correct the god of the sea on his choice of clothing.
"Percy, something is troubling you, I can see that much. What did you come here to escape?" Percy still didn't know if he could blush underwater but it was probably happening.
"Of course, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to but I…do worry about you," he said gently.
"I know, Dad. I'm just…struggling with things right now."
"Something bad enough to make you run from it? What could be worse than Kronos, or Hyperion, or Gaea?" Poseidon looked at him and he felt foolish. He had faced those enemies without running…much. But then again, they weren't Nico di Angelo.
"A ruined love life?" he said desolately. Poseidon's eyebrows shot up and Percy felt mortified.
"Ah, young love," his father said putting an arm around him. "But I thought Athena's daughter returned your affections?"
Here we go… Thought Percy.
"It's not her. We…broke up," he said, "but it was okay," he added quickly. He sighed when he saw his father's confused look.
"I like someone else…Nico di Angelo, the son of Hades."
"Well…and he doesn't care for you?" his father asked. Percy exhaled and blew bubbles.
"He did but I messed it all up. He thinks I still love Annabeth and that I'm only interested in him because I was jealous," he mumbled.
"But your feelings are true?" Percy nodded mutely. "Then you need to convince him. If he's anything like his father it may be rough but you can't give up," he encouraged.
"He was so angry the last time I saw him…"
"Temper like Hades I'll bet, but that only confirms how he truly feels about you. He must care for you to get so angry." Percy didn't say anything and it was his Dad's turn to sigh.
"You could stay here but what about your mother? And the rest of your friends? They will be worried if they aren't already. I believe you need to face this Nico."
"Young Perseus is heartsick?" They looked ahead and Triton came floating into view. Percy had to work hard not to show any emotion. He'd learned very quickly that Triton liked to rile him up.
"Triton, is there something you needed?" asked Poseidon firmly.
"Mother was looking for you," said Triton with a shrug.
"Tell her I will be along shortly." Triton inclined his head and swam away.
"Now, as I was saying-"
"You're right Dad. I should face Nico. I wanted to but I think I just needed a push to help me," he said smiling faintly.
"At least spend the rest of today with Tyson," said Poseidon.
"Okay, I'll leave tomorrow."
Yes, he wanted to fix things with Nico and he hoped it wasn't too late but he really wanted to get away from Triton.
The sun was going down and he could see the first stars peeking out in the sky. The water looked like an endless expanse of blue and that was not a comforting thought. The sheer immensity of it made him sad because it was hiding the person he loved. The wind rustled his hair and he tugged the hood of his hoodie over his head and hugged himself. He didn't get cold easily but this was a different chill settling inside of him.
Nico was sitting in the crow's nest again. He was kind of surprised at how everyone wanted to come help him find Percy. His secret was out and he was uncomfortable about it but it was a lot better than he expected. Leo hadn't even cracked a joke at his expense. He still wanted to be away from everyone because he wasn't very hopeful. They still had no way of locating Percy. They could sail around the world and never find him. He heard the ropes move and looked down, Hazel was climbing up. She hopped over the side and puffed in exertion.
"Hey," she breathed and shrugged a little backpack off of her shoulders. She unzipped it and pulled out food. Sandwiches and fruit mostly and he knew there would be no arguing with her or telling her that he wasn't hungry because she would shove the food at him anyway. She didn't say anything, just sat next to him and handed him a banana. He took it without a word. They were wearing heavy clothes because it was colder out at sea. Nico opted for a simple black hoodie but everyone else bundled up. Hazel looked cute in her puffy purple coat and scarf and it made him smile.
"Did you tell Frank what's going on?" he asked peeling the fruit.
"Yeah," she giggled a little. "He wanted to come so bad but he can't just run off now that he has responsibilities."
"You should have told him it was a wild goose chase," muttered Nico.
"Will you please stay positive? We'll find him." They munched in silence for a while. Nico hadn't noticed how hungry he was until he started eating. Actually, he couldn't remember when the last time he ate was.
"So, tell me about that Will guy, he seemed nice," she said nonchalantly.
"Smooth," he grinned at her and she laughed.
"I just never thought you'd…date," she said shrugging.
"I tried. He wasn't Percy," Nico said sadly.
"Hey up there!" When they looked over the side of the crow's nest, Leo was on deck waving at them. He had something under his arm that looked like a bronze helmet. "I think I figured it out!" When they climbed back down on deck everyone was standing around Leo. He grinned at Hazel and presented the helmet. It had cords running from it back to a control console.
"You are gonna love me," he said.
"What is it?" Piper asked.
"I put a sonar system in Festus a while back. It's a special demi-god sonar to help us see when monsters are coming. I got the idea after we tangled with that giant turtle and stinky-feet-guy. I mean imagine how that would have come in handy back-"
"Please arrive at the point, Leo," said Hazel rolling her eyes in a very Nico-like way.
"I did some tinkering and added this helmet. I adjusted the sonar system so we can tune your powers to it, Hazel. You put this on and you are our map to Poseidon's palace!" he grinned even wider.
"What?" said Jason.
"Think about it! Percy is the sea god's son. He's probably there. Poseidon's crib is probably full of swag too! Hazel can sense it and lead us straight there!"
"That actually makes sense," Annabeth said in surprise. Leo puffed up, clearly proud of himself.
"But how will I know what I'm looking for?" asked Hazel.
"We know," said Jason looking at Nico. "Percy told us all about the palace one day."
"Me too," said Annabeth
"Alright! Let's get you hooked up!" Leo took led Hazel to the console and sat her down in front of it and then fitted the helmet on her head. He went to the console and started turning dials.
"Tell me when you can sense clearly," he said.
"Wait!" she said and took the helmet off.
"What?" Leo asked.
"You can tune this to anyone's powers?" she asked.
"Yeah but nobody else can do what you can so…"
"But Nico!" she looked at her brother with a manic light in her eyes. "Nico, we still need a way to get a message to Percy! If we tune it your powers you could find a few skeletons, right?" he nodded slowly. "You could animate them and they will swim right to the palace once I find it! Percy will know it's you! Who else could make a skeleton move?"
"That could work!" Annabeth said. "Leo, you gotta make another helmet for this thing so they can join their powers. I'll help you."
"No offense, Annabeth, but this isn't like building a skyscraper," he said. She shot him a glare and the smile fell right off of his face. "Okay, let's get to work," he said.
Forty-five minutes later there were two helmets hooked to the Sonar and both Hazel and Nico were wearing them. Leo was tuning the dials on the –now- dual console.
"There!" shouted Nico. "I feel them -skeletons of various sea creatures. Gods, the range on this thing is amazing! I think I could feel all the way back to Long Island!"
"Can you reanimate them?" Hazel asked.
"I'll try," he said. Nico shut his eyes and concentrated. Hazel could feel something ripping away from the seafloor though to the others it probably seemed like nothing was happening. A few more minutes and a half decomposed whale skeleton was swimming next to the ship and Nico was slumped over on Hazel.
"Could…only…raise…one," he panted and she removed his helmet.
"Is that a humpback whale?" Annabeth asked in shock.
"Gross, it's all slimy and smelly…" said Leo.
"My turn," Hazel said to Leo. He began tuning the dials again.
"Wait…I can feel gold…and pearls. I think this is my frequency. Guys, Poseidon's palace, what am I looking for?" Hazel had her eyes closed like she was seeing things inside of her head.
"Percy said there are giant glowing pearls inside the palace as lamps," said Jason. Hazel turned her head left and right and her face screwed up in concentration.
"There are pearls everywhere…that's not helping."
"These pearls are huge," said Jason. "Can you feel for size?"
"Maybe," said Hazel. She turned her head sharply to the right. "Oh, that one's big!"
"It'll be more than one Hazel," Nico said.
"Try abalone," said Annabeth. "Percy said the walls and even whole towers are made from it."
"Umm what is that?" asked Hazel.
"It's a muttonshell used to make jewelry. It shines in rainbow colors when the light hits it," said Annabeth.
"Right…" Hazel was quiet as she sat with her eyes closed. "There's something big…it's very far ahead and very deep underwater…but it's big. We'll need to get closer before I can tell what it is."
"Straight ahead?" asked Leo.
"Vere to the right a bit but yeah," she responded.
Nico's skeletal whale continued to swim beside them and he silently wondered if that would be enough to get Percy's attention.
"Perseus?" Percy was swimming back to his room when Triton came up behind and called his name. He turned around and looked at his older brother and tried to keep his face blank.
"Yes?" he answered indifferently. Triton swam closer, his double fish tails swishing in the water. Percy hated it but Triton had the same green eyes as him, they matched his green skin. He even had Poseidon's black hair like Percy.
"This son of Hades you love…" Percy tensed but otherwise tried not to react.
"Do you believe he is a respectable…consort for a son of Poseidon?" Triton crossed his arms and looked at Percy coolly.
"Do you always eavesdrop?" Percy asked. Triton smiled but it didn't reach his eyes.
"Forgive me I'm simply curious about your life. I hear so much about you and yet know so little."
"Why do you care who I love?" Percy asked watching his face carefully.
"I care about my father's honor. It was bad enough when you were with Athena's girl. Athena and our father have had a rivalry for centuries, but now a child of Hades…you are a rebel."
"Dad didn't seem to care about any of that stuff," Percy said shrugging.
"But you should! You should care about the other gods whispering behind his back, about his subjects doing the same. Consorting with a child of the underworld…there's a reason why Hades is excluded from Olympus, Perseus," he said glaring down at Percy.
"Was excluded," growled Percy, "things have changed, Triton."
"Yes, you turned down godhood and used the gods' favor to get Hades and all the other minor gods thrones. Was it your plan all along? Did you think you would be free to love this boy if you got his father accepted?"
"No! I did it because it was the right thing to do. I did it for Luke and all the other unclaimed half-bloods," he said. His anger was beginning to slip out and he hated how Triton could get to him. His brother looked at him curiously.
"You really believe that don't you?"
"Yes," Percy said with conviction.
"That will come back to bite you," Triton said viciously. "This son of Hades will betray you and the honor of this family will be tarnished."
"You don't know him!" Percy shouted.
"If I am so wrong then why are you here instead of up there with him?" snapped Triton. Percy balled his fist.
"What is going on here?" Poseidon and a nervous looking Tyson came up the hall before he did anything stupid. Triton turned around and some of the tension was gone but not all. Their father looked between the two of them and glared.
"Tyson go with Percy," Poseidon said. "Triton, come with me…now."
"I will not have my sons fighting with each other like savages!" Poseidon roared making his throne room shake. The water vibrated with the force of his voice and shifted the glowing pearls floating above their heads. "Percy has done nothing to you. This is your mother's influence."
"This about our honor," Triton said coldly. "I have accepted the existence of your…other children but this one…he will shame us yet with this infatuation." Poseidon stamped his trident against the floor of the room and his son fell silent. As arrogant as Triton was, he loved him. His jealousy and insecurity, however, were both unbecoming traits.
"Triton, we both know what this is truly about. I have told you. There is no threat to your place as my heir. Percy has done our family much honor but he is not immortal, he could not take your place," he said gently.
"But he almost did!" Triton rounded on his father. "You and all the other gods gave him the chance! Zeus himself said Perseus would take my place as your lieutenant and lead your army!"
"That place only, not your title as Prince! Why does this still bother you when Percy turned down the council's offer?"
"For how long? How long until my heroic brother does something else to gain the favor of the gods and seeks out immortality? Only a fool would turn it down twice!"
"Immortality has never been offered twice," said Poseidon.
"For him it would be. If anyone could get such an honor it would be the famous Percy Jackson, your favorite son," hissed Triton. "And this affection for the son of Hades will humiliate us." Poseidon sighed.
"I will hear no more of this. You fear a ghost, Triton, nothing more."
They sailed all night and finally they all forced Hazel to take a nap at dawn. Nico put his helmet back on after getting her settled and focused on raising more skeletons. He wasn't convinced one humpback whale would be enough. It was taxing and he was so sleepy all the time but he didn't care. When Hazel finally woke up he forced her to eat before putting her helmet back on. She laughed at the role reversal and so he figured she must be doing okay. She sat down and put the helmet back on and was quiet for a few minutes.
"Yes! It's got to be the palace, it's so huge!"
"Are you sure?" Nico asked.
"I can probably turn up your frequency so we can make sure," Leo said scrambling over to the console with a screwdriver.
Percy was saying good-bye to his father and Tyson when the walls started to shake. The pearls floating above them and lining the walls flickered. Percy looked at his father in confusion.
"Dad, are you doing your earthshaker thing?" Poseidon looked at the ceiling with a deep frown.
"No, but there is a force behind this…"
"Father, a ship is approaching," said Triton looking up at ceiling as well.
"Yes, I feel it as well and this force is radiating from it."
"I will go, Father," said Triton.
"You turned it up too far!" Hazel shouted. She snatched the helmet off and shook her head as if clearing it out.
"What happened?" asked Jason.
"I might have accidently yanked on the palace," she said looking at them.
"You tried to pull Poseidon's palace up from the ocean?" Piper asked shocked.
"It was an accident!" said Hazel.
"It's my fault," said Leo. "I turned it up too high. Her poke became a slap."
"Fault doesn't matter right now. Poseidon is probably not happy and we should be ready to fly or something," Nico said looking at Leo.
Leo took the helm and Festus whirled his gears loudly. "What!" Leo yelled just as a giant tentacle broke through to the surface, showering them with water and wrapping around the ship. They struggled to keep hold of their weapons as the boat pitched and threw them off their feet. Leo was still hanging onto the helm but there was no way they could move now. Jason slashed at the tentacle but he was only making what amounted to paper cuts. The Imperial gold did seem to sting the creature a little and its roars shook the boat and probably the whole ocean. Nico had Hazel and was covering her with his body. She still looked dazed after what happened with the helmet and hadn't even drawn her spatha.
"Go!" she said looking up at him. "Go help, I'm fine, just dizzy!" He looked at her and nodded before running to help Jason. "Piper, help Hazel!" he shouted.
He stabbed at the tentacle and his stygian sword began sucking its essence. The roar that came felt like it would shake the boat to pieces and sea churned around them. Then something else broke through the water. It was a…man. He was in a silver chariot pulled by a great white shark. His body was only halfway in the water, the shark and chariot stayed submerged. Nico didn't understand how the shark was staying still without dying, but it must not be normal. The man had a trident but Nico knew he wasn't Poseidon. He looked at his skeletal school of fish and willed one to quietly swim down. It was hard commanding it to go somewhere he couldn't pinpoint. If only he and Hazel were still joined he could do a better job.
"Who dares attack Atlantis?" He asked in a cold voice.
"Umm sorry?" Leo yelled over the noise. "It was an accident, honest!"
"Please, our intentions are not hostile!" Annabeth shouted. She sheathed her dagger and held her hands up in surrender. "We're looking for Percy Jackson!"
Triton zeroed in on her. He swam out of his chariot and over to the ship. For a second Nico wondered what he was doing and then Triton emerged right next to them, a geyser of water holding him up. Suddenly his double fish tails were gone –replaced by two legs. Most of his scales disappeared too. Those that remained appeared on him like skin tight swimming trunks that began halfway up his thighs. The rest of his skin turned more flesh colored with a light green tint. He stepped onto the deck of the ship and by this time Jason and Nico had wisely stopped attacking the sea monster in front of him. Piper and Hazel were crouched on the far side of the deck away from him but they were tense.
"I am Triton, son of Poseidon. What business do you have with my little brother?" he asked looking around at all of them. Nico looked at him in shock. So this was Triton. He had the same green eyes, but they had none of Percy's open friendliness and he didn't have Percy's easy-going smile. They shared the same black hair though but Triton's was long and kept in a ponytail that draped down to his lower back.
"We're his friends," said Jason lowering his sword but no enough to drop his guard completely.
"He's been missing for a while and we thought he would be here," Annabeth answered. Triton regarded her coldly.
"Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena," she said proudly. Something flickered across Triton's face and he smiled.
"You were my brother's companion, correct?"
"I…yes," she answered.
"But you two are no longer together, I hear," he said leaning on his trident. Annabeth's cheeks tinged pink but she said nothing.
"Tell me, Annabeth Chase, is the son of Hades here?" Somehow he managed to spot Nico without being told. Nico supposed it was obvious with his clothes and skin. He tensed and glared at Triton.
"I'm the son of Hades," he said. "Is Percy here?" Triton smiled again and Nico didn't like it one bit.
"The one who broke his heart and set him adrift." Triton said it as if he was musing out loud and then he walked toward Nico. "Did you come to apologize? To tell Perseus that you return his affections?" Triton stopped a few feet from Nico and looked at him like he was trying to dissect him.
"I know he's probably angry with me but I'd like to talk to him myself," he said and thanked the gods that he was too tense to blush.
"Is that a…"
"A kraken, yes," Poseidon said to Percy. "I believe Triton is being a bit heavy handed, but I suppose the kraken does get bored. It was defeated by the first Perseus and had only just regenerated before the battle with Kronos and hasn't had any exercise since."
"Daddy, the fish is hurt!" Tyson shouted and pointed to their left. Percy resisted the urge to shout as what could only be described as a zombie whale came swimming past the window.
"What is this?" Poseidon said angrily. He pointed his trident at the whale and the bones collapsed and drifted away into the depths.
"Nico?" Percy whispered and then whirled around. "Dad!"
"On the contrary, Perseus has been very depressed, Nico is it? He wants to make amends. He was coming back to beg you to accept him," said Triton.
"Then you'll call him up here so they can talk?" Leo asked. Triton sighed.
"Unfortunately, I cannot. I disapprove of Perseus's choices in companions. What good could come from loving a child of Hades?" He pointed to the dead fish behind the ship. "You desecrate the creatures of my father's kingdom and attack Atlantis! It falls to me to make the better judgment that my brother cannot." Triton snapped his fingers and more tentacles shot out of the water and grabbed everyone. They were hoisted into the air screaming, everyone except for Nico.
While he was busy looking at his friends in horror, Triton knocked his sword away but when he grabbed Nico around the throat he cried out in pain and dropped him. Nico was cloaked in black fog and glaring at Triton murderously. Triton was too bust clutching his arm. His skeleton was visible halfway down his forearm. His eyes were just as hateful as Nico's when he looked at him.
"What underworld magic is this?" he seethed. His flesh became visible and his flexed his hand.
"Let them go, or you'll find out," growled Nico. He got to his feet and the black fog didn't lift.
"You think you can threaten me, spawn of Hades?" A gush of water sailed over the railing and blasted between them. Nico closed his eyes but heard a sharp metallic sound.
When he opened his eyes Percy was standing between him and Triton. His back was to Nico, Triton's trident was gone –flung across the deck—and Percy had Riptide at his brother's throat.
"Back off Triton!" Percy snarled. Triton looked at Percy disdainfully but before he could say anything Poseidon appeared on deck. The tentacles lowered everyone down to the ship gently and then released the ship and disappeared into the water. Poseidon looked at Percy and he lowered his sword and backed away from his brother.
"No," interrupted Poseidon, "you should have stopped the attack and informed me the moment you knew they were friends of Percy's," he said scowling at his eldest.
"They attacked us!" yelled Triton.
"We told you it was an accident!" Jason said holding Piper.
"And am I to believe every enemy who swears that?" sneered Triton.
"You tried to kill Nico!" Hazel shouted. She looked like she wanted to run him through with her sword.
"A favor Perseus would one day thank me for!" Triton shot back.
"Enough! Triton, leave," Poseidon said. Triton dove over the side of the ship without looking back and everyone relaxed.
"Nico," Percy breathed. Nico looked at him and all the apologies he's practiced caught in his throat. Percy didn't seem to care, he walked over and reached out to touch him but Nico pulled back. He was still smoking.
"Don't," he said looking at Percy.
Percy rolled his eyes and touched him anyway. He put a hand on the side of Nico's face and the black fog stopped instantly. "Doesn't even hurt," Percy said smiling at him.
"Percy?" called Poseidon. "Perhaps we should address the matter of how your friends shook my palace?" he asked with amusement. Both Leo and Hazel claimed fault for that. They introduced themselves and explained everything.
"We're really sorry," said Hazel.
"In light of everything that's happened I think I can forgive it this once," said Poseidon. "I think dealing with Triton was punishment enough."
"I'll say…" mumbled Leo.
"What if he tries to come after Nico again?" asked Percy. He didn't want to say it out loud but he would kill Triton if he did.
"He will not. I will see to it," Poseidon said sounding weary. "Well, I'll leave you here Percy. I hope all your lovers' spats are not like this one." Percy and Nico blushed but Poseidon just smiled and then he was gone leaving behind nothing but the smell of the sea.
They were sitting in Percy's room on the Argo II since Nico didn't technically have one. Jason all but threw them in the room and ordered them to talk it out. Neither of them were allowed to leave until everything was explained. Nico felt like Jason had gone a little crazy through all of this, but who could blame him? It felt like he had gone crazy himself. He glanced over at Percy and sighed.
"I'm sorry," he said softly. "I saw you with Annabeth the night before my date with Will. I thought you two had made up and…I was hurt."
"No, I shouldn't have kept you in the dark like I did. I could have told you I was going to break up with Annabeth," Percy said sadly.
"Why would you?" Nico asked suddenly. "Why would you leave Annabeth for me?"
"Because I can't stop thinking about you," he said smiling. "Even before that night in my cabin, you just took over my thoughts. I wanted to be with you all the time. I looked forward being in the pool every day. I wanted to make you smile. And honestly I have more fun with you when we're just talking than with anyone else. We just click," he said, thinking of how Annabeth described her attraction to Reyna. Nico blushed and Percy smirked at him.
"So, are you and Will dating?" Nico smiled and turned away.
"No, it didn't work out."
"Do you wanna try again with me?" Nico felt Percy take his hand and for the first time in a while he did something even he didn't expect. He started laughing. It wasn't sarcastic, or cruel, or arrogant, it was an actual happy laugh. He looked at Percy who was staring at him in surprised.
They had to go back above deck and let everyone, especially Jason, know that they had worked it out. The girls gave hugs, even Annabeth. Leo was happy for them but seemed more concerned about the damage done to the ship by the kraken.
"Dude, your brother is a dick," he said after congratulating Percy and Nico. Jason refused to speak. He just walked away from them chuckling and shaking his head.
"Umm I think you guys broke him," said Piper looking at her boyfriend.
After dinner Nico was going to head back to the crow's nest until Percy grabbed his arm and led him below deck.
"Stay with me tonight," he whispered. Nico felt his cheeks flame but he nodded.
After he closed the door Percy walked over and hugged him. Nico wrapped his arms around his waist and relaxed into him like they were in the pool again. Percy pulled back and he thought the hug was over until he was being kissed. He was too shocked to react at first but then he relaxed into that too.
"I just wanted to try that again too," Percy said blushing.
"I think we need to keep trying that," said Nico, pushing up on his toes and kissing Percy again.
"Nico?" Percy said between kisses.
"Hmm?" was the muffled reply. He was clearly not focused on anything else other than Percy's lips.
"Take this off?" Percy breathed against his mouth.
Nico shuddered when he felt Percy hand's pulling at his hoodie and the t-shirt underneath. It made his stomach flip and he hesitated.
"We don't have to do anything," Percy said sensing his nervousness. "I just miss touching you. Plus, it's practically medical. I need to make sure your skin is back to normal," he smirked.
"Only if you do it too," Nico said blushing. Percy pulled his shirt over his head and then helped Nico do the same. They started kissing again as their hands wandered. Nico didn't even object when Percy's fingers hooked into the waistband of his jeans. They weren't ready and he trusted Percy to know that.
"I missed you," he said kissing him.
"I missed you more," Percy said back.
In the end they were cuddled up naked in Percy's bed and it was pretty much the best night's sleep either of them had ever had.
He was blushing, he couldn't help it. He was standing in front of a big blue birthday cake and all his friends –yes friends—were gathered around and singing happy birthday to him. Percy was standing behind him with his arms around Nico's waist, singing right in his ear. When the song was over he blew out the candles and everyone clapped. Percy kissed his cheek and it made him blush harder because Percy's mother and step-father were right there. Even though he and Percy had been dating for months now, he was still too old fashioned to be so at ease with public displays of affection. Percy refused to restrain himself though.
Everyone managed to turn up for his party even Annabeth and Reyna. The last few months had honestly been life changing. He was with Percy that was the biggest thing. And even when Percy had to go back to school, they still found time for each other. Nico would shadow travel to New York and stay with him on weekends sometimes. He spent time at Camp Jupiter with Hazel and even visited the underworld to check on things, but he didn't stay there nearly as much.
Now it was his birthday and they were cutting the blue cake his boyfriend's mother had made for him. He opened presents and was surprised at how many he got. Books from Annabeth and Reyna on mythology and lore from around the world, a new Mythomagic set from Frank and Hazel –he'd started playing again but only because Frank insisted, a new leather jacket from Jason and Piper –he liked his aviator jacket but kept the gift because Percy said it looked good, a tool kit from Leo –"what? It's useful!" An unbelievably soft pair of black PJs from Calypso, and a black iPod nano from Percy's parents.
"So you can stop stealing mine," Percy laughed. And when everyone was distracted Percy pulled him to a corner and presented him with a little velvet box. He laughed at Nico's wide-eyed expression.
"You might have to wait awhile longer for what you're thinking about," he said. When he opened the box there was a ring inside but not the type he expected, it was a thumb ring. Percy took it out of the box and took Nico's left hand in his.
"You wear your father's skull ring on your right hand and I was thinking I could have the left?" he said as he slipped the ring onto Nico's left thumb. It was sliver like his skull ring but it wasn't shaped. It was just a silver band but with little blue waves engraved on it. Nico looked down at it in wonder and then at his boyfriend who was wearing a nervous expression.
"I love it," he said and caught Percy's mouth in a kiss.
Nico pretended to settled down on the couch like he always did when he stayed with Percy. It was for his parent's sake. Even though they had never done anything, it would still be wrong to just hop into bed with Percy right in front of them. He waited until they were asleep and disappeared from the couch. He shadow travelled right into the middle of Percy's room. He could find his way to the bed even in the dark he'd done it so many times, that's why he blinked in confusion when the lamp came on. Percy was sitting on the bed in nothing but pajama pants.
"Hey," Nico said back. "Are you gonna move over?"
"I wanna talk to you," Percy said patting a spot on the bed next to him. Nico sat down and Percy turned to face him, propping his right leg on the bed between them.
"So, I feel like I should warn you. Mom and Paul know you're not sleeping on the couch." He laughed softly at Nico's terrified expression. "It's okay."
"Mom got up one night and went to check on you. When she couldn't find you she checked my room and she saw us."
"But all we do is sleep," said Nico blushing.
"Yeah I told her, but…she still gave me the talk," he said blushing a little.
"The talk?" Nico was still unfamiliar with a lot of phrases people used.
"Oh, well "the talk" is what it's called when your parents sit you down and explain about sex."
"Oh…Oh!" He blushed furiously and Percy had to stifle a laugh.
"Yeah, so what do you think?"
"About having sex?" Nico asked awkwardly and Percy nodded.
"I'm not pushing you, I just I wanted to know what you think about it."
"I want to," he said and the surprised, excited look Percy gave him made him happy, but then he felt bad about the next sentence. "But not here. I mean it's bad enough that they know we're sleeping together innocently. Can you wait?"
"Yeah," he said taking Nico's left hand and fingering the ring he'd given him not four hours ago. "I'd wait however long you needed."
They returned to camp as soon as Percy's summer holidays started and while Nico was ready, Percy was holding back suddenly. He was afraid he'd done something wrong but Percy was still just as affectionate as ever. He did wander off on his own and would be gone for hours. When Nico asked about it, Percy said he wanted their first time to be special. Nico didn't know what could be more special than just being with Percy but he tried not to press. They were at the sing-a-long sitting side-by-side when Percy took his hand and whispered in his ear, "Come with me after we leave here?" On the outside he probably looked normal –besides the blush—but on the inside he was feeling a hundred different types of happy.
Percy ducked into his cabin first to grab something and they tried to draw as little attention as possible as they walked away. He thought they were going to stay there or go to his cabin but instead Percy led him to the beach. Okay, maybe it would be romantic but they would almost certainly get caught. He didn't even know what the punishment was for having sex at camp…in public on the beach. He wasn't fond of the idea of the harpies being the ones to catch them either and the sun had already set.
"Percy…" he said as the tide rolled in and out in front of them. "I don't think this is a good spot."
"This isn't the spot," his boyfriend said, giving him a teasing smile. "See those rocks over there?" Nico looked in the direction where he pointed and there were indeed some black rocks poking out of the water not too far in the distance.
"You wanna do it there?" Nico asked in disbelief. "That's better?"
"Just trust me," he said stepping closer to the water. Nico didn't follow and Percy turned around to look at him.
"Are you afraid?"
"No, I just don't want any more run-ins with your brother," Nico said annoyed.
"Triton isn't here and my Dad said he would handle him," Percy walked back to him and took his hand. "Don't be afraid of the water, at least not when you're with me," he said smiling.
Nico rolled his eyes in mock irritation and walked forward, it made Percy smile wider so it was worth it. They walked into the sea and Percy formed an air bubble around them and moved the currents to help them along. Nico was bit uncomfortable –underwater was Percy's element—but holding his hand made him feel safe. He looked around and watched as fish scattered but it was hard for him to see, unlike Percy who seemed to know exactly where they were going. It got darker and Nico gripped his hand tighter and then he was pulled upward. There was light above them but it wasn't sunlight and then suddenly they broke through the water into air.
He looked around and felt truly speechless. They were in an underwater cave and there were candles lit everywhere. He looked at Percy who was watching his reaction and he didn't know what to say.
"How?" he tried.
"Can we get out of the water first? Holding it back for two people is hard," Percy said. He helped Nico climb out of the water, which looked like a tiny pool in the floor of the cave. There was a "bed" composed of blankets as far away from the water as Percy could put it.
"So how did you do this?" Nico asked looking around.
"It actually wasn't that hard. The cave was already here but it didn't have this air pocket. I just pushed it in from outside. We can't stay too long unless I keep freshening the air –especially with the candles- but I thought it would be good to be away from everyone for tonight," he said running his fingers through Nico's silky hair.
"Are you sure you're ready?" Percy asked seriously.
"I've been ready for a while, Percy. I love you," he said.
"I love you too and I want to do this right so it hurts you as little as possible. According to the awkward conversation I had with my mother, I need to help you with this."
"So, what are we doing?" he asked confused. Percy just kissed him and started unzipping his pants. This wasn't anything they hadn't done before but just the thought that something else was going to happen was enough to get Nico excited. They kissed while shedding their clothes and Nico felt like he was fumbling at it.
He finally got Percy's pants off and they got under the blankets. Percy reached down between them and grabbed his erection. Nico moaned into his mouth and tried to return the favor but Percy grabbed his hand and stopped him.
"Don't worry about me right now," he breathed. "This is about you." Percy kissed down his neck as his hand continued to pump up and down and Nico couldn't do anything other than mewl in his boyfriend's ear.
"Hold on, baby," Percy whispered and then he sat up leaving Nico sprawled out before him. He leaned over and searched through the pockets of his pants for something. In the candle light Nico could see him pull out a little bottle.
"She bought me this to help," he said blushing and then dripped some onto his fingers. Nico gasped when he felt Percy spread the cold substance on his opening and then Percy was kissing him again but his fingers never stopped massaging.
"Relax and tell me if it hurts," he whispered and Nico nodded. He tried not to tense as he felt Percy's finger push into him. His breath hitched and Percy stopped and looked at him.
"It doesn't hurt it just feels…different," he said. The feeling bordered between strange and uncomfortable because his body wasn't use to the intrusion. Percy kissed him again and kept going slowly until he was up to his knuckle. He moved his finger a little experimenting and Nico cried out and arched his back.
"Didn't hurt!" he said quickly and whimpered. Percy had rubbed against something and it felt amazing! "Do it again, please?" Percy complied and Nico moaned and bucked against his finger.
"I need to add another finger, okay?" Nico nodded and whimpered again when Percy pulled his finger out to apply more lubrication.
"Relax," Percy reminded him and covered his mouth with another kiss as he pushed in again with two fingers. It hurt this time. Not enough to make him want to stop but enough that he grunted into the kiss and gripped Percy's shoulders with both his hands.
"I'm sorry," he said showering Nico with kisses. He kept his fingers still this time and Nico was grateful. He tried to relax and allow his body to adjust and then felt Percy reach down and grab his erection again to distract him from the pain.
Percy worked him with both hands mixing the pain with pleasure as he tried to stretch Nico's opening. Then he managed to slip his fingers in far enough to touch that magic spot and the pain didn't matter. It drove him crazy and he reached down to touch Percy, not wanting to leave him out of it anymore. When he heard Percy moaned his name he lost what little control he had left, and bucked wildly against the fingers inside of him.
"Please! I need you, I need you inside me," he begged. Percy kissed him and settled between his legs. Nico tried to control his breathing as he watched Percy spread more lube on himself. It was probably one of the most erotic things he'd ever seen and given the situation that was a feat. And then Percy positioned himself and Nico felt his hardness brush against his opening.
"Tell me if it hurts too much," said Percy.
He tried to relax and breathe through the pain but in the end it was focusing on Percy that helped him. He bit back his own pain-centered noises and focused on Percy's moans and how his eyes were shut so tight because he couldn't keep them open and deal with the pleasure at the same time. He did that for Percy and that feeling was worth the pain. And when Percy hit that sweet spot inside of him it flipped a switch in his mind. It still hurt but now it was like he wanted it. He moaned and called Percy's name because each thrust was painful but had an aftertaste of ecstasy.
It didn't take long for him to come, spilling his load between them. He couldn't remember what he yelled or even if he did but he could feel himself tighten around Percy and then heard his own name being called as his boyfriend climaxed. Percy thrust into him two more times as he rode out his orgasm and then collapsed on top of him. For a while the only sound in the cave was they're panting. Percy leaned up a little and kissed his cheek as he pulled out of him. Nico knew he was going to be sore for days but he couldn't bring himself to care. Percy managed to get up but Nico just laid there feeling boneless and out of breath. He slipped into the water and was gone for several minutes before a giant bubble broke through into the cave.
Nico hadn't realized how hard his lungs were working until they sucked in fresh air. The blast of fresh air blew out some of the candles but that didn't bother him. Percy climbed out of water completely dry a fell back onto the blankets and pulled Nico into his arms and kissed him.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm sore but I'll be okay. How long do you think we can stay here now?" he said quietly.
"Couple more hours maybe."
"Good, because I don't want to move right now," Nico yawned.
"You can sleep," Percy said and kissed the back of his neck. "I'll wake you up when it's time to go." They snuggled closer. In his exhausted state Nico finally noticed that they were underground and underwater at the same time. This place was like a mix of him and Percy and it was silly but it made him happy that something like that existed –that it was even possible. The sea and the underworld –they were more alike than Triton gave them credit for. Nico smiled and dropped off to the sound of Percy's breathing.