I've been working on a lot of Nico diAngelo one-shots in the past weeks. Some are cute, some fluffy, some sexy...and some dark. Like this one.
Enjoy. I sure did, writing it.
Prompt: in the months following the first titan war, Nico struggled. Eventually, he began to slip under- again.
Recommended listening – "Monster": Imagine Dragons
They say that depression is the world's lead killer – after the physical killers like heart disease and cancer, of course. Nico was no stranger – it was hard to be when you spent half of your waking hours in the land of the dead.
The day that he had felt his sister's presence leave the earth for good, something had snapped inside of him. A thin cord, cleaved straight in two. And the results hadn't been pretty. Nico had done things that haunted him for years, things that left scars that took months to fade.
But it wasn't anything compared to what he was feeling now.
No matter how hard Nico gasped for breath, his lungs just couldn't seem to be satisfied. They just tore their way in and out of his body instantaneously. His whole being was wracked with sobs as his fingers dug into his hair hard enough to draw tiny droplets of blood.
Even with such a small wound, he could feel the pressure begin to lift slightly. And, with it, his paranoia soared. Eyes squeezed shut, he tried to hold onto his fragile sanity, knowing the darkness that was beginning to surround him and what it would do to him.
The past years had been too much for him – leading up to this point. He was only ten when it started. Gods, had he really been that little? Nowadays, he felt like the eighty year old man he should be, biologically.
For awhile, after the war, he had been okay. Not great – but okay. His father had seemed okay with him, and Percy had survived. Although, for all he'd seen of him since him and Annabeth had gotten together, he might as well have died. He felt his chest tighten even more as his heart stuttered weakly.
His feelings betrayed him – time and time again. How dare he feel that way? He was – he was a curse, evil. He deserved to be killed for having a crush on the savior of the Mortal and Godly worlds.
Like he would ever have feelings back for the scrawny son of Hades anyway.
Apart from the abominable feelings that churned inside of him, Nico's life had changed for the better – at least for a time. He had a cabin at camp. His father was no longer shunned. He had a family.
But it wasn't long before people started treating him the way Death was always treated – with avoidance and distrustfulness. He still was the stupid, lonely outcast at camp – nobody cared if he was there or not. Once he'd realized that nothing had changed, he'd left his brand new cabin to camp out here, in his Father's Realm.
It will be better here, where I'm surrounded by my native element, he had told himself.
But it hadn't. He'd spiraled deeper and deeper into depression the longer that he spent down here. Nico was running out of options. He didn't know why he even bothered anymore – did anybody even care? He'd thought that his father had, but he hadn't seen hide nor tail of him since the day Kronos fell for good.
"You're overreacting," the words stumbled out through trembling lips, just barely audible over the chattering of his teeth as Nico rocked back and forth on his heels. "Calm down."
It was futile. The panic rose up higher and higher – until he just couldn't take it any longer.
His sword was in his hands before he was even conscious of grabbing it, deadly Stygian Iron gleaming menacingly in the half-light of the Underworld. Nico's head fell back in refuse as the weapon came down in a graceful arc, carving into his pale flesh for the first time.
In that instance that the blood began to flow and trickle down his wrists, he took his first full breath of air, his lungs contracting. Up and down it came, again and again, and he was numb to the pain. The relief was too strong – the pressure was already alleviating – and he started to tread water for the first time.
Nico's eyes fluttered open, long after the cuts now littering his arms had run dry. His gaze widened as he took in the mess before him, and the fog that had taken over his mind in a sort of high lifted. In an instant, all sensation rushed back into him, and he began to sob as he realized what he had just done.
What had he just done?
It became a sort of ritual for him. Panic, slicing, release.
At first, it was just the one time. But, then it happened again. And then even faster – and the next thing he knew he was collapsed at the edge of the River Styx multiple times a day with tears pouring down his face in tangent with the blood down his wrists. Nico didn't even feel any pain – just a release of pressure.
And – oh – how it was addicting.
The scars just kept adding up – and up and up on top of one another as he slowly ran out of fresh skin to dig into. But he couldn't stop. This was what the all-powerful Ghost King had been reduced to – a depressed, cutting mess of a teenager.
Nobody knew but him, of course – and his father had no idea. How could he, when all that he saw of his son was once a week at council meetings?
The longer that it went on, the more dangerous that Nico knew that it was. He was running out of space on his canvas of designs.
But he couldn't stop. Not now.
Nico didn't understand why the River Styx had such a bad reputation. Sure, it killed a few heroes every few decades, but what it stood for had so much more meaning than the failed gift of immortality.
The River Styx symbolized the hopes and dreams of every single soul that passed it. Discarded items from their lives littered its banks, and its color was the same as the clouds above on an overcast day. It was beautiful, in its own little way.
He idly fingered the sharp edge of his sword, legs crossed beneath him in the dirty black sand. The sharp stings that rose on the edges of his fingertips didn't register in his mind as he dragged the skin across it.
Pain was welcoming to the son of Death. Pain was something that could be counted on.
The sound of footsteps was what alerted Nico to the fact that he was no longer alone. Whirling around, he found himself face-to-face with a life-sized version of his father, Lord Hades.
"Father," Nico scrambled to shove his sword into its holder, clambering clumsily to his feet. "I - I didn't see you."
He felt more than saw Hades' eyes flicker down to his bare arms, dotted with old scars – white against his pale flesh – as well as fresher slices on top of those, and he quickly yanked the sleeves of his aviator's jacket down to his palms. For a fleeting moment – where Nico prayed to all of the other Gods that his father had seen nothing – there was a moment of awkward silence, and then –
"No matter," The Lord of the Underworld's voice was curt and cool, just like his persona. His midnight robes and gem-filled accessories stuck out like sore thumbs against the refuse of the River Styx all around him. "Why – why are you not at that – insufferable camp?"
Nico blinked, expecting something, anything other than that to come out of his father's mouth. "What?"
Hades clenched his teeth slightly, and his eyes gleamed dangerously. It was disgusting how quick he was to lose his patience with his only son. "No child of mine should sound as dense as you just did."
A rose-red blush worked its way up Nico's neck, settling into the pores of his face. His feet began to shuffle nervously. "Forgive me, father. The camp is too cheerful to be around right now."
Hades gave a non-committal grunt of grudging approval. "I expect you to pull your weight if you plan to frequent my domain. I'll have a room set up for you in my palace tonight. You may spent as little or as much time as you wish in it."
Nico bowed his head. "Of course, father."
"Don't embarrass me." Hades' figure began to glow, and Nico quickly averted his eyes. The God of the Underworld disappeared in a flash of bright light, and his shoulders instantly sagged in relief.
Nico dropped to his knees, his heart feeling as though it was about to beat out of his chest. His legs folded around his body as he crumpled into the sand alongside the rivershore.
Bitterness started to replace the spot of relief as he angrily yanked the too-big sleeves back down his arms. P-Percy never had to deal with this stuff when he spent time with his dad. His dad simply adored him – and who wouldn't? He was the savior of the whole freaking world.
None of the other demigods had even a scrap of knowledge of what he had to deal with. Their Godly parents at least treated them like they were worthy. Nico was always going to be second best, always not good enough, a disgrace to the House of Hades.
Abruptly, he climbed to his feet, closing his eyes and melting into the shadows that came to his beck and call in an instant, wishing to be somewhere else – anywhere else but there.
"Percy, it's my fault this thing is after us! It's my responsibility!"
"If anything happens to me, give that to Nico. Tell him – I'm sorry."
He woke abruptly, sitting bolt upright with a small gasp. There was a string of mild protests from around him, and Nico did his best to try to calm his breathing down – but it was really hard.
As silently as he could manage, Nico climbed over the many sleeping bags in the Hermes Cabin, and made his way over to the door. He was as graceful as a shadow as he slipped outside.
Nico fell to his knees outside, gasping as a spike of pain shot through his head. Curling up into a ball, he winced as his ears began to buzz violently. No matter how hard he rubbed at them with his fingers, the sensation wouldn't go away.
"Stop, stop!" he muttered, panicking.
The last time that he had felt this sensation… somebody had been found dead at school.
A horrible thought started creeping into his head, poisoning his thoughts. Angrily, Nico tried to shove it away. His sister was with Percy, on their quest. Percy would never have let anything happen to his big sister. He was a hero – he was invincible. Nico was just being paranoid over some nightmare….wasn't he?
"Bianca isn't dead! She isn't! She can't be!"
Son of Death…you will serve me…one day…you are strong…seeking me out in your dreams unassisted…one day you will join your Lord Kronos…
The cold voice cackled.
Nico's fingers clenched around the little statue of the God of the Underworld. A wild ringing was roaring through his head, clouding his thoughts.
"You promised you would protect her."
Out of the corner of his eye, Nico saw Percy flinch, as if his words had slapped him across the face. He closed his eyes as he tried to sense if what Percy had said was true.
"Nico – I tried. But Bianca gave herself up to save the rest of us. I told her not to. But she—"
"You promised!" Nico howled, unable to deny the truth of his words. His senses were tingling, affirming what he had known to be true for days now. "I shouldn't have trusted you. You lied to me! My nightmares were right!"
"Wait – what nightmares?" Percy had the nerve to sound confused.
Nico threw the little figurine that his sister had died for across the icy ground, spinning to glare furiously at the son of Poseidon. "I hate you!"
"She might be alive," Percy told the smaller boy, desperately trying to calm him down. "I don't know for sure –"
"She's dead," Nico closed his eyes before the tears began to well up. He could feel his body shaking. "I should've known it earlier. She's in the Fields of Asphodel, standing before the judges right now, being evaluated. I can feel it."
He could see it, too. Bianca's nervous face as she twisted her fingers together, waiting anxiously to see how the council considered her life.
"What do you mean, you can feel it?"
Nico opened his mouth to retort angrily, but a flash of white from behind Percy made him stiffen up. Percy seemed to sense it too, and drew his sword. Nico gasped in shock as four skeleton warriors, fit with guns and weapons leveled at them began to close in.
"You're trying to kill me! You brought these things here to kill me, too!" Nico screamed, his body overtaken by a sort of hyperactive awareness. It was as if he could sense everything around him, especially regarding the warriors.
And in that moment, he knew what he was. He'd known it all along, hadn't he? Death had always been so close to him, always within reach.
"You have to trust me, Nico!" Percy was yelling, leaping back and forth at the zombies, taking off limbs here and there that just dropped and instantly began to reform.
"No!" Nico screamed, dropping to his knees and squeezing his eyes shut tight. He couldn't handle this right now. His mind was roaring, his arms trembling with some sick sort of power. "GO AWAY!"
The ground began to shake violently underneath him, tossing him sideways into a stone pillar. A huge slice was opening up in the earth, sucking the skeletons into its depths with vigor. They seemed to scream as they went, flames erupting in their descent.
Nico pulled himself to his feet, swaying slightly from a sudden flash of exhaustion, but he managed to stand his ground. Dazed, he watched as Percy leapt to safety in the nick of time, turning quickly enough to watch the massive hole close up until all that was left was a deep black scar.
The son of Water gaped at Nico. "How did you –"
"Go away!" Nico yelled, half hoping that the ground would reopen and swallow Jackson, too. "I hate you! I wish you were dead!"
He took off running, not turning back even as there was a commotion, sprinting as fast as his legs would take him. Nico finally let the tears fall and the sobs rip from his chest as he realized that he had nowhere else to go.
The memories had gotten worse after the war. There was a short amount of time that they were bearable, and he could get a good night's sleep without one of them plaguing him, but not anymore.
Nico sat curled in a ball in his bed, rocking back and forth with tears streaming down his face, grateful that his room down in the Underworld was soundproof. Huge sobs erupted from his mouth as he relived every single painful moment of his life, in vivid technicolor.
The darkness was too heavy to be around. A moment of concentration, and he was outside on his balcony, hands clenched around the black iron that made up the barrier between him and the outside Underworld.
Despite the fact that he was millions of miles underground, there was still a sort of cool breeze that came, ruffling his messy hair and drying the trail of tears that littered his cheeks. Sniffling, Nico lowered himself down so that he was hugging the guardrail.
The Underworld was so deathly beautiful.
His bare arms had started to go numb against the iron when he heard the voice. "Can't sleep?"
Nico swore violently under his breath, nearly jumping straight out of his skin. He tried to climb to his feet, but his limbs had fallen asleep under his body weight and he didn't get very far.
Hades peered down at his flustered son, expression impassive. "Why are you outside in the middle of the night?"
"Couldn't sleep," he mumbled, using his arms to pull himself to his feet. "I'd ask you the same, but I'm pretty sure you don't sleep."
"You would be correct."
They stood in silence for some time, just watching the always busy Underworld bustle on before them. The traffic lines were always clogged – Death didn't stop for somebody just because the world was asleep.
Hades turned to his last living son eventually, clearing his throat. "I – good Gods, Nico, what happened to your arms?"
Nico felt all of the blood in his body freeze in an instant. He hadn't grabbed his jacket when he had tumbled out of bed earlier – his bare arms were on display in the dim light for the whole world to see.
He tried to wrap them around himself, but a single look from his father made him freeze in place. "Nothing."
Hades' eyes flashed in annoyance. "Are you actually trying to lie to me? Please tell me that you are not that foolish."
Nico flushed, his eyes going wide with panic. His breath hitched in his chest, and it started to feel hard to breathe. "N-no, father."
"Well, then, let me see. Ambrosia shouldn't have left any scars from monsters behind – so something else must have happened…."
Blood started roaring loudly in Nico's ears, drowning out the words of his father. Panic was consuming him again, and the realization that he was caught between a rock and a hard place was almost too much to bear.
When he didn't move from his position, Hades started to grow impatient. "Are you going to show me, or do I have to make you?"
Nico closed his eyes, hoping that he could keep the tears inside. Wordlessly, he relaxed his grip, letting his father take his arms in his hands.
Silence. And then –
He shook his head violently, lip trembling. "Please –"
"Did you do this to yourself?" Hades' voice was incredulous. Nico tried to pull away from his father, but his fingers just tightened. "Nico, some of these are fresh."
"Father – "
Hades growled deep in his throat, and Nico felt the ground beneath him start to tremble. He flinched instinctively, and in that moment, it stopped.
"Look at me."
Nico opened his red-rimmed eyes, keeping them aimed down at his feet. Slowly, he raised them to his pale arms, puckered and inflamed. He swallowed, and his eyes flickered up to his father's.
He was expecting anger, maybe disgust, or even indifference. But what Nico saw was none of the three – it was sadness.
"Why?" Hades asked simply, his eyes giving away what his expressionless face did not. Nico opened his mouth to respond, and to his embarrassment, the only thing that came out was a small sob. He clenched his jaw stubbornly tighter, and turned his head slightly away from his father.
"I don't know."
"I want you to stop," Hades told him, and Nico turned to look at him tearfully. The Lord of the Dead's face softened macroscopically as a tear rolled down his son's face. He was reminded of the first time that he met his son, a wailing baby in his mama's arms, big sister peering curiously over his shoulder. He had been so innocent then… what had happened to that little boy?
What had he done to him?
"I – am not meant to be a father," Hades paused, brow scrunching up with the effort to find the right words. "I am not loving. Death is not loving. But you are my son, and I love you, in my own way. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," Nico muttered, shifting uncomfortably. "It's mine. I'm the messed up one."
Hades frowned. "You have been through so much in your small life, Nico. You are the one person that can make me change my mind about things. Know that."
Hades glanced down at his son's ruined arms, and with a wave of his hand, they were scar-free and unblemished. "I know I don't tell you often enough, and I certainly don't like to express it, but you are my only son – and I love you, Nico. I am proud of you – and your sister would be, too."
Nico started to cry softly, feeling his heart swell inside of his chest. He could only manage a nod as Hades released his arms, placing his own hand on top of his son's shoulder and squeezing it.
"Thank you, father. I will make you proud."
"You already have, Nico. Now, go back to sleep."
The next thing that Nico knew, his eyes were flying open and he was curled up in bed. Throwing the covers off, he sat up, wondering wildly if it all had been a dream. But, when he glanced down at his arms, in the pale light from his window they were unscathed, and warmth filled him up inside.
His father did care.
And in that moment, he was no longer jealous of the children of the other Gods.