Note: Posted With Permission
Summary: In a post-apocalyptic world Nico di Angelo is searching for somewhere to call home, tired of the always being on the move. But, when he meets an unexpected travelling companion he remembers what it's like to be around people, and it scares him in a way he has never known. AU Nico/Percy
Chapter One: Disinfected
What if the world doesn't end the way we think it's going to? What if, and don't mind me I just lived through it all, the human race doesn't blow each other up with nuclear warheads; what if war and famine and lack of food isn't what does us in? Have you ever thought about that? To tell you the truth neither did I, I was just a kid, you know? I didn't think about the end of the world, didn't care about it being my last few days on earth. But that was before The Mist had started taking over.
It wasn't AIDs or any of those other horrible terminal diseases out there, just a hyperactive version of the common cold. We were just an anti-disinfectant, overly sterilized world and that made us weak, prone to sicknesses. The life of a germ can be brief, but the way we treat them we breed them, make them better, faster acting, more deadly. We were stupid, bacteria are like cockroaches, you can get rid of them for a little while, but eventually they always come back.
Humans, we're not like cockroaches. It takes us years, centuries to build their kinds of number and then we're overpopulated and without resources and still dying.
We're a fucking joke, really. Or, at least we were. Humans are pretty scarce now. It's funny, you know, that even with the people gone the streetlights still come on because they're preprogrammed that way; the red lights still change because that's the way they're made, the world still turns because that's the way it came into creation. But, in my world God didn't come back, Jesus didn't save us, we killed ourselves even if disease hadn't wiped us out then greed and consumption would have.
I don't know, maybe a year of walking deserted streets had left me bitter. But, that's funny too because I was bitter before The Mist back when I was just a high school flunkie with no lease on life, back when I thought wearing leather jackets and mean looks would keep the bullies away, back when the memory of my mother's death still hurt. Now everyone was dead and that kind of numbed all the pain, numbed just about every damn thing else too.
I don't know why I survived, maybe I just have a higher tolerance for this kind of stuff, I've never really gotten very sick as an adult. Well, I guess I'm an adult, I'm nineteen now though you still can't really tell it by looking at me, people—when there were people—always put me between fifteen and seventeen.
When I was a kid I was always sick, colds, fevers, sinuous infections, bronchitis, the works. It made me a stronger older kid I think, built up my immune system. Either way, here I was, walking across what used to be Idaho and to tell you the truth I wasn't even sure what part of Idaho I was in, the car I hotwired had run out of gas about two miles back and me and Mrs. O'Leary were on foot to the nearest town so I could find some food for us both, and maybe somewhere to sleep.
Oh, Mrs. O'Leary, she's my dog. Well, she wasn't at first but who's going to tell me I can't have a dog? My dad always told me I couldn't, but, you know he's not around anymore either. She was a German Sheppard/Great Dane/Rottweiler mutt so she was pretty big, big enough to stand a few inches taller than my waist. She was great for killing rabbits and squirrels and stuff when food was scarce, and she would bring it back to me and I would cook it up on a makeshift fire and we would feast like kings; you find that you're able to stomach just about anything when the local McDonald's- and subsequently every other McDonald's has been out of order for a year and a half.
I had to chuckle to myself as I passed through more fields of wheat because it didn't seem like it had been that long since the last ravages of Mist had taken the last victim and then disappeared completely. That's the thing, when a disease doesn't have a vessel it can survive in its pretty useless, until we start to rebuild and start popping pills for the most minute of problems again. Then it'll be 2014 all over again, the year of the Apocalypse in one sense.
The word "apocalypse" was always scarier than the event itself, I was expecting earthquakes and tornadoes and flash flood and swarms of locusts. What we got was probably just as bad, after a while you just don't have anywhere to put your dead so you have to burn them.
That's something I'll never forget, the smell of mass burning flesh. It is nauseating and stomach turning and indescribable by any other word but horrific. They tried to be civilized about it, about getting rid of the deceased, because we were a fucking civilized society, everything had to be neat and proper. But you couldn't disguise those plumes of thick yellow-white smoke coming out of the crematories, couldn't disguise that malodorous stench that flooded into the world as soon as those doors were open to the buildings in which those terrifying acts occurred. So many dead so quickly meant a lot of burning, a lot of "funerals", and a lot of mourning.
I was all mourned out I supposed, death wasn't something new to me. It seemed to just be a part of my life from a very early age. I sighed and continued on the road, trying not to think too much about the past. Thinking back is what killed you nowadays, memories of the past—ghosts of what used to be were haunting things and if you dwelled on them you would be swallowed up by sadness. Despair was almost worse than a knife to the heart because it cut just as deeply and would leave you bleeding out. That was why you didn't open old wounds, that was why you lived in the now and worried about survival only.
There was a sign proclaiming a town in less than seven miles, the sign had been tagged so many times over I couldn't read the name, but I didn't care because a town meant that there was at least shelter, and perhaps a semblance of food. I was getting tired of roasted squirrel, as delicious as it sounds, and seven miles was not that far considering how far I had come.
My home, my real home before all of this, was back in California, West Hollywood to be specific. I had never had much of a life before, a father who worked too much, a sister who couldn't look after me anymore because she had her own problems, and the death of my mother hanging over all of us.
I had been just that odd kid in school, a loner—or at least I tried to be. Before I had never felt social, now I just didn't have the chance to feel it and I didn't feel any different for it. When I was in school I had been small, an easy target, and my disposition to not make friends kept others at a distance from me; well, everyone but the people who wanted to shove me against lockers or into bathroom stalls. I didn't miss that. I didn't miss going to class just to get bored, it might sound weird but the world ending wasn't the worst thing that could have happened. I was good at keeping myself alive; I wasn't so good at focusing in classrooms. I'm ADHD so it's pretty tough for me to focus on some stuff for too long.
That's why seven miles didn't seem like a lot to me, I had already walked three to that sign and now I could see that outline of what used to be probably a really productive town. Absently I thought about how my feet hurt and how my stomach was clenching, how tired I was from just going all the time, but after a while it sort of becomes like a handicap, something you learn to live with. And I was hardly affected by it much anymore.
Mrs. O'Leary must have felt how fatigued I was because she shoved her head under my hand; I scratched her ears and rubbed her long neck. She was all black, even her eyes, and if I were someone else I might have been scared of the giant hundred and thirty pound mutt but when I found her nearly nine months ago she had been just a puppy, and now she was my best friend. Was it sad that a dog was my only real friend; probably. But I don't have anyone else around to tell me how sad it was, and I didn't care. Mrs. O'Leary was mostly tooth and fang, but once you got past that she was incredibly sweet.
"We've got to get you something to eat, girl," I told her and she whined in agreement, licking her lips and then my fingers. I smiled and patted her again. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth and she panted as we started walking again. The thing is with all the humans gone animals had started to slowly but sure come back to what was supposed to be their original habitats. I had to hold Mrs. O'Leary close so she wouldn't go flying at the deer that trotted by us, first we had to access the area. It was a rustic looking place, but it had none of its former splendor I'm sure. There were cars broken down on the roads, no longer in use, some of them still had bodies inside: people who must have died from Mist when it was on its last leg. At the very end the disease had become virulent, leaving you with less than a week to live if contracted. It spread too quickly to make an antidote, and it was gone too fast for the results to even sink in of what happened. Now the effects were quite clear as we passed through the ghost town. The last time I had seen a town was when I had passed through quite a few states in my high-jacked vehicle, stopping only for the essentials.
I sighed and we continued into town.
Do you know what I'm thankful for? I'm thankful for Wal-Mart, it was a great one stop shop and if I was lucky sometimes I would find one where the freezers were still working which meant the food inside was still kind of good. As I walked around the worldwide convenience store, I contemplated getting some new clothes, with the season changing to Summer jeans and jackets would start getting pretty unforgiving.
Mrs. O'Leary barked and I looked up, a large tabby cat was looking back at us, it hissed and arched its back. I put my hand on Mrs. O'Leary's head. "No, leave him alone," I said. I knew she was hungry but there was no need to just kill the poor cat. We walked down an aisle and I grabbed a box. "Here," I told her and ripped it open, inside were those Beggin' Strip things for dogs, they might have been a little stale but I think she would've enjoyed them regardless. Pouring out all the faux bacon on the ground I watched her set to work on it.
Now I just had to worry about myself, I left her to her own devices and made my way down more aisles.
Passing the tabby again I smiled at him, I had always liked animals better than people anyway. Going over to him I scratched underneath his chin and the thing purred at me. "What're you doing here, little guy?" Say what you will about me talking to them but animals don't judge you.
Another thing I should have been ashamed of feeling before, as if it was important now, was that a long time ago I had been struggling with my sexuality. I didn't like girls, not the ways a guy my age should have liked girls; in fact, I liked guys my age instead of the girls. Seemed like something stupid to be so afraid of now, right? But back then I just didn't want to let my dad down anymore than I already had, I wasn't smart, wasn't good at sports, I was alright at playing guitar and drums but that was about it, I never had the delusion of being some big important person. If anything I would have worked a factory job probably, or with my dad in the mortuaries, him being a mortician and all.
See, death really was all around my family.
I stood and the tabby cat rubbed itself against my leg, maybe, I thought, I had another companion for the road. I don't think I was lonely, lonely meant that there had to have been important people in your life before for you to miss. I wasn't lonely because I had always been alone, always. But that wasn't here or there, I looked over some of the cans on the shelves. All things that needed to be microwaved, but I don't think it would have mattered either way.
I was about to open a can of Chef-Boy-R-Dee when I heard something shuffling, and then there was a growl. "Mrs. O'Leary?" I asked, but something gray caught the corner of my eye. I picked up the cat and backed up. "Mrs. O'Leary!" I called and whistled, it was probably a bad idea to do that though because two large, gray wolves came around the corner, both snarling at me, black lips pulled back revealing pinkish-red gums and large white canines contrasting frighteningly. "Mrs. O'Leary!" I nearly screamed now, I heard her loud whooping bark echo somewhere in the store. The wolves heard it as well because they looked at one another, probably deciding which of them should go for me and the cat and which should go investigate the sound. Without much preamble the larger of the two stepped forward, obviously the alpha of the small pack. He grinned at me with no humor in that bizarre way that animals grin and his companion or mate went bounding past us.
The sound of two large bodies colliding made me want to turn, then I heard the snapping of jaws and I couldn't take it anymore. I spun and saw Mrs. O'Leary slashing her claws across the wolf's broad chest, leaving dark and angry red claw marks. Mrs. O'Leary squared off with it, the she-wolf lunged forward only to be bitten into roughly around the collar. I heard the bones snap in the she-wolf's neck and Mrs. O'Leary threw her body to the side. There was a whoosh of air over my head and I looked up just in time to see the alpha leaping over me, Mrs. O'Leary seemed ready for him though because at the same time she launched herself forward. They both pushed back and stared each other down, circling until Mrs. O'Leary was standing between me and the wolf.
I chucked the can of Spaghetti O's at the giant canine and it hit him squarely against the ribs, the impact was so hard he whined and then his eyes were trained on me. Penetrating yellow pupils made the breath in my lungs hitch and I had trouble staring back at him. He was angry now, what he had thought would be a quick meal had turned into something utterly troublesome. Froth dripped from his large jaws and the hair on his haunches bristled upward, he leaned his head forward, neck down eyes up so as not to give Mrs. O'Leary an easy opening.
He was an old wolf, scarred with nearly white cuts all over his body and a vertical slash down his left eye that spoke of his ability to fight.
His ability to survive. That's what it was all about anyway, but we were tenacious as well.
I readied another can of meat-by product in one hand and the cat held close in my other cradling it against me as best I could he was trying to crawl up my neck, hissing at the wolf probably as frightened as I felt. There was a beat where none of us a made a move, the only sound was the tabby and I tried to quiet him. I raised my arm and hurled the can, hitting the beast on the nose; then the silence broke. A horrific snarl ripped from him and he pounded forward, ready to kill. Mrs. O'Leary tried to bite him but she was still young and very inexperienced when it came to defending herself and her teeth seemed to glance off of his haunches. He bucked her backwards and she skittered across the floor paws scraping the ground, quickly she stood again and she gave a low growl, but we all jumped at the sound of something very unfamiliar.
It had been a long time since I had heard actual gunfire, I don't think I remembered it properly until that very moment and I nearly pissed myself because of it. The cat's claws dug into my neck but I didn't care so much as a figure moved into my line of sight. All I could see was the point of the gun, but, we weren't allowed much time to recover as the wolf jumped at Mrs. O'Leary and sunk his teeth into her back leg.
I think I screamed, I can't remember, it felt like I was screaming but the sound of a bullet whizzing through the air and the fact that my dog had just been attacked made me a little distracted. The wolf hit the ground hard in front of me and I kicked it away, collapsing beside Mrs. O'Leary. I looked at her leg, flesh had been ripped away and muscle looked as if it had been cut, steam poured out of the wound and the sickening smell of blood hit my nose. I felt tears prickle my eyes.
"I'll get some bandages, we'll fix her right up," A voice said and it didn't occur to me how strange it was that I hadn't spoken to anyone in at least ten months, I just nodded and whoever it was went away. Mrs. O'Leary laid her head in my lap and licked at my hand.
"You're going to be okay," I told her, and my voice sounded thick in my own ears. I swallowed a lump and felt tears streaming out of my eyes. I think that's why I started wandering in the first place, I was tired of death. Every few towns I passed through people would be on their last legs and I just couldn't stay and watch them all die, I couldn't burden them to feed me and themselves too, couldn't ask for shelter when they barely had any themselves. I don't know where I was going, but it just felt right to be on the move, to leave it all behind.
Mrs. O'Leary whined in my lap and I stroked her fur. "Shh," I shushed. When my dad had finally passed from Mist I told myself I would stop getting close to anything living, living things let you down by passing away, but I couldn't leave a defenseless puppy to fend for herself on the cold streets, just like I couldn't leave the damned cat curled around my neck in a dark store by himself. I nearly cursed from how much it hurt seeing her laying there in pain and I just cried that much harder.
"Hold her, she's not going to thank me for this," I looked up and saw the face of the gunslinger from before. It was a guy, but I could tell that by how deep his voice was. At first I couldn't really remember any details about him, I just held Mrs. O'Leary's head down on my lap and he uncapped something and poured it on the wound. Immediately she was howling in pain.
"What the fuck is that!" I screamed at him.
"Alcohol to clean the bite," He said working quickly. "Hold her tighter, she's upset now." He dabbed at the wound, then he pulled out a needle and thread and he held the point to her. "I'm going to stitch it closed, ready?" I didn't know what else to do, I just nodded. Quickly he was threading the needle through her skin and she was shaking in my arms. I shushed her again and cooed in her ear. He dabbed more alcohol on the stitching as soon as it was done then ran some kind of salve down the new network of stitches. "Neosporin," He said as if reading my mind, then he set to wrapping her leg in bandages. I was at a loss for words, not that I was really very talkative at all and he dusted his hands off on his legs after he tied the wrapping off. "There, she should be good, let her sleep and get something in her to eat. She might be limping for a while but I think if you keep putting this on it she'll heal up in no time." He handed me the Neosporin.
I looked down at Mrs. O'Leary, she didn't seem to want to move and I wasn't going to force her. "Th-thank you," I said, trying to remember how these sorts of things went.
"No problem," He smiled and I realized we were about the same age. "I'm Percy by the way," He said and extended his hand to me. For a moment I just stared at it. "It's for shaking, you know? Making new friends,"
"I don't normally make friends," I told him before I could check myself; he had just saved my dog. "Sorry," I said and took his hand. "I'm Nico," Well, I guess now would have been as good time as any to introduce myself. "Nico di Angelo," I continued, when was the last time I had said my full name? Too long ago, probably.
"Percy Jackson, then, formal Nico di Angelo," Percy smiled again. "What brings you through this way? I don't think I've seen you around town before." Was he serious? Of course he hadn't seen me around town before; there was no one in town. "Oh, you've got my cat," He grabbed the thing around my neck and held it close to him. "That's where you got off to, Tyson."
"Tyson?" I asked.
"Yeah," He replied. "Named him after my brother." As he said that there was a tightness around his eyes that I couldn't mistake, it was the sadness of loss. I was…rusty at consoling anyone, I had really never done it before.
"Oh, sorry," I said as sympathetically as I could, I think it sounded legit because of the leftover emotion from seeing my dog hurt so badly. Was it selfish that I hadn't been so close to anyone but my dog before? I'm sorry but that's just how it was, I had lost people too, I tried to imagine how Percy must have felt when his brother had passed, if it felt anything like how I did when I thought Mrs. O'Leary was going to close her eyes forever then I really was sorry.
"Don't worry about it," He said and he clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Where're you staying?"
"Staying? I-I hadn't thought that far ahead, we just got in town," I told him. "I guess we're staying in here, there's no way I can make her move much just yet," I said looking down at my dog, she was breathing deeply against my leg.
"Alrighty, I'll go get some tents and some sleeping bags, did you know the electricity still works in this place? I can cook us up something nice to eat and we can get some rest,"
"Whoa, whoa, hold on there cowboy," I replied suddenly. "Thanks for helping my dog out and everything but I think it would be best if you just left us be, we didn't come here looking for companions."
Living things let you down.
"You're not serious are you?" He asked me; giving me the sort of hard stare you gave someone you knew your entire life when they were being dumb. I don't think I liked his familiarity. "You think wolves are the worst things around here? There are coyotes and bears around this way too, not to mention all kinds of strays who would kill you just as soon as look at you because they were so hungry. You're sticking with me, kid, I think we can help each other."
"You don't even know me, I might be some murderous raving lunatic," I replied haughtily.
"Are you a murderous raving lunatic?" He asked with a small, smug smile.
"No, but that's besides the point," I said back, feeling my cheeks flush.
"You just sit there with your dog, and watch Tyson, I'll be right back with some stuff." I stared at him, he had shoulder length dark brown hair that curled at the ends, and piercing blue eyes. He looked like the kind of guy that enjoyed watching and playing sports back when there were sports to play, I don't know what you would call it…athletic? That sounded about right, he was very athletic in his cargo shorts and his jacket clad top, the sleeves of his blue hoodie were rolled up to his elbows and underneath was a shirt of plain white. He had probably been one of the cool kids in high school, I think, but now it was just him and me and two animals and this wasn't high school; furthermore I couldn't argue with his logic.
It took us an hour to get everything set up, we moved back into the employee's lounge of Wal-Mart, Percy carrying a drugged Mrs. O'Leary in his arms and me dragging two tents, two sleeping bags, a couple of pillows and a shit ton of frozen groceries, probably freezer burnt beyond edibility but damn it we would try. After getting the tents erected and putting all of our things inside of them Percy turned on an oven that was in the corner of the room next to a refrigerator. It took a while but the thing came on and began heating quickly, I was thankful that it was electric and not gas.
Looking around we found some pans and things under the sink and we started piling hot wings and hot pockets and other junk food things your parents tell you not to eat too much of into the oven and all that was left was for us to sit and wait. Sitting made me tired as I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, but Percy had thoughts other than sleeping.
"How long've you been on the road?" He asked. I sat back and thought about that. When I had been travelling I hadn't expected to meet anyone, it was throwing all of my plans for a loop and I don't' think I liked that either. But, there was really no point in lying, and even less point in not making conversation; it was the least I could do for him after he had been so kind to me, after he was still being kind to me.
"I—ten months," I said,
"Mm," He replied. "We—I mean, I've been running for about that long too, maybe a year," He sat back. "This is crazy, right? It's like a bad dream I just can't wake up from."
"Yeah," I said, absently leaning back and petting Mrs. O'Leary who was sleeping soundly inside of my tents thanks to some pills from behind the pharmacy counter. At least we didn't have to pay for things anymore; currency sort of loses its value entirely when there's no one to buy things, no one to make things, just no one.
"You're real talkative," He said with his roguish grin, I tried not to notice how handsome he was, and then I tried not to think about futile things like how long it had been since I had brushed my teeth or combed my hair. Those were social cues I had left behind with the last of the people, truth-be-told till now I figured I was the only one of my kind left all around.
"Where did you come from?" I asked.
"Well, I was checking out the armory department, I was running low on ammo but I heard you yelling and your dog barking and I thought I'd help out," He said with a shrug.
"No," My cheeks flushed at how helpless I must have sounded. "I mean why are you here?"
"Oh, well I was kind of marooned in Texas for a while, you wouldn't believe how big it is down there, then I came up through New Mexico and sort of kept coming this way. You're going to Camp Halfblood too, right? That's why people head this way."
"Camp Halfblood?" I asked. "Never heard of it, Summer camp doesn't sound like something I could really get into right now though; and what people, it's just you and me."
"Grover said— well, one of my old friends heard there was this campground in New York and for some reason people had started to just gather there you know, after all The Mist died out, I've heard that it's like the most populated place in America."
"And that's where you're going?"
"That's where we're going," He corrected. "I can't just leave you here all by yourself, how old are you? Like twelve? You'll die out here."
"Twelve?" I asked, I felt my face screw up angrily and he smiled wryly.
"I'm nineteen, asshole," I nearly growled, my face was hot and I knew I was blushing. "Goddamn it what makes you think I want your help anyway? Me and Mrs. O'Leary were doing just fine before you showed," I really don't think I liked his familiarity now, I didn't like the way he kept smiling at me either.
"You got a gun?" He asked and I shook my head no. "Do you have a weapon of any kind to defend yourself?" I scoffed and turned my head away from him.
"Who asked you?"
"It's just common decency," He said. "Besides, you can't tell me you don't want someone to talk to?"
"I talk to my dog, thank you very much," I said but it sounded stupid coming out of my mouth and he laughed. Laughter, it was strange, I found myself trying to analyze it, it was weird. Was it a good laugh or a bad laugh and for that matter why did I want to hear him laugh again?
"I don't think she does much along the way of answering," He smiled.
"What do you have to be so happy about, anyway?" I asked. "All you've done since you saved me was smile, this isn't a very funny situation," I said, angry suddenly. How could he be so calm about all this? I still didn't know who the hell he was but he was being so damn friendly. I think he was purposely trying to contradict my idea of what people were. People were greedy and didn't stop to help others unless it profited them, the thought crossed my mind that maybe my company might have benefited him but I pushed that thought away. My friendship wasn't something that he could use to help himself out, it couldn't have been that.
"I'm happy because I'm still alive," Percy replied, his smile more tame now, almost—dare I say it, gentle? He shrugged. "All my life my mom told me these really scary stories about people going up to Heaven and everyone else that didn't believe in it being left behind to fend for themselves, then all this happened and she couldn't stop coughing, she started hacking up blood and then a piece of lung and it wasn't long after that that she died. My stepdad died too, and—" He paused. "Anyway, I think I'm just happy because I'm still around, I'm happy because I still have a chance to live and that's the greatest thing in the world isn't it? Living?" Again I just stared at him; I just didn't have the words. He ruffled my hair and stood up. "You might learn something from me, like how to smile. You look like you frown way too much, anyway." He smiled and went over to the oven. "I think this stuff is done." I stood up too and then we started divvying out equal shares of food, it was a smorgasbord of junk and it was nice and hot. After we ate in silence I found myself yawning. "Get some sleep, Neeks, we'll stay here for a few days and stock up then I think we should go find a nice comfy car in the parking lot and start making our way to New York."
"First of all, don't call me Neeks," I said. "Second, I still don't think I'm going anywhere with you." He laughed.
"I like you, Nico; you've got a lot of pride." He clapped me on the arm and I just remained silent. "Get some sleep, buddy." I didn't say another word, I climbed into my tent where my dog lay sleeping and I zipped it up. "Good night," Percy said and I didn't reply. I curled up next to Mrs. O'Leary after I wormed my way into my sleeping bag and soon I was sleeping harder than I could remember in a long time.
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to at least go see if there was a real Camp Halfblood.