Beware: there be spoilers! This takes place sometime after The Last Olympian, the final book in the Percy Jackson saga. I own nothing of said book series. If I did, there'd be a lot more Apollo.
This was written for my friends K8 and Laz, cause for the first time dyslexia and ADHD are good misfunctions to have. Any misspellings I shall try to blame on my innate nature to read Ancient Greek.
I'll willing to break myself
To shake this hell from everything I touch
I'm willing to bleed for days
My reds and greys
So you don't hurt so much
So you don't hurt so much…
It was the smell that drove Nico crazy.
The smell that clung to his clothes, his hair, and even seemed to reek from his pores. Sulfur. Or rotten eggs, as most people made the comparison. And dirt. In the underworld, it wasn't so bad. Everything smelled like sulfur and it was in the ground, so who noticed when the dark haired boy stank of them? He was the son of death, after all. It was natural for him to smell like that.
But above, in the land of the living, not so much. People wrinkled their nose around him. Even the other demigods at Camp Half-Blood, who knew who he was even if they had never seen him before. The son of the Lord of the Underworld. The only child in the Hades cabin. The boy who smelled like death.
So after every jaunt in the Underworld, Nico spent no less than an hour in the shower, scrubbing himself down to the point of raw and furiously running his hands through his long dark hair. He tried to keep separate sets of clothing between the Underworld and the camp, the only places he had to call home. But the smell still transferred. Hades' cabin was probably the only cabin with a fancy indoor bath and laundry. When he designed the cabin, Nico figured it would be useful to him and to the siblings that followed, despite his father's denial and Persephone's narrowed eyes.
Siblings. He opened his eyes and stared up at the water cascading from rocks like an indoor waterfall. He wanted someone to share his cabin with, someone to talk to – someone to tell his problems to. Bianca was getting tired of being summoned so often, and she could only say so much because apparently, the dead have different priorities. Despite that, Nico wasn't exactly… comfortable telling her what weighed heavily on his mind these days.
Nico sighed, and got a mouthful of hot water. He stepped out from under the water to cough it back up, then raised his arm to his nose and sniffed. He couldn't smell the mix of sulfur and dirt anymore.
So he dried off and dressed, pulling on a black shirt emblazoned with the camp logo in red. No way in hades was the son of death being caught in an orange shirt. Nobody looked good in orange, except Aphrodite's kids who looked dashing in anything. Even then, some were a little iffy.
He made sure his sulfur-and-dirt clothes were dropped in his laundry pool to soak before he headed out into the morning sunshine of another summer day at Camp Half-Blood. Nico winced at the bright light that caused his eyes to water. Days in the dark underworld did nothing to help his day vision. He scrubbed at his eyes quickly to clear them, just in time to see Annabeth push against Percy's chest.
"I'm… I'm sorry," Annabeth said meekly.
Percy mumbled something back that even Nico's exceptional hearing couldn't pick up, then turned and left in a way that really reminded Nico of a dog running away with tail between legs. Annabeth looked close to tears – the kind not caused by sunlight - when Nico stepped up next to her. "What's up?" he asked as casually as he could.
The blonde jumped in surprise before whirling around to face him. "Nico! Has anyone told you that you're as silent as death?"
"It's been mentioned," Nico replied before repeating, "What's up?"
Annabeth tried to mask wiping her eyes by rubbing at her nose. "When did you get back?"
So she was trying to play off that everything was fine. Bull. "Percy just retreated faster than Aphrodite's cabin in capture the flag. What's wrong?"
"You're being evasive."
"You're being intrusive."
"Still being evasive."
Annabeth snorted in a pathetic way that sounded more like a whimper through her nose and looked like she was about to cry again. Alarms went off in Nico's head – Annabeth, architect of Olympus, level-headed, Xena-is-nothing-compared-to-me, Annabeth – was being emotional. Maybe it was that time of the month. "Annabeth?" Nico asked carefully.
"It's nothing," she repeated hastily, and her tough as nails demeanor settled back on her face. The near-tears disappeared as she nodded towards the mess hall. "C'mon, we'll miss breakfast."
Like you could ever miss a meal at Camp Half-Blood, where food was summoned at the demigod's whim. But Nico didn't bother to point that out as Annabeth moved ahead, her chin high. He fell in step behind her, and wondered.
The new mess hall had to be expanded to accommodate for all the new tables – one for each god. Hermes' table finally had elbow room at least, but some tables were still remarkably void, like Hades'. As Nico slid himself onto the bench he had all to himself, he cast a glance to Percy, miserably picking at blue eggs and ham.
Paging party Sam-I-am… Nico thought as he summoned his own breakfast, and did the obligatory partial offering to his father at the fire. As sausage, bacon, and pancakes go up in smoke, he glanced back at Percy, who still hadn't eaten a thing.
Nico kept his eyes on Percy, who occasionally glanced to Athena's table then looked away quickly. Like that wasn't clue enough.
Being alone at a food table usually meant finishing quickly, because most people don't like eating alone. Nico wolfed away the less than half portion he would normally eat. Being malnourished was just a given when you were the son of death. He finished shortly after Percy just pushed his plate away and left the mess hall. Nico got up, shooting a glance to Annabeth to see her watching Percy's exit, before following him back into the blinding sunlight.
The camp was already bustling with activity. Some kids from Hermes' had apparently shot jello-filled water balloons at Ares' cabin, who were currently retaliating with manure from the stables shoveled from the back of the flying chariot. Archery lessons were in full swing, arrows occasionally so far off their mark they buried in the field where Percy…
Was supposed to start teaching sword class. Instead, he was heading down to the water. So, Nico followed.
Percy walked with his head down, hands jammed deep in his pockets, and wafting the leave-me-alone aura like a raging tide. Nico knew the feeling well. Percy stopped at the water's edge and plopped down where the water could lap at his legs up to his shorts and just stared out at the water.
Well, now what?
Nico paused and just stood there, wondering what to do. He had followed the hero of Olympus, but what he planned to do was still in the dark. He thought about returning to camp when Percy spoke.
"Staring at me won't do anything, Nico."
That was as good an invitation as any, so Nico approached and sat just behind Percy where the water wouldn't touch his black sneakers. He gazed out at the water, and the silence reigned over the two boys for a moment before Nico asked, "What exactly are we looking at?"
Nico expected some profound answer, something that the son of the sea god could see that he couldn't, some unappreciated beauty. But Percy just said "Nothing."
"Oh." Nico paused. "Why?"
"Don't smash the pea," Nico replied before he could employ his mouth brake. Percy finally looked at him, with a half-smile on his face. Finally, a decent response. But Nico could see the emotional struggle there too.
"So…" Nico floundered. Girls were better at this, weren't they? "What are you thinking about?"
Percy sighed and looked back at the water. He didn't answer, for a time long enough that Nico began to get bored. "Do you think I made the right choice?"
No, they're green in the book, Nico thought as he asked, "About what?"
"Turning down the gods' offer. For immortality."
Nico shifted uncomfortably. Sand did not make a good seat. "I…You-what?" Very eloquent.
"Annabeth…" Percy started, then sighed, then started again, "Annabeth is going to Mount Olympus. To work on rebuilding it. She wants… she wants to stay there. For a while."
Nico wondered just what that had to do with the previous question. It took some squirming of thoughts to get around to finding a connection. Percy had turned down their offer, so he could be with Annabeth. And now she… she was going to Olympus. For a good long while, it sounded like. How long could designing an immortal city take?
Then again, knowing Annabeth's anal perfection tendencies…
"Sorry man," Nico apologized awkwardly. Percy made a weird noise that didn't seem to mean anything. "But… it's not forever, right? She'll be back."
"Well, yeah." Percy shifted about himself. If he wasn't part of the sea himself, his underwear would have been soaked. "But I kind of… asked her to stay. To not go."
And that probably set something off, because Annabeth was not someone you asked to stay. Nico felt vaguely annoyed at the blonde girl for abandoning Percy for her dream. "Didn't go over well, I take it."
"No, we're… we're fighting. I think," Percy finished lamely.
"Oh." So not a breakup. "What now?" They'd probably make up once she got back, or before she left even.
"I don't know," Percy shrugged. "I just... don't know."
Great. Nico swallowed and stood up, dusting the sand off his holey black jeans. "Just got to get your mind off it for a while, Perc." He tried to keep the squeezing in his chest from getting tighter. "She'll come back, great hero-dude like you."
Percy glanced up at him and Nico held out his hand to help him up. "'Sides, don't you have a class to teach…?"
Percy's eyes widened. "Di immortales!" Then he turned and ran back for camp.
Nico laughed and called after him, "Forgot, huh?" He let the laughter follow Percy out of earshot, then it died on his lips. Squeezy-pain in chest was worse. He sighed horridly, glancing down at the sand. He wished he had some food and drink handy. Then again, Poseidon might not be too happy with him summoning the dead so near his territory. And it's not like Bianca could offer advice. Or his father. Never – he would never tell his father.
Nico wished he could speak to his mother. She would understand – she was his mom, after all. But he was forbidden to summon her spirit.
So he walked back to camp, feet dragging and head low like one condemned.