Last chapter! Here it is. Thanks for all of the reviews and support you have given me throughout this fic. It's meant a lot to me. Really, it's meant more to me than you can imagine. Thanks particularly to Musafreen andOrochi-Ne, who have both been sending me some awesome PMs recently as well as CoolWater123, whose reviews are insanely kind and complimentary. I am not worthy. Also, quick note to Resha04: I messed with the spaces for this chapter. I don't know if it's reflected in the final thing but we can but hope. Let's see if this is any easier on your eyes.
I have a short(ish) oneshot mostly written to post after this, in the next couple of days, then I should really finish other things before starting the next fic I have in mind, which will probably be quite long. I have quite a bit of it written and I can already tell it's going to get away from me. But such is life.
Once again, I cannot express enough the gratitude I feel for everyone that's read and reviewed this fic, as well as everyone that's alerted and favourited etc. Thank you to you ALL and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
Mission to Marzipan, Over and Out.
Maybe he was finally getting through to his father. Hades hadn't had a retort at the ready: instead he had simply disappeared. That was progress, right? A sign that he was actually managing to sustain a successful argument against everything his father believed in? Nico sighed, keeping that particular gem of hope ridiculously close to his chest. It was a possibility, sure, but then it was also a possibility that Chiron would dye his tail powder blue in homage to My Little Pony or that Clarisse would put on a dress.
He held out a hand and let his fingertips graze along the wall absently as he walked past, running his fingers over a mix of cold stonework and lavish wall-hangings. Having come in from the garden, he was in one of the wide outer corridors of his father's palace, wandering around pretty much aimlessly. Let's face it, he had no place to be and he wasn't in a hurry to get back to his room. He'd spent far too much time in there during this visit as it was, thanks. He sighed again, wracking his brain to try and come up with a solution to the task Percy had set him. How was he supposed to get his father on their side?
His footsteps echoed slightly because he was walking next to the wall on the stonework: the black carpet only ran down the middle of the hallway. It suddenly struck him that it was odd for it to be quiet enough to hear the echo of his own footsteps anywhere in his father's place. Normally there were at least skeletal servants hurrying back and forth — joints without flesh surrounding them or tendons and ligaments holding them in place made a surprising amount of noise — but now there was nothing. He frowned, slowing his step a little. Something felt wrong here…
As if on cue, a hot pink hydrangea blossom appeared right in front of his face and exploded like a mini-firework, tossing blazing dots of light all over his field of vision. He hissed and threw his arm over his face, temporarily stunned and pretty much blinded. A door to his left burst open and he yelped as he was snatched by the arm and dragged bodily through it, struggling as he was yanked along. The door slammed and he was shoved against the wall, a hand pressed firmly over his mouth and mostly blocking his nose so that it was pretty much impossible for him to breathe. He grunted against the palm, suddenly smelling the unmistakable floral scent that, on a mortal woman, would come from using half a bottle of high-end perfume. Down here, however, that aroma could only come from his stepmother and she smelled like that without the aid of artificial scents.
"Stop struggling you silly little brat!" Persephone hissed at him. "I don't know how long I've kept the servants away for and do you want them to come running?"
Given that Nico was about to black out from lack of oxygen, he'd be happy if Kronos himself came running at this moment. There needed to be a freaking cap on how many family members could assault you in one day. First his cousin tried to strangle him, then his father sent him flying into a tree and now his stepmother was attempting to smother him. All in all it hadn't been a good day. Now he just needed Demeter to turn up and start wailing on him with an ear of corn and he'd pretty much have collected a full set of familial injuries. Finally Persephone huffed a sigh and let go of Nico. He slid down the wall to the floor, never so happy to inhale the air of his father's realm. He breathed in so hard and fast he choked on the air itself, feeling dizzy.
"You humans and your precious air," Persephone snorted crossly, folding her arms and glaring at him, as if it was his fault that human biology demanded oxygen to survive.
"Oh yeah. Sorry about my whole needing to breathe thing," Nico said. "I'm working on it." He paused, his need to snark temporarily blocking out the last past of Persephone's sentence. "Wait, why don't you want the servants to know that we're here?"
"Don't you take that tone with me," Persephone snapped, straightening the tiara on her hair as she said it. As if he needed reminding any further who she was. "And I don't want the servants to know we're here because they might tell my husband and I'd rather keep this quiet. Now, for the love of Olympus get up off the floor. All of this looking down is going to give me neck issues."
Nico scowled but climbed to his feet anyway. "So this wasn't just your run-of-the-mill assassination attempt? You wanted to tell me something you didn't want my father to know?" he asked, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket. He had never been alone with his stepmother for an extended period of time before, a fact that suited them both just fine, and the awkward silence between them was bordering on deafening, especially when coupled with the sparks of tension arising just from them simply interacting. Persephone was not Nico's number one fan and had made that very clear by giving him a stalk and petals on more than one occasion.
Persephone sighed and rolled her eyes, just to let him know what a huge inconvenience she found the entire situation to be. "I need you to… well, help me," she eventually said reluctantly, pursing her lips at the end of the sentence in distaste but at least breaking the gaping silence.
"Huh?" Nico asked, blinking. "You want my help?"
"If you try to remind me outside this room that I said those words I swear to Zeus I will turn you into an orchid and plant you in Alaska just to watch you get all withered and frostbitten," Persephone bit out rapidly at him. "But yes. I need you to get me out of here."
"This… room?" Nico asked blankly, looking around at the four walls and frowning in confusion.
"Oh, my. It's like talking to a Cyclops," Persephone murmured to herself, looking down and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Honestly. No, not this room. This realm. It's the middle of freaking summer up there and where am I? Am I enjoying my six months of freedom? Does this look like the bargain I struck with my husband?"
"Well, he can't force you to stay down here," Nico said reasonably. "Zeus said—"
"Oh please. Do you really think Zeus has got time to be dealing with the domestic disputes of a minor goddess like me?" Persephone asked, rolling her eyes at his ignorance. "I mean, he's busy trying to save the whole of Olympus from an attack by Typhon, our greatest enemy, but sure he'll just pop down here and tell his brother that he's not honouring his marital contract. Don't be so ridiculous."
"Well what do you want me to do about it?" Nico asked, folding his arms over his chest defensively. "How am I supposed to help you?"
Persephone sighed. "He listens to you," she said simply, adding a wry shrug. "I don't know why. Zeus knows I've been nagging him for thousands of years and he just blocks it out, yet he listens to you. For some reason. Apparently, he must think your opinion is valid or something bizarre like that"
Nico scoffed, wrenching up the sleeves of his jacket to reveal with nearly-identical wounds on his wrists from the manacles. "He chained me up in the dungeons. Something tells me he's not that keen on me."
"He's changing his mind already," Persephone continued with another shrug, wrinkling her nose in distaste at the damage to Nico's wrists and looking away until he had rolled his sleeves back down. "Already his resolve is weakening and it's definitely not anything my mother or I have said to him. It must be you."
Nico's shoulders slumped and he tilted his head backwards tiredly, staring at the ceiling. "That's just it. I don't know what to say to him, okay?" he told her. "Every time I say anything about it he just gets really mad and I end up being the one that's screwed over. So thanks, but I'll pass. Find your own way out of here." He turned around and placed his hand on the doorknob, but Persephone appeared beside him in a swirl of petals and leant hard on the door with one hand so he couldn't open it. In the other hand she was holding his sword.
"This is yours," she said, handing it to him. "It's been next to our bed since he took it from you and he's been staring at it all dark and brooding and regretful. You know, even more than usual. He made this for you, okay? He must care about you a little bit. I mean, his reasoning mystifies me but apparently he sees something in you more than anyone else close to him. So just go and sort this mess out so I can enjoy my summer. I'm so sick of this place and my mother and her cereal.If I have to have one more bowl I may just throttle someone." She looked pointedly at Nico. Given that everyone down here bar him was either dead or immortal, it wasn't hard to guess who her intended target would be.
"Didn't you just try that?" Nico asked innocently as he slid his sword into the empty sheath.
Persephone narrowed her eyes at him, but Nico was sure he saw the corners of her mouth quirk up into an infinitesimal smile. "Just fix this mess. Sooner rather than later. I am so bored down here. I'm not even supposedto be here right now, you know? It's not fair. Just send my husband up to fight in this silly little war so we can win and I can get back to growing actual flowers instead of those gaudy jewelled ones he thinks are a suitable substitute. They're not, you know. I mean, it was sweet of him to think of me like that but sometimes men just— Well. I'm sure it won't be long before you're revealing shortcomings of your very own in that department. I mean, you have so many already it won't be a stretch to add a few more. Now, do as I ask. I mean, it's probably the right thing to do and all but seriously, my wrath will be horrible if you don't. Ciao!" She vanished in a burst of petals.
Nico leant backwards against the door and closed his eyes, Persephone's lingering floral scent adding to his stabbing headache. Percy wanted him to persuade his father to save the world. Persephone wanted him to persuade his father to save the world. Why was it always down to him? What did they think he had going with his father that made it possible for him to just have Hades and his entire realm follow him into battle at the snap of his fingers? He was freaking twelve. What was everyone smoking that suddenly made him their saviour? The whole point of giving Percy invulnerability was to make Percy the one who had to bear the burden of saving the world and safely passing the buck. Clearly, something had not been properly stamped during the official buck-passing process and he was left with some of it to deal with all by himself.
He opened the door and stepped out into the hall again, hesitating with his hand still resting on the doorknob. Okay. Next move. Crawling into a corner and crying seemed like a pretty good choice right now. Maybe he should try that. Even though he was in his father's realm and so healed faster, similar to Percy in water, he still ached all over from the less-than-favourable treatment he'd received down here so far. Just what was he supposed to do? He slammed the door angrily behind him and stormed off down the hall in the direction he'd been going in before he'd been so rudely interrupted: towards his father's throne room. This was ridiculous and it had to be sorted for the sake of his sanity. Well. And for the sake of the world he supposed. He was running up a flight of stairs towards the inner sanctums of his father's palace when someone grabbed his arm and yanked him into an alcove off the staircase.
"It's the growing season!" Demeter lamented immediately and desperately, a bunch of wheat appearing in her hands like a bridal bouquet before Nico even had time to work out what was going on. She sniffed the wheat as if it wasan actual bouquet and then caressed it lovingly, sighing deeply. "Do you know what I'm missing stuck in this damp, dark…?" She couldn't finish her sentence, instead just shuddering. The wheat began to wilt as she looked at it, the Underworld too harsh an environment for it, so she waved a sad hand over it and made it disappear. "You—"
"Have to help you?" Nico finished for her, his deadpan voice tinged with exhaustion. "Yeah. There's a lot of that going round today."
"Yes!" Demeter said, nodding and latching onto his arm. "You're perfectly correct. It's just that—"
"Growing season. Underworld interfering with your life. Want war to be over so things can go back to normal et cetera, et cetera. Got it," Nico muttered bitterly. "Already on it. Fixing it as we speak. Time to let go of me so I can do that, okay?"
Demeter frowned at him, sniffing haughtily as she let go of his arm. "Patience is a virtue you know," she told him stiffly. "Crops don't grow overnight. There's no sense in rushing things. If you were a child of mind I'd make sure you put in some serious farming time so you gained a proper appreciation of agriculture. Perhaps it would teach you to be less hasty. And as for your manners, well, I think those are past fixing. But as a child of my brother and son-in-law I'm hardly surprised. Not exactly a charmer, your father. Can't even get a date without dragging one into his chariot by her hair."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap," Nico said tiredly. Even in a desperate situation, it was a bad idea to piss off a goddess. "I've just got a lot on my mind. A whole buffet of stuff on my plate right now. I feel like I'm getting pulled in so many different directions."
Demeter warmed to him slightly, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I know your father treats you harshly, child. You have been through a lot in the past day or so. Remember this, though. He truly cares about you, even if he has a very odd way of showing it. Now, go to him. Try and get him to change his mind. If anyone can do it, it's you." She vanished, leaving Nico alone in the alcove, the stone wall practically screaming out for him to bash his head against it.
Where was a banished Titan Lord to blow you to smithereens when you really needed one, for the love of Olympus? Life would be much simpler and by far less stressful if he were floating around as tiny little individual Nico atoms. He gritted his teeth, took a deep breath and forced himself out of the alcove and back onto the staircase again, continuing upwards towards his father's throne room. He assumed that his father would be hanging out there, where he was most comfortable in his own power and could therefore ignore Nico's jibes about the dangers of Kronos. Also, there was a huge throne to sit on for the purposes of brooding, sulking and seething. However, when he thought to check (what kind of demigod would he be if he couldn't sense the major source of power in any realm, especially his own?) he found that Hades was actually in the gardens. Nico stopped dead on the stairs in surprise and nearly fell flat on his face. What was his father doing there? Well, gardens it was, then. Again. Closing his eyes, he vanished into the shadows. No more stairs. Not today.
There was a table on a veranda that was set for four people. Twisted wrought iron railings and several steps separated it from the rest of the palace gardens. His mouth fell open when he saw Demeter and Persephone sitting right there, blithely pretending that their earlier conversations with Nico hadn't happened. Nico thought he saw them both flick their eyes towards him when he appeared out of the shadows but they gave him no further notice, instead forcing themselves to take part in meaningless light chatter.
Persephone's Queen of the Underworld tiara had been replaced by a wreath of flowers, one that she was changing every so often with an absent wave of her hand. It shifted from sunflowers to daisies to roses to irises mostly without her thinking about it. It seemed that she had to change the flowers often because they quickly began to wilt, the petals browning and curling inwards the longer they were exposed to the air of Hades. Demeter was busying herself by lining up about twenty boxes of shredded wheat exactly parallel to the edge of the table and quietly humming 'Old McDonald Had A Farm' to herself. The humming didn't stop even when she spoke to answer Persephone, just carried on in a weird disembodied way that Nico found supremely creepy until Demeter picked up the tune again. Hades was sitting at the head of the table, his arms crossed tightly across his chest and a scowl on his face. It deepened when he saw Nico and his lip curled into a sneer.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know you were eating," Nico said, bowing his head and turning around to leave. "I'll come back."
"NO!" Persephone and Demeter said forcefully at exactly the same time, Persephone even forgetting herself and reaching out for him as if to try and stop him leaving.
"Sit, child," Demeter said almost desperately, moving her chair to the end of the table so she was facing Hades. "Look! There's plenty of room. I'll just scoot over, don't mind me. Have a chair next to your father." She snapped her fingers and conjured a chair from thin air, patting the seat urgently while Persephone took care of summoning him a place setting.
"Yes, what a good idea, mother," Persephone said, agreeing with her mother for the first time in several centuries. She zapped a daffodil into a vase right in front of Nico's new bowl. "Perfect. Now, what was it you were going to say, hmm? Go ahead. We're all listening."
Several thousand years and apparently neither goddess had bothered to take a dictionary off a shelf and look up the meaning of the word 'subtlety'. There were neon signs in Vegas that weren't as glaringly obvious as the mother/daughter combo in front of him. Nico sighed and slid into his chair, pulling it closer to the table. Demeter beamed at him, leaning forwards and resting her chin on her palm pointedly as if he were about to say the most riveting thing she had ever heard.
"Oh, nothing really," Nico said, his voice shrinking under the murderous expression of his father. He shrugged nonchalantly, clearing his throat to try and take the squeak out of his voice. "What are we eating?" He had to turn a yelp into a cough as Persephone's pump connected hard with his shin. She was glaring at him and his complimentary daffodil vanished as she flicked her head repeatedly towards Hades, her teeth clenched at him.
"Cereal!" Demeter answered brightly, the desire to dole out shredded wheat temporarily blotting out the real reason Nico had sat down at the table. She reached for Nico's bowl and a box of shredded wheat but Persephone cut her off with a look and a shake of her head. Demeter sat back down in her chair but reluctantly, still staring at Nico's empty bowl. It was a sign of the tension around the table that Persephone didn't utter a single word of complaint about the menu at Demeter's table. Persephone was glaring at Nico, urging him to speak with her eyes, and Demeter was smoothing the already wrinkle-free tablecloth and sneaking glances up at both Hades and Nico whenever she felt like it was safe to do so. When she had practically worn the tablecloth through with her smoothing she began buffing imaginary spots off her silverware with a handkerchief.
"Father, just listen to what I have to say," Nico began, trying to catch his father's gaze. "Just listen, truly listen, one more time and think about it. That's all I ask. I've been having dreams about the battle going on in Manhattan. We're notwinning. Typhon is advancing on Olympus and Kronos keeps getting stronger! If you would just add yourhuge power to the resistance, then—"
"ENOUGH!" Hades roared, slamming his fists down on the table and making all of the tableware jump into the air and clang back down to the surface. He got up from his chair so fast it toppled over backwards and swept past the table down into the gardens, striding away from his son as fast as he could.
Nico sagged down in his chair and offered a what-can-you-do? shrug to his stepmother. When all he received in answer was a bruise on his right shin that matched the earlier one on his left and a semi-encouraging pat on the arm from Demeter he got up from the table and cautiously followed his father into the gardens.
"Olympus is going to fall!" Nico called to Hades, crossing his arms and leaning against the trunk of a tree. "Just think about that. Think about what that means! Why fight so hard to overthrow Kronos the first time and then let him use you as a doormat now? You have to help them!" He pushed off the tree and stalked over to his father, following him as he paced desperately, his hands over his ears as he tried to block out the incessant pleadings of his son.
The more Nico spoke, the more Hades saw that what he was saying was true and the more he was persuaded to go to the aid of his family. Yet with renewed anger, he realised that Nico's words were also pushing out his earlier convictions involving the death of Maria and the millennia of contemptuous treatment he'd had at the hands of his siblings and their godly children, who all seemed to have managed to get nepotistic thrones on Olympus even though they had been spawned after the first rebellion, while he was forced to stay down here in the darkness. Anger surged inside him. He was not used to such conflict within him: being torn between two decisions was something new, something that he had never had to face up to until Nico came along. He had always been absolutely sure of himself before; after all, omnipotent — if a god couldn't be absolutely certain then who could?
"You have to!" Nico insisted, marching after his father and flailing his arms in frustration at him.
"I don't have to do anything! I'm a god!" Hades shouted back in reply, his eyes blazing.
Nico threw his head back in frustration and glanced over to Persephone and Demeter, who were trying to pretend that they weren't hanging on every word that father and son were screaming at each other across the gardens. Demeter was getting to pour her cereal at last and Persephone took a break from messing with the colours of the flower arrangement to make a winding motion with her hand in frustration, urging him to try again and faster. As he briefly relented, Nico suddenly felt his boot fill with grain and a thorn stab him in the back of his knee as little 'incentives' to go on. Grimacing, he kicked his foot to shift the grain so he could actually walk and carried on after his father, limping slightly.
"Father," Nico said, "if Olympus falls, your own palace's safety doesn't matter. You'll fade too."
"I am not an Olympian," Hades growled darkly. "My family has made that perfectly clear."
"You are," Nico said obstinately. "Whether you like it or not."
This argument was going round and round in the way it had been going since Nico had got here, and Nico shifted his mouth to autopilot and let the same points tumble out in response to his father's ranting. Second verse, same as the first. Maybe repetition would be the key to bringing his father down. Wearing him down slowly could work. It would be glacial slow, but maybe he would get there in the end. If his head hadn't imploded from frustration and he hadn't died of old age.
"Maria died!" Hades reminded him, his mother's name jerking Nico out of the automatic argument he had been engaged in.
Nico squared his shoulders. If Hades thought that dragging his mother back into the debate was going to get Nico to quit then he was very wrong. It hadn't worked earlier and he was not going to let his emotions cloud his judgement now. Something Bianca said suddenly popped into his brain and it was spilling out of his mouth before he could even stop it. "Holding grudges is a fatal flaw. Bianca warned me about that and she was right," he said urgently. It was time his father learned to let go, just as he had learned to let go of his grudge against Percy with Bianca's help. That was the only way they were going to win the war, by cooperating.
Hades gave a disgusted snort. "For demigods! I am immortal, all powerful! I would not help the other gods if they begged me, if Percy Jackson himself pleaded—"
"You're just as much of an outcast as I am!" Nico yelled, losing his temper completely. "Stop being angry about it and do something helpful for once. That's the only way they'll respect you!"
His father's palm filled with black fire and Nico took a sharp intake of breath. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Demeter tighten her grip on the cereal box nervously, crushing the cardboard and spilling shredded wheat out of the top. Persephone gave a tiny nervous squeak, thinking she was about to see her only ticket out of the Underworld be immolated. Hades glanced quickly at the terrace and Demeter composed herself first, picking up bits of cereal and doling them out evenly between the bowls.
"Yes, please," she complained, clearing her throat and aiming for nonchalance. "Shut him up."
"Oh, I don't know," Persephone said pointedly, jabbing her mother in the side with her elbow and glaring at her. "I would rather fight in the war than eat another bowl of cereal," she added in a sickly sweet tone, including a tilt of the head and stop-ruining-everything eyes aimed at her mother. "This is boring."
Hades roared with anger, finally seeing that he had also lost the support of his wife and mother-in-law even if they were too scared to say it themselves. He threw the fireball at the silver tree with bells on he had slammed Nico into earlier and it melted into a puddle of molten metal. Did everyone expect him to just drop everything and save the world with a family who all hated him?
"Please don't lose your temper," Persephone said, slipping around the table and coming noiselessly down into the garden. She stepped in front of Hades and cupped a gentle hand to his face, standing on tiptoe and pecking him on the lips. "Please don't be angry, but perhaps it is time to start a new era with your relationship to the other gods…" She stepped back, wincing, as Hades turned his annoyed gaze on her. "Maybe? Don't you think?" she backpedalled quickly. When Hades didn't reply she took courage and reached her arms up, wrapping them around his neck and grasping one wrist with the other hand to hold them there. "You know, I haven't seen you go to war for such a long time… There's something about that chariot and your armour that makes me just want to…" She stretched to whisper something in his ear, the sight making Nico nauseous enough to lose the breakfast he hadn't even had yet. There were some things a kid just shouldn't see, and your immortal father getting his ear practically chewed on on by your equally immortal stepmother was one of them.
"You dare try flattery and bribery with me?" Hades suddenly shouted, snatching her arms from around his neck and throwing them from him. Persephone nearly overbalanced and landed in one of her jewelled flowerbeds. "I don't expect this from you, my wife, of all people. This is insubordination!"
Persephone folded her arms angrily across her chest, her eyes flashing with rage. She stamped a stiletto and was about to bite out a retort when her mother cut her off by snatching her blood-red napkin from her lap and tossing it down in the middle of the table.
"Brother, enough," Demeter demanded, thrusting away from the table and walking to the railings, placing her hands on them and gripping the cold wrought iron. "Do you forget that I was there the first time we fought Father?" she questioned, pulling herself up to her full height, her mood clear for all to see. "I remember full well how difficult it was to win the fight against him and that was when we were all working together. What hope do you think we have now with everyone divided, hmm? Have you forgotten how devious Father is? Did it never occur to you that he wants this gulf between you and the rest of our family? He sees you as a threat! He wants you out of this fight. And I for one will not let you hide down here any longer." She slammed a fist down on the railing and a burst of grain shot from her hand and scattered itself on the soil below her. Such was her anger and determination that it even began to sprout despite the barren soil. "It is an act of pure cowardice, yes I said cowardice and I'll say it over and over again whether you give me that look or not. What kind of role model are you providing here for me, your baby sister, or for your wife, or even for your son? This is the end of the matter. We go to war and we go now. I will hear no more debating." She snapped her fingers and a diadem of wheat appeared on her head and a celestial bronze sickle formed in her hand.
"Go if you want!" Hades snarled, rounding on his sister. "Go and side with your precious Olympians as I always knew you would! I was trying to keep you safe but if you want to go and lose a war against our father then be my guest."
"I'm going with her," Nico said stonily, climbing up the steps to stand beside Demeter. "It's the right thing to do and you know it."
Persephone sighed and rolled her eyes. "Fine, I suppose," she said, hitching up her dress as she climbed the stairs. "I don't want to be the only one left out. Plus, as I said, things are a little dull down here. Some excitement is just what the god of doctors ordered."
Hades seethed, his eyes blazing with actual fire. He had gone white, whiter than usual, with rage so that his face was practically translucent. A large purple vein was bulging in his temple as he regarded the three figures on the terrace. He seemed temporarily apoplectic with rage so great it had rendered him speechless. "GO THEN!" he roared at last, specks of spit flying from his mouth. "Go to your ends, traitors. See if I care!"
Demeter pursed her lips angrily and tossed her head a little higher into the air. "Come, child," she said to Nico, grasping his hand. Her palm was cool yet warm at the same time and her touch conjured up a flood of images of golden crops waving in the sun. It was oddly comforting. "If you father refuses to help, we will at least do all we can do. It is the right thing, the noble thing as you said. I am sorry I compared you earlier on the stairs. May Zeus himself take pity on you if you ever turn out like him."
"How dare you speak to me like that?" Hades yelled, waving his arms angrily. "I am the Lord of the Dead, King of the Underworld and I demand respect!"
"That was a title given to you by the Olympians," Demeter snapped. "As you reject us, so you reject that. You are Lord of Nothing, King of Nowhere now you turn your back on your family. Think about that as Kronos comes to banish you to the deepest pits of the realm you once claimed as your own."
Nico slipped his hand from Demeter's and made his way down the steps again as his father recoiled at Demeter's words, not entirely able to hide the realisation that came with them. Nico felt a stab of pity for Hades as he stood there alone in the gardens, everyone abandoning him for a cause he couldn't yet fully grasp. Nico took a deep breath and stopped in front of his father, pulling his sword out of its sheath. "What was this made for if you didn't want me to fight?" Nico asked him quietly, contemplating the edge of the blade. "If you didn't want me to use it to defend myself and bring honour to your house then why did you give it to me?"
"Where did you get that?" Hades said angrily. "Have you been stealing from me?"
"I gave it to him," Persephone said defiantly. "It is his after all and he's perfectly right. Why does he have it if not to use it? He is a valiant fighter. His deeds bring honour to this palace, you and your realm. Why shouldn't he have it?" Nico was so shocked he couldn't speak, even turning to stare open-mouthed at his stepmother. Under his gaze she shrugged exaggeratedly. "Or, you know. Like, whatever," she said dismissively, rolling her eyes heavily.
Those words of encouragement hastily and messily withdrawn Nico rolled his eyes and turned back to his father. "I know what they did to you. I know that Zeus took my mother away from me and do you think a part of me doesn't hate him for that? But don't you see that the greater good is more important than her death? There are billions of people about to die. The whole of western civilisation depends on us winning this war. I'm sorry but no matter how much I want my mom back no one person is more important than the good of humanity. No one." He paused, psyching himself up to say the last part. "Even you."
Hades took it better than expected in that he didn't immolate him. In fact, he didn't even speak at all. "What do you think I will get in return?" Hades said bitterly instead after a pause in which he gained control of his anger. "Doing this will not persuade my brother to bring Maria back."
"Those are the laws of death," Nico said heavily. "What has been done can't be undone. You know that, deep down. It's time to let go. Besides, what do you think Kronos will offer you, one of the most powerful gods who helped to slice and dice him and imprison him for, oh, a couple of millennia or so? Something tells me that waking up from that kind of nap, and in pieces at that, is going to make a Titan Lord a little cranky and you're going to be pretty high on his hit list."
"You have such great power at your command, brother," Demeter said. "If you want respect then use that power. If only to gain yourself the kind of position on Olympus that you have wanted from the beginning."
"Plus, I really meant what I said about you looking hot in all that armour," Persephone interjected with, nodding. "There's something about a god in armour that just—"
"Over-sharing!" Nico yelped, physically wincing at the mere thought of the end of his stepmother's sentence.
Hades sighed, turning on the spot so that his back was to them and placing a hand over his eyes. His whole body seemed to sag in defeat. "I suppose…" he eventually managed reluctantly, heavily. "I suppose, just because it would make sure my brothers owed me an eternal favour, that maybe I could do my bit. But I will need a little time to gather my army, my chariot, my—"
He was cut off by a deep, booming bark. There was an enormous crash as a dark, shadowy figure leapt and landed on top of the wall around the garden, breaking the masonry and scattering enormous stones everywhere. As it jumped down into the garden it annihilated a pergola up which vines sprouting diamonds were climbing. Hundreds of skeleton warriors dressed in armour and carrying weapons from what looked like every single battle or war every fought came bursting in through the various doors and some were even scaling the wall, all trying to detain the shadowy figure. Bugles and trumpets were giving alarm calls as spears, bows, swords, axes, rifles, machine guns and what Nico swore was an actual freaking canon were pointed at the figure, who let out a pleased bark, oblivious to the chaos it was causing, and made straight for Nico.
"Mrs O'Leary?" Nico yelped in disbelief as she came trotting over to him. "Stand down! Drop your weapons!" Nico shouted as loud as he could, holding his hands out to the assembled army. His voice was lost in the general clamour and as Mrs O'Leary came closer the sound of various guns being cocked was almost deafening. They had obviously mistaken the hellhound for a threat, perhaps not surprising since she had bounded over the palace walls and was barking at what was basically their First Family.
"MY SON TOLD YOU TO STAND DOWN!" Hades roared, suddenly growing about three feet. "Did you not hear him?" All eyes turned to Hades and weapons were lowered as he shrank back to normal size. "Better," he sniffed haughtily. "Muchbetter. Nico, what is the meaning of this hellhound invading my palace?"
Mrs O'Leary was headbutting Nico over and over, almost knocking him down. She licked him with her massive tongue and crouched into a lying position, whimpering. Nico reached out and patted her on the nose but she couldn't be comforted and kept looking upwards, occasionally giving a jerk of her head in that direction.
"I think… I think she wants us to go to war," Nico said uncertainly. "Percy must have sent her." He turned to his father. "If Percy is sending Mrs O'Leary away from the fight, things must be desperate. We have to go now."
"I will not go to war because Percy Jackson commands me," Hades spat. "I will go to war for my own pride and for… for you, my son. Nico, I do not know how you became so insightful but I see now that you were right. Being down here for so long has only built resentment and left me with too much time to brood and reflect. My grudge has only got deeper and I have put myself before the world. I fought to gain control of the world from Kronos and if there's one thing I hate it's wasted effort. I will make sure Kronos falls and this will begin a new chapter in my relationship with Olympus. Perhaps I'll even manage to wangle a throne up there as part of the deal. You never know." He turned to the assembled army. "Well?" he shouted. "What are you waiting for? Where is my chariot? Fetch it this minute!" He gave a flourish of his arm and was suddenly dressed in full battle regalia.
Mrs O'Leary stood up wearily and turned around. She had somehow managed to loop her tail through the axel of Hades' chariot and had been pulling it along behind her all this time. No wonder the warriors had been so pissed: she'd hijacked their boss's chariot as well as invading the palace. With a flick of her tail she sent it sliding across the garden, the wheels leaving gouge marks in the soil, so that it came to rest right in front of Hades. All he had to do was step in. Mrs O'Leary walked behind Hades and began nudging him with her paw towards the chariot, desperately trying to get him on, whining pitifully.
"Do you want to go to war?" Nico asked the hellhound, grinning. "Who wants to go to war? Does Mrs O'Leary want to go and kill some Titans today? Yes she does!"
Hades snorted at his army. "You know, it says a lot when a hellhound is more efficient than an entire army. You best all fight well today or I am turning everyone here into glue so that the only battles you can be fighting will be with mortal kindergarteners, dried macaroni and glitter." He clapped his hands and two shadowy horses appeared between the shafts of the chariot and were instantly harnessed, pulling the chariot level. Hades stepped onboard, much to the delight of Mrs O'Leary, whose tail began to wag as she bent to give Hades a happy lick. Demeter and Persephone teleported in behind him and settled down for the ride. Nico almost expected them to get out a rug to put over their knees and tie headscarves over their hair. "Stay close, son," Hades said, taking the reins. "You will be my right hand man, as I think the current expression goes. We go to war against my father together."
Nico grinned, drawing his sword. "Damn straight we do," he said, his eyes glinting as he looked up at his father. "For the House of Hades." His heart practically burst out of his chest when he saw that even Hades' face has managed to crack a smile.
Hades raised his enormous sword, pointing it to the roof. "Well put, son," he said, beaming now. "For the glory of Hades, Olympus and the western world TO WAR!" he bellowed, the cry echoing back at him in waves. Nico could feel the earth cracking all across the realm and he knew that armed skeletons were clawing their way from the dirt across the Underworld without having to see it. It seemed like the entirety of Hades was rising to war, rising against Kronos.
Nico glanced up at his father and saw the light of respect for him, his son and heir, residing in Hades' eyes at last. So, his father had finally accepted him, huh? Suddenly, he knew it was going to be a good day to be a son of Hades, and come on: how often had anyone said that?
As he vanished, that thought kept him warm even in the screaming void of nothingness and shadows his body passed through on the way to do battle for Olympus and for his father.