"Okay let me get this straight, the fishes had told the starfish by the dock who whispered it to the crabs who then fought off the gulls whom had then passed on the message to the other pegasi in return for some French fries who told you to tell me that there is an emergency by the beach and they need me ASAP?" I summarized back to Blackjack who nodded his graceful head.
That's right, boss.
"It's Percy," I reminded him. "Think you can give me a lift?"
I smiled. Even though Blackjack was my favourite pegasus of all and I was his favourite demi-god, he still would not abandon the 'boss' nickname. I climbed on his back, the gesture familiar now that I have confidence in my abilities as a rider. I slotted my hands and feet in comfortable spots just as he took flight, soaring up to the cloudy, grey sky.
How are you feeling? I mean if you ever need any help, my wings are at your service and if you want someone to talk to, I'm all ears.
I paused. Was that just a longwinded 'what's up?' "I'm fine, Blackjack. Camp's not stressful at all. I'm going to give a tour of the camp and maybe give a couple of swimming lessons to a few of the new campers later this afternoon. Why do you ask?"
Oh. Uh. I was just wondering if you would like to see my baby boy later on. He's so big now and what energy he has when he's flying! He'll be a heartbreaker like his ol' man when he grows up…
I hummed and oh'ed at the correct times enjoying the pride in his voice when he talked about his child. When we got to the dock, I thanked Blackjack for taking me there before plunging into the waters. I breathed easily underwater and looked at the odd shapes of the underwater world. Not a single bottle cap was in sight. It took a long weekend with the help of most of the satyr to clean out the garbage that had accumulated over the years, hidden behind water vegetation. But it was worth it in the end. A little ways off, the newly planted underwater garden flourished under my care.
A small herring swam around my head in greeting; its scales glimmered sporadically in and out of my eyesight. "Are you going to take me there?"
It swam even faster and I could only assume that was an excited, yes before it darted away. I swam after it. The sea welcomed me, making every stroke effortless. The herring guided me to a capsized boat surrounded by a large school of bright fishes.
Son of the Sea God, Son of the Sea God, help us, Son of the Sea God. I heard many voices cry.
"What's the problem? Someone trapped under there?"
—You're too skinny, have you been eating well?
She's been trapped under there for a very long time—
Are you sleeping well?
Why hasn't he been sleeping well?
Love sick, love sick.
"Okay, one at the time and can we please stick to the problem here?" I said, stopping their flow of conversation. Then one voice came from under the boat,
I would like to get out from under this boat, please lord.
The other fishes parted way for me as I swam over to the boat, more of a canoe really, and examined it. It was made of wood and actually looked quite light weight in comparison to some others I've seen. Swimming to the other side, there was a section of wood that was badly chipped by a rock of some sort. "How many of you are under there?"
I found that curious. How could one lone fish be trapped under a boat this old? "How did you get under there?" I asked as I tested the strength of the wood.
I uh, I was curious to see what was under there. And then the boat flipped and while I was under.
"Uh huh. Don't worry. I'll get you out of here in a jiffy." I knocked on the wood. "Hear that? Get out of the way and I'll break it open so you can get out of there. Are you ready?"
I whammed my elbow into the weakened end of the wood. I had expected pain, and it surprised me even now, when none came. Instead there was just a vibration that rang through me like when a gong gets hit by the anvil. Achilles Curse, remember?
The third time I did it, the wood gave way to my invulnerable and indestructible body, leaving a large enough gap for the fish to dart out.
It quickly joined the mass of fishes that had been anxiously waiting.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. The fishes said cheerfully.
"No problem. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
We are eternally grateful, lord.
Thank you for returning her.
Are you mating with anyone?
He's not still hung up over that owl girl, is he?
Like the human saying goes, there's more than one fish in the sea, boy.
"Well, if you don't need me anymore, I'm going to go now. See you later and try not to get stuck under anymore boats!" I waved and then swam as fast I could away, using the water to propel me.
Eat more, dear! But not fishes, you hear!
As soon as I was far enough from the fishes that I could no longer hear their voices, I began to slow down to a leisurely swim. I know they meant well by asking for my health and what not, but really, I bet they are just a couple of fishmongers.
You see, Annabeth and I were taking what you call a "break" from our relationship. It's just that we weren't giving each other the attention that the other deserved. She was kind of always busy with the whole rebuilding of Olympus and I was busy with camp stuff. I mean, I'm fine with it and all; we're still the best of friends. I think Annabeth's interested in some other guy now, anyways. It was a bitter pill to swallow when I first found out. Three times now, in amidst the architectural terms and what not, she mentioned this other really smart and relatable guy. I knew that she had moved on.
I was so absorbed in my thoughts I didn't know I had reached my destination until my head hit one of the pillars of the dock. When I popped my head from the waters, I saw about five figures on the beach. One I could tell immediately was Nico di Angelo with his customary all-black. Usually this would not cause my stomach to clench painfully, but one of the others had shoved Nico in the back while the rest made rude, sexual gestures.
"Hey!" As I rose from the sea, the waters churned beside me reflecting my anger. Good, if that's what will intimidate them.
His Stygian sword was not at his side at the moment, but Nico clenched his hands as if he longed to be holding it.
"What's going on here?" I asked, pulling myself away from the waters, completely dry. This was just another reminder that I was one of the children of the Big Three and that the guy they were bullying was also someone to be reckoned with. On closer inspection, I could tell that there were two of Ares' children, and to my shock, two from the Hermes cabin. The Hermes kids at least looked a bit ashamed at themselves, whether it was being caught teasing Nico or just being caught in general.
The Ares' children sneered. "Look, its Nico's boyfriend, Prissy, to the rescue. I'm so scared."
"He's not my boyfriend, you flea-infested, maggot-brained fool." Nico sneered.
My mouth threatened to twitch upwards at Nico's long winded insult. "Get out of here before I bring Chiron here."
They hesitated, but they could tell that the threat of the centaur was legit. Clean up duty was one of the worse punishments at camp.
One of Hermes' kids, a redhead one, tugged at their siblings arm and they ran away first. The Ares' kids cast a scornful look at Nico's direction. "Catch you later, loser, when you don't have your boyfriend protecting your back."
"I was handling that." Nico said to me after they had gone.
"Why were they pushing at you?"I asked instead. Sure, Nico could have taken them all, but they shouldn't have been bullying him in the first place.
"They don't like the way I dress and the way I act. Don't worry I'm not going to break and conform." Nico shrugged.
"What's wrong with how you dress?" I looked at him up and down. He was wearing a pair of skinny black jeans, a rather tight, black, low V-neck T-shirt, and a blush on each cheek.
He smoothed down the front of his shirt as if he was self-conscious at the weight of my gaze. "They think the baggy, orange, camp T-shirt is the way to go."
I looked down at my own camp T-shirt and raised an eyebrow, "You don't think I look good?" I said with mock hurt.
"Please, that colour of orange doesn't work on anyone unless you're Aphrodite's kid."
"Like that strawberry blond one with the green eyes?"
"That twink? He's barely got two brain cells to rub together." Nico scoffed.
"But you think he's good looking, don't you?" I teased. It was a common known fact around camp that Nico was openly gay. That tidbit of information ran around rumour mill this year a few times and Nico never denied it, so it has been accepted as fact. Nico had actually confided in me when he first discovered that about himself a few years ago, but I have never actually seen him go out with another guy before.
"Tell me what kid of Aphrodite's is not good looking, please." Nico said with 'duh' look on his face.
"When one is born, I'll tell you."
"As if she'd ever let that happen." Nico rolled his shoulders back, sitting down to relax on the beach.
"She's the goddess of love. Love doesn't have to involve two good-looking people." I said, quite wisely I think.
He looked back at me shrewdly, "No, but it does help." He dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand and asked instead, "So why are you out here anyways?"
"Fish got caught under a boat and they needed me to bust her out." I settled down with him, looking out at the calm waters.
"Want to know what I think? I think they just wanted to see a celebrity and faked something so they could get you down there. Or maybe they just wanted to mother-hen you, even if they are a completely different species." Nico speculated, building a mound of sand, the finely grounded rock forming a majestic castle under his hands.
"I don't need anyone to take care of me." I frowned, "That would explain Blackjack's and the fish's questions, though."
"Maybe they've just noticed you aren't exactly the most chipper of campers lately."
"What do you mean?" I asked, honestly confused.
"Ever since you and Annabeth decided to take your little 'break' from your relationship, you've been sulking like a little heartbroken puppy. Even Peleus noticed when you stopped giving him those apples he likes because you're so busy moping." Nico told me seriously, abandoning his sand castle to give me a look I could barely decipher. It was a mix of concern, exasperation, and that ever present small something. "I don't get why you don't just ask her out again if you're this depressed."
"You wouldn't get it." I looked away.
"Try me. You know, the dead tell me lots of things. The secretive love affairs they used to have, the weird-ass kinks that they hid from their spouses, the ingredient to their amazing lasagne that they took to their grave and regret not teaching anyone…"
I laughed, "You actually know how to cook?"
"I'll be the next Iron Chef with this new recipe." Nico said smugly.
"Do you even know what that show's about?" I asked incredulously.
"Quit changing the topic, Percy, and tell me why you're not asking Annabeth out again when you're so in love with her." Nico said irritably.
"I'm not." I interrupted.
"You're not asking her out again?" Nico said sceptically.
"Not in love with her. I love her, yeah? Like as a friend or a sister or something, but I'm not in love with her." I tried to explain, "Like when I kiss her, I don't feel… you know."
"Sexually attracted to her?" Nico blinked slowly.
"Gods, don't say that!" It was hard to remember that this bold and shameless young adult was the ten year old I had met some years ago.
"So why are you so forlorn about this then if you're not in love with her?" Nico pestered.
"I just… I want to be, you know? Save the world, get the girl he's madly in love with and live happily ever after. That's how it's supposed to happen. But maybe like, the girl and the hero were only brought together because of the destruction of the world and thought they needed each other, but it turns out that they didn't? Gods you must think I'm an idiot." I sighed, looking at the lifelines etched on my hand, trying to find where this flaw had come from.
"Percy." Nico huffed, kicking me in the leg with one of his sneakers. "People change. Relationships end because sometimes when people grow up they find out that they can't accept the other person's changes. Sometimes it's just a small difference, and sometimes it's a big change.
"There was this man who told me that he hated how his once uncomplicated and down-to-earth girlfriend had grown up demanding sophistication and wealth. The change was too different for him to handle and he was about to break up with her."
Nico gestured with his agile hands aimlessly trying to convey his words as he spoke. "Just because this thing with Annabeth isn't working for you doesn't mean you hole up in your cabin only coming out for quests and swimming lessons. There's plenty of people out there who would die to have you even date them once." Nico's mouth curled into a self-depreciating smile. "You'll find someone someday, but not if you're gonna be hiding out like an unclean hermit crab."
"Hermit crabs are nice." I protested half-heartedly, giving thought to his soft words.
"When they're not busy snipping at your toes." Nico said smartly.
"Hm, yeah." I looked at him. This little boy who had grown up into a young adult, so wise and almost companionable was my friend, one of my best friends. I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him in a one-armed hug. "Thanks."
"Anytime." I heard him say airily.
"What happened to that man?"
"Died." He said shortly, unwilling to share because he was sensitive to people's feelings with death. I found that Nico shared very little of his experience in the Underworld and maybe that was how it should be. That death should be a little mysterious.
"So what you're saying is that I should get over it before I died?"
"I'm saying that you should be happy."
"I'm ecstatic." I shoved him on the shoulder.
There was just a split second of hurt before he saw the glimmer in my eyes and he shoved me back. "You're a jerk."
I just as childishly pushed him back. "And you're short."
Nico grinned. "Oh you are so going down."
I was getting myself onto my feet for the unspoken challenge, but Nico grabbed my knees and used his shoulders to shove me over. Before I knew it, the sand was at my back and the air knocked out of me, with him crushing the lower half of my body.
"Point for Nico."
"Hey! I wasn't ready!" I managed to say before using my upper body strength to try and get him off my legs. His freakishly pointy elbows jabbed at odd places in my abdomen as he tried to remain on top.
I looked over to the sea and willed it to rise in a stream aiming right towards Nico like a huge water gun with an endless supply of ammunition.
"Wha—" Whatever he was going to say was turned into garbles as the water hit him full in the face. He rolled off of me and tried to evade the persistent stream by running and jumping back and forth in a demented kind of dance.
"You look like a bag of jiggling bones!" I yelled out.
He glared at me and just then, the ground I was laying across rolled like a disobedient waterbed and flipped me over face first onto the sand. I battled with finger-like tentacles of finely grated rocks by diverting the water to me and making the sand so wet that it could no longer freely move.
When I looked up, he had darted towards the trees, away from the water while I had been distracted.
I signalled to the hovering stream of water to follow me as I chased Nico into the trees. Directing sea water away from the sea would have strained me a couple years back, but with more training I was able to do things I never thought would have been possible. Like this ball of water I formed above my hand, like a water balloon, only cooler because I didn't need the balloon part, which is coming in handy if I wanted to super soak the son of the Hades. I listened carefully for any sound that would give away his position. A crinkle of leaves to my right made me throw the water ball to that direction. It splashed harmlessly on a tree trunk.
There was another sound directly in front of me and I threw another water ball only to be met with the same results.
It was then that I felt the earth below me disappear. Now don't get me wrong, there are those embarrassing times that I feel the ground needs to swallow me whole, but this was definitely not those times. I had sunk to my knees like a planted tree when a tower of earth began to rise above the ground with Nico smugly on top of it. "Who's short now?"
The clenching in my gut was just a tingle right now and I sent the last powerful blast of water directly at the base of his foothold and it collapsed into a gooey wet mess. He cursed and flayed in the mound of mud while the water pooled to where I was and I was able to get free. The mud made a sickly kind of squelch as I escaped. An errant rock caught me by the shin and I fell over forwards. Nico took advantage of this and rolled over so that he was on top of me. Then it was some sort of mad scuffle in the mud as we rolled back and forth, fighting for dominance.
Sometimes I was dunked face first in the mud and sometimes I was able to plant a handful of dark brown right to his mouth with a cry of 'eat dirt!' Mostly, we were slipping and sliding while grabbing at each other's shirts and collars.
There were some passes that Nico left open for me, where I could have taken his arm, pulled it back and gotten the upper hand. Instead I left it to foolishly roll around. I know that Nico's repeated nudges could have been harder due to my invulnerable body, but he just shoved me with barely any strength or intention to subdue.
Finally, I was able to use my extra couple of inches and pounds to push Nico down on the ground. "Got'cha." I said, but then Nico threw a fistful of mud at my face, blinding me temporarily. He flipped me so he was on top, but then helped me wipe the mud off my face, probably thinking that it was unfair of him to blind me. Only I got him back again with smearing a fistful of dirt under his shirt. He made a choked sort of squeal and after that, it was just an affectionate tumbling. We rolled back and forth like two puppies with mud collecting in unmentionable places.
Long moments later, Nico breathlessly slumped on top of me and maybe that was what ended our tussle. My first thought as I lay on this bed of mud was to make a mud angel. The forest was quiet—we probably scared all the birds away—except for sounds of our breathing and the occasional squelch of mud.
I could feel a dribble of mud down the side of my cheek like a tear and I could feel Nico's chest pressed against mine moving up and down trying to get back his breath. I could feel his heartbeat beating irregularly through my chest and from the hand that was still under his shirt. One of his legs was between mine; I remember trying to wrap my legs around his waist to pin him. This realization of the slightly compromising position oddly enough didn't make me want to move a muscle. I convinced myself that I would move in a second.
But moments passed and our breaths were regained and we still remained on the ground, pressed up against each other. It was Nico who first lifted his head to look at me in the eye. We surveyed each other. Nico himself already drenched from the water attack before, but now the mud pressed and matted his tight clothes even tighter to his skin. His hair, a charcoal black before was now light brown in places, grass bits decorated his hair. And adorably, he had a smudge of dirt on the tip of his nose.
His eyes drooped lazily and he pressed our dirty foreheads together. It wasn't long until our breathing was in sync.
It was only natural that when we kissed, he tasted of earth and grass and sea salts.
Our fates aren't intertwined. I think you've always known that, deep down.
I heard Rachel's voice say years ago that she and I were never meant to be. I had thought that maybe she meant that it was Annabeth and I whose fates were intertwined. But right now, deep down from the core of my heart right to the pits of stomach all the way down to my toes, I knew that sort of deep connection. When we parted, Nico was dazed and I can feel my own breath shortening from our little kiss. One of Nico's hands gently caressed my cheek in the utmost affection.
And then, Nico gave me just a small kiss on the corner of my mouth and something fluttered and interlaced around my heart. It was so easy to tilt my head just a little to kiss Nico more solidly.
"Wait, wait," Nico breathed, dreamily lifting his head away from mine. I made a noise in the back of my throat in protest, chasing his kiss.
"Percy, stop." I barely caught the silent whisper, but there was just enough command in it for me to listen.
"Percy, what are we doing?" Nico asked.
"I thought we were kissing." I blinked up at him, not really seeing the issue here.
"I know that." He said irritably, giving me a light shove on the chest. "But why are we doing that. You were just telling me about how much you love Annabeth."
"I vaguely remember saying something about 'I love her as a sister.' One does not necessary want to kiss her sister, unless you're a Greek God or something." Thunder without storm clouds rumbled across the sky. "Sorry!" I yelled. And quit watching please! Hello, private moment here!
"So what am I then?" Nico's nose scrunched up because he was confused or it was the tickle of the mud.
"You're Nico." I answered honestly.
"So what, I'm a rebound?" He shuffled from where he was as if to move and get up and away.
And I couldn't let that happen so I pulled back with an arm steady around his back. I scrambled for my thoughts and searched for words that would make him stay. "No. You're Nico, funny, sarcastic, and good-looking Nico, who I can always rely on. I trust you because you're wise and honest. You're likable and," I paused here hoping that all I was saying was making some sort of impact. "And I like-like you more than I thought I did."
Nico's tense shoulders eased a little and he had a more curious expression, "So what are you trying to say, Percy?"
"That maybe you would, I don't know. Want to go kill some monsters together or something?"
By Nico's incredulous look, I could tell I said something wrong or weird. "Go kill some monsters? Are you serious, Percy? Did you just epic fail in asking me out on a date?"
"I don't know how guys ask each other out!"
"So you asked me to go kill some monsters!"
"Come on, as if you were going to make the first move."
"Percy, gods, only you could remain so oblivious. Why do you think I gave you that?" Nico pointed to the black and white, enamel and stone trinket resting at my collar where I wore my camp beads. "I don't give jewels to just anyone."
"Did you also think that those bullies calling you my boyfriend was a coincidence? Everyone at camp knows that I'm completely mad about you."
"Everyone?" I said bewilderedly. I was absolutely sure my eyes were wide as saucers.
"Yes, everyone." Nico said with a dark blush crawling up his neck. "Only you can remain so oblivious."
Mesmerized, I tentatively touched his collar bone. "You like me?"
"Just—just a little bit."
I watched the blush deepen, despite the dark olive of his skin. Absently, I saw behind Nico's head, the sun peeked out from behind the cloud. It was like the light bulb flickering in my brain. "You adore me."
He shoved my shoulder, "At least I didn't use the term like-like. Can you be anymore of a ten year old girl?"
I abruptly froze, "Shit. You're too young! You're not even legal!"
"Percy, I'm about seventeen right now, in addition those 70ish years I was in the Lotus Hotel. I was born before World War II. I have known I was gay since I was like thirteen. I'm more mature about relationships than you. I can handle myself," He suddenly looked unsure. "That is if you still want me and not Annabeth of course."
"Do you mean what you said then?"
"The part where people would die to have one date with me?"
"Well, aren't you a little egoistic?"
I grinned, resting my forehead against his so he had no choice but to look me in the eyes. "Nico, I really, really want to give us a try. Just slowly, alright?" It's been months since Annabeth and I officially broke up. I was sure that this thing I'm going to have with Nico was dependant on these new, and at the same time, familiar feelings I've always had. We can make it work. Where Annabeth and I had failed, Nico and I can succeed because we've already begun to accept and adapt to each other ups and downs. I was the one he betrayed for information on his mother and I was the one he stood next to in the war against Kronos. For better or for worse, somehow we'll make it work.
I tucked a strand of his wild hair behind his ear. I was suddenly gleeful that I could do it now. Just lift my hand up and touch the gentle curve of his ear.
"So just to make sure…Are you sexually attracted to me?" Nico asked cheekily.
The heat of my cheeks was probably enough to melt the mud off my face. Okay, it was just one or twice that I noticed how Nico filled out his gangly teenage form into lean muscles. I was just checking to see if he would be able to fend off monsters, alright?
"I—er. That is—" There goes my witty repartee.
Nico's laugh was joyful and he closed the distance between us. I helplessly kissed him back.
"And we're waiting before we're doing anything until you're legal."
"I've waited this long, I can wait a little longer. I just want you to be happy." Nico said with a winsome smile.
"I am." I said honestly, holding Nico's hand as we trudged back to camp hand in hand. Out of the corner of my eye I saw those Ares' kids from before. They pointed to us and whispered to each other full of disbelief and disgust.
I happily kissed Nico's muddy cheek right in front of them.