Set in the same AU as "The Death God Alliance" and "Escape From Camp Half-Blood." Not a direct sequel to EFCHB, some time has passed between the two, and I'll be writing stories that fill in the gap after reading Throne of Fire, which hopefully won't make what I've written here too far out there.
Zia ducked behind a statue as something exploded. She wasn't sure what, and she supposed that it really didn't matter. The whole freaking museum and every object in it could be reduced to dust for all she cared, now that the object they'd come to find was safely in their possession. She hugged Cassandra's Codex to her chest, shielding it from the fragments of stone that were raining down around her as Carter darted around the side of the statue to crouch beside her.
"Did you get it?" he asked.
"I got it," said Zia, then repeated it louder for Sadie and Nico to hear. "I've got it!"
"About time!" Sadie shouted. She might have said more but something else exploded, drowning it out.
"Time to go, then!" Nico's voice rose above the din. There was a huge crash that sounded like it came from where his voice was emanating from, that made Zia's heart leap into her throat.
She peeked around the statue she was taking cover behind and tried to find Nico, but a gigantic cloud of dust and the unreliable light of flickering flames obscured her vision.
"Nico!" she shouted. "Are you okay?"
"Ouch! Merda! Gods damn it, son of a hydra!" Nico shouted right back, but not at Zia. More likely he was duking it out with one of the museum's stone guardians.
"Ha-di!" Hieroglyphics blazed in the air as Sadie used what Zia assumed was her favorite spell. The sound of stones shattering and clattering to the marble floors could be heard clearly on the other side of the room.
"No problem, Death Boy."
"Careful," Carter cautioned as Zia stepped out. He had his sword in hand, naturally, and moved so that he was right beside her, ready to attack or defend if needed, but careful not to get too far ahead of her or to get in her way.
Zia's heart gave an odd pang that she wasn't really sure how to deal with. She didn't know how she felt about Carter's determined protectiveness of her. Part of her wanted to find it annoying. She had been a warrior far longer than he had. She didn't need him of all people looking after her. She was a trained magician with powers far beyond the norm for the House of Life's mages. The former Chief Lector had trusted her implicitly, had hand-picked her for many a dangerous mission, and Desjardins, the current Chief Lector, respected her skills and powers and intelligence, even if he did want her killed on sight. The idea of her being dependant on a mere boy who'd barely even begun to train in magic was ludicrous!
But at the same time . . . it was kind of nice having him there. He had good insights into things, and he was reliable at least . . . and very easy on the eyes. Not that Zia spent an undue amount of time looking! It was just . . . noticeable. His good looks, that is. And the way he bit his lip when he was sizing up enemies, or how his eyes actually seemed to glow when he was using magic, and how after a tough fight his clothes would sort of stick to his body because he'd been sweating, and show off how ripped those muscles he was hiding away were . . . those were all things that Zia had really just noticed in passing. And she couldn't honestly say that she didn't appreciate them, just a little.
"Grrr," Zia muttered, frustrated with herself and where her thoughts were heading.
"Uh, Zia? Did you just say 'Grrr?'" asked Carter.
"I most certainly did not!" snapped Zia. Then she pointed her wand in the direction where Nico's and Sadie's voices had come from and cast a spell to clear the air, so to speak. The dust that had been hanging in the air was all swept to the sides, improving visibility, though the flames that had spawned during their fight continued to flicker. How, Zia wasn't really sure, since everything in the room was either glass, stone, or metal, but leave it to Nico and Sadie to figure out a way to set even unflamable things on fire.
What Zia saw once her spell was finished did not improve her mood one bit. The other half of the room had been rendered inaccessible by the sheer amount of debris that had been thrown around. Authentic Roman statues, cheap reproduction columns made of concrete, chunks of the ceiling, walls, and display cases, and even shattered remnants of the statue guardians they'd awoken all formed a formidable looking barrier that had Nico and Sadie trapped on the other side.
"Nico!" Zia shouted, feeling panic well up in her throat. "Can you hear me? Nico!"
"I can hear you!" Nico shouted back. "What do you want?"
Suddenly breathing was a good deal easier. "Are you okay?" Zia asked, even though it was fairly obvious that he was. She wanted to hear him say it. She needed to hear him say it.
"I'm fine. What about you and Carter?"
"We're fine too," called Carter.
"You're sure you're okay?" Zia asked, just to make sure.
"He's fine, Zia! Get a grip!" shouted Sadie.
"I really am fine," Nico confirmed.
"And I'm fine too, thanks for bloody asking!"
"Okay." Zia breathed a sigh of relief. "Stand back, then! I'm going to try to levitate this stuff out of the way, but some of it might slight backwards toward you. I don't want you getting crushed by it."
"Wait!" shouted Nico.
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. You just don't need to bother," answered Nico. "There's a staff exit door over here. Sadie and I will use that. Let's regroup outside."
"Okay," agreed Carter while Zia struggled to come up with a reason to refute Nico's plan. She didn't like the idea of splitting up and letting Nico and Sadie go off on their own. They were just kids, after all. What if there were more guardians? Or the staff exit could be booby trapped. "Come on, Zia," Carter said when Zia would have just stood there.
Stop this, Zia, she told herself as she followed Carter without a word. Just stop it. This isn't you. And even if it was, you've seen Nico in action. You know that kid is about as tough as they come. Since when do you fret over the safety of competently trained comrades?
Maybe since I got myself possessed by the mother of the god that's possessing him, she answered her own question. She knew that it was mostly the truth. Almost from the very moment she met Nico, and learned about his situation, she had felt a fierce protectiveness for the boy, the likes of which she'd never felt before. She wanted to take care of him. Keep him away from everything that meant him harm. Shelter him from sorrows, and do everything in her power to make sure he was safe and happy. And she wanted to slice up the face of anyone and everyone who meant him harm, then shove them into a pool full of tiger fish and watch as they were eaten alive.
That last one, she was pretty sure, hadn't come from Nephthys.
"They'll be okay," said Carter, as though he knew what she was thinking. And he probably actually did. Zia knew that her mother-lioness transformation whenever Nico was around wasn't exactly subtle. And her companions weren't stupid. She was pretty sure that they'd all put the pieces together. Nephthys is Anubis' mom. Nephthys possessed Zia. Anubis possessed Nico. Now where does that leave Zia and Nico?
Zia wished that she could have blamed it all on the goddess, and if anyone ever asked her about it, she would. But she couldn't lie to herself. Some of this protectiveness she felt toward Nico was coming from herself and she knew it.
She'd always wanted to have a family again. Always. Having one, one day, had always been her secret but greatest aspiration for as long as she'd been able to remember. She knew it wasn't really fair to Nico to have to be caught up in her weird schizophrenic transference, but at the same time she couldn't help it.
Zia and Carter made it outside first and moved to the edge of the parking lot where there was a clump of trees, to wait.
"So, you still got the codex?" Carter asked. Like there was any way Zia would have lost it between now and when she'd confirmed that it was in her possession back inside the museum.
Granted, Zia knew that Carter was trying to make conversation to distract her from the fact that Nico and Sadie hadn't made it out yet, but she didn't really appreciate it. Wordlessly, she handed the codex over to him.
It was an unusual book, about the size of a paperback novel, with a grand total of nine pages, each of them made out of hammered lead, and held together with a primitive form of spiral binding.
"Amazing," breathed Carter as he looked at the artifact. I never knew books like this even existed. The closest thing I've ever seen was in a completely inaccurate movie that Sadie made me watch. Have you ever seen The Mummy remake?"
"We should watch it together sometime."
"They should be out here by now," Zia said, too agitated to pay attention to what Carter was saying. "Why aren't they here? Where are they?"
"I'm sure they're fine," said Carter quickly. "They –"
Another explosion rocked the night, and flames burst from one of the upper floor's windows, along with the shattering of glass. Zia's heart leapt back into her throat again, and she took off at a run back toward the museum. "Nico!"
"Sadie!" Carter was right behind her.
A dark shape leapt from the window and shimmered with hieroglyphics, using magic to slow his or her descent. To slow her descent. Zia realized that it was Sadie by the glow of the magic.
"Sadie!" Carter reached his sister first and batted at her sleeve which had caught on fire. "Are you okay?" he demanded once he'd gotten the flame out.
"Y-yeah," Sadie croaked.
"Where's Nico?" demanded Zia.
"He's coming," said Sadie.
"You mean he's still in there? You mean you left him up there alone?"
"We got ambushed by Canadians."
"You – wait, what?" asked Carter.
"That's what Nico called them," Sadie said, perfectly serious. "They were eight-foot-tall ogres with pointy teeth and lots of tasteless tattoos who threw around fireballs with their bare hands."
"We have to help him!" Zia said frantically. She fumbled for her vulture pendant.
"Nico said he'd be okay," Sadie protested.
"Of course he said that! He was trying to save you."
"No, he meant that he would seriously be okay, and that he would take care of things and meet us out here," Sadie said. "That boy can dodge like no one's business and I seriously would have only been in his way."
Zia was not convinced, but before she could say anything a shadowy figure landed right next to their little group, so graceful that it could have been a cat, at least until it pitched sideways and started cursing in an odd mixture of Greek and Italian.
"Why are you all huddled right where anyone else jumping out that window is obviously going to land?" Nico demanded, rubbing his ankle. "You so screwed up my landing."
"Sorry, man," Carter said and held out a hand to help Nico up. The smaller boy took it and allowed his friend to pull him off the ground.
"You took care of them all?" Sadie asked. She put a hand on his arm to steady him once he was on his feet.
"Yep. I dusted every last one of them."
"Thanks for that, back there, by the way," Sadie said and released him.
"What were they?" Carter asked. "Sadie seems to think you told her they were Canadians."
"Because that's what he did tell me!" snapped Sadie.
"That is what I told her," Nico affirmed.
"What were they really?" Carter wanted to know. "Because the last time I checked most Canadians were very nice people. Not eight foot tall tattooed fireball throwers."
"True, but 'Canadians' is much easier to say than Laistrogonoffnians," said Nico. "I'm not even sure I said that right. Lysolgormogons? Listergorgonzolas? Well, whatever they're called, they're a race of northern cannibals. Greek monsters, by the way. My area of expertise."
"What were they doing in the museum?" Carter wondered.
Nico shrugged. 'They were wearing security guard uniforms."
"Huh. Detroit takes their security quite seriously," mused Sadie.
"Would you all stop taking this so lightly?" demanded Zia, unable to hold her thoughts back anymore. "Nico could have died in there!"
Nico scowled. "Maybe if I was drunk, or if Sadie stabbed a pencil through my spine as she made her exit."
"I'll do that next time. I don't think you had enough of a challenge this time," teased Sadie.
"Please do. Carter, remind her if she forgets –"
"Stop treating this like a joke!" Before she knew what she was doing, Zia had seized Nico by both of his shoulders and was shaking him. "You could have been seriously hurt! You're a child, Nico! You are twelve years old! You have no business fighting monsters on your own like that!"
"I'm the son of Hades and the host of Anubis!" Nico's eyes blazed with anger as he shoved Zia off of him. "And I am not a child!"
"Twelve! You are twelve!"
"I'm pretty sure I'm thirteen now! In Ancient Egypt that would make me an adult!"
"We're not in Ancient Egypt!"
"And you're not my mom!"
Zia recoiled as though she'd been stung. It was ridiculous how much of a punch those words packed, especially considering that they were completely and one-hundred-percent true, and Zia knew it. She wasn't Nico's mother. She wasn't anywhere close to biologically being old enough to have a twelve or thirteen-year-old son. They weren't even related, not even distantly.
"Nico . . ." Carter's voice was disapproving. Somehow that annoyed Zia even more, but she didn't know why.
"My mama died a long time ago. Stop trying to take her place! This overprotective act is pissing me off, Zia!
There was a long and somehow very loud silence that followed Nico's proclamation that was finally broken no less than fifteen seconds after he finished speaking, by police sirens, or maybe fire sirens.
"Time to go," Nico said. He held out a hand to Sadie, which she latched on to as Carter grabbed his shoulder. Zia, who hadn't been with them as long, hadn't gotten used to this drill yet, started when Nico grabbed her wrist, then screamed when icy cold shadows rushed over them like dark water, dragging them through the pitch black night, only to deposit them on the balcony of the Kanes' apartment.
Nico's knees buckled almost as soon as they touched down. Both Sadie and Zia moved to steady him, but ended up getting in each other's way. They had only just had time to exchange glares when Carter simply swept Nico off his feet and started to carry him inside.
"Put me down."
"I'll put you down somewhere that you won't fall and crack open your head again."
"I only did that once."
"And when you did it, your blood burnt a hole in the balcony."
The boys were still bantering as they disappeared inside. Zia and Sadie stayed where they were for a moment, and since Sadie hadn't followed immediately, Zia could tell that the younger girl had something she wanted to say.
Things were kind of awkward between Zia and Sadie lately, not that they'd ever had a good relationship or anything. But considering that Sadie's brother wanted to date Zia, and Sadie had a crush on either the son of the god Zia was hosting, or the host of the son of the god Zia was hosting (Zia hadn't figured out which yet), that made for quite a bit of awkwardness. And now, having Sadie chew her out for upsetting Nico was not going to improve anything. But Sadie surprised her.
"He's not used to people caring about him."
"What?" Zia looked at Sadie.
"Don't pretend like you didn't hear me. I spoke clearly, and you weren't the one who had explosions going off right next to your ears," said Sadie. "Look, just . . . you should know that Nico isn't used to having people care about him, or worry about him. It's not that he doesn't want people in his life who care about him, it's just that he doesn't know how to deal with them. You freak him out when you come on to him like an overprotective mum."
"I don't even know why I'm doing that," Zia muttered.
"Yeah you do. We all do. Nico knows too, so you don't have to worry about him thinking you have some kind of gender reversed Oedipus complex or what-not," said Sadie. "Carter and I still have impulses from our time possessed. Just last week I had to stop him from challenging the cashier at McDonalds to the death for not giving him the right change. And I know Nico feels some of what Anubis feels, and that probably confuses the heck out of him.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying your British nanny impersonation was okay back there," continued Sadie. "I just thought you should know that he doesn't hold Nephthys' feelings against you. And that, well . . . he has his reasons for having a hard time letting others get close, but that's his story to tell, not mine. Hey, you know, we should get the codex inside since the apartment's protected but this balcony not so much."
"Yeah." Zia followed Sadie inside and made sure to lock the door behind them.
"So shall we have a go at this book now?" asked Sadie. "Or did you want to wait until tomorrow?"
"I see no reason to wait," Zia said. She took the codex to the table where they typically ate and undid the clasps that kept it shut.
"Oh no," groaned Sadie as her eyes fell on the script. "What the bloody hell is that? I can't read any of it. Those aren't hieroglyphics!"
"It's demotic," Zia said.
"Some sort of demon alphabet?" asked Sadie.
"No. Demotic, not demonic. It's a later Egyptian form of written language, and apparently one that the Mad Oracle was familiar with."
"It's also one of the languages on the Rosetta Stone, incidentally," said Carter as he entered the room again. "Please tell me you can read it."
"I can," Zia told them. "If you'd been raised in the House of Life you would be able to as well. How is Nico?" She couldn't help but worry about his well-being, even now.
Carter's gaze, at least, was sympathetic. "He's fine, just tired. I think he'd calling it a night."
"As he should. Both of you as well," said Zia. "There's nothing more you can do tonight since you cannot read demotic. It would probably be best if you rested now so your minds will be sharper tomorrow once I have this all translated." She reached into her Duat storage and pulled out some papyrus paper, a bottle of ink, and a brush in preparation for the work that was before her.
"We have notebook paper, you know," said Sadie. "And some ballpoints if you want them."
"You don't need to do it all by yourself," protested Carter, speaking over Sadie. Then he seemed to remember that no one else present could read the language that the codex was written in. "At least not all tonight. It will still be here tomorrow."
Zia smiled at him as her heart gave another pang, touched by his concern for her welfare. But she also knew that there would be no sleep for her tonight until she had deciphered the entire codex. There could be something in here that was critical to the prophecy that Nico and Anubis were caught up in, and Zia wasn't willing to put off discovering it for even one night. The sooner it was translated the sooner she could help her son. Well not her son. Nephthys' son and his host. But it was for them either way, and Zia knew it was crazy that she was allowing herself to be controlled so much by these residual feelings, but she couldn't help it.
"I'll just work until I get tired then go to bed," Zia told the Kane siblings.
Sadie raised an eyebrow, pretty much saying she knew that was bull, but didn't call her on it. Probably because she cared more about the translation getting done so that they could help Nico and Anubis than she did about whether or not Zia missed out on any sleep. And Zia was okay with that. Her priorities were the same. Carter looked a little bit doubtful, but thankfully didn't press the issue.
"Come on, Carter. Let's call it a night too," Sadie said, thus managing to get her brother out of the dining area so that Zia could get to work.
It wasn't easy work. Whoever had engraved the metal, presumably the Mad Oracle herself, but they didn't know for sure, had terrible engraving skills. It didn't help that patina had built up on some of the pages, completely obscuring a number of the words, and Zia had to clean them with painstaking care, honing her magic down to surgical precision so that she didn't damage the codex.
Zia wasn't sure how long she'd been working before she realized that she had company. She would have sworn that she was alone, but then she looked up only to find Nico di Angelo sitting in the chair across the table from her with various fast food items spread out on the table around him, suggesting that he had been there for a little while at least. Before she recognized who it was sitting there, she started in surprise and smeared ink across the papyrus she'd been writing on.
"Sorry," Nico apologized. "I wasn't sure if I should say something and interrupt you. You looked like you were working hard."
"It's okay," Zia told him.
"McFlurry?" Nico asked.
"What?" Zia asked and stared bemused as Nico pushed a paper cup filled with some sort of ice cream and candy concoction toward her.
"I got you a Happy Meal too." Nico pushed a bag with colorful print on it toward her as well. "I took the toy out though," he said, and gestured toward a row of plastic figurines that he had lined up from tallest to shortest. "I hope you don't mind."
"No, it's fine," Zia said. She opened the bag to discover a cheeseburger, French fries, ketchup packets, and a cup of soda with a lid on it. Fast food, which she rarely ever ate, but knew that Nico ate it entirely too often. She held her tongue about her opinion on his diet though, since she knew he wouldn't appreciate it. She didn't want to upset him again now that he no longer seemed angry with her. She did notice, however, that he was avoiding meeting her eyes. "Thank you, Nico."
"You're welcome. And . . . I'm sorry that I yelled at you," Nico said, staring intently at the floor. "I shouldn't have gotten mad like that and I'm sorry. I'm just not . . . not . . ."
"You don't need to be sorry," said Zia softly. "I was in the wrong . . . and I apologize too."
Nico drug his chair around the corner of the table, pushed another chair out of his way, and positioned it so that he was sitting close to Zia, only just around the corner of the table. It would have been easier for him to just switch seats and take the chair that was already there, but Zia had already learned Nico had his own particular way of doing things.
"Did . . . Sadie and Carter tell you about my family?" Nico asked.
Zia shook her head. "They said that it was your story to tell, but I can guess . . . or I've gathered that something bad happened to you."
Nico drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. His hair was wet, Zia noticed, like he'd taken a shower not too long ago. She wondered if he had gone out to get the fast food with wet hair but didn't ask, because she was afraid of coming across as patronizing.
"I don't remember anything before three years ago," Nico told Zia as he rested his chin on top of his knees. "My memories were washed away by the River Lethe, at my father's orders. So it's not like I really miss my mother, but . . . there's kind of . . . maybe like an ache where I know she's supposed to be in my mind. Anubis says that the memories were washed from my soul, but not from my body, or something like that, so I have . . . I don't know . . . My mind knows that something's missing even if I can't remember what it is. That's why I start cussing in Italian when I get mad and stop thinking, or so Anubis says. Because Italian was actually my first language."
"We have something in common," Zia told him. "I can't remember my family either. I was eight when they died. I have pictures of them, and I know the story of what happened, but I can't recall anything about them for the life of me. And I know what you're talking about. That sense that something's missing and you know what it is but you really don't know what it is. I don't know if that even makes any sense to you –"
"It does," Nico said quickly. "It's exactly how I feel. And . . . I . . . I know . . . I know that you're trying to find a way to fill that void. I think that I am too. And . . . I . . . I don't even know what I'm trying to say." He gave a soft, humorless laugh.
"It's okay," Zia told him. "I think I know what you mean."
Nico met her eyes, and she could see the same longing and misery reflected in them that she knew was in her own.
What were the odds of this? She wondered. Two people whose memories of their dead family members were blanked out completely, both trying to fill the void, who just happen to get possessed by a mother and son duo of gods, and those people are Nico and me?
"I was upset when you were acting . . . it . . . because . . ." Nico's cheeks were flushed and he looked even more miserable than ever. "Because it felt like home," he blurted out. "But it also felt like a lie. Because it's not just Nephthys and Anubis in the equation. It's you and me too, and I make it into a lie. Maybe you inherited Nephthys' love for her son, but I'm not Anubis. I'm just his host. So even if you meant your concern for him, I'm getting in the way of it. And I'm sorry, but I –" Nico's voice broke.
Zia cautiously stood up and very slowly and carefully put her arms around Nico. She felt him stiffen, but he didn't freak out which she took as a good sign, and hugged him gently.
"I'm not your mother," she told him. "And you're not my son. We both know that. But I don't think that changes these feelings that we have, even if they're not entirely our own."
"You don't have to be sorry," Zia said. "I'm not sure that they're a bad thing. Are you so sure that they are?"
Nico was silent.
"I think . . . I think we both want a family," continued Zia. "And we might not be related by blood, but this does help fill the void, at least a little, I think. For me, at least."
"Yeah," Nico said, which Zia took to mean that it did for him as well. "But you know we're both crazy, don't you?"
"I know," said Zia. She stepped back and brushed her thumb beneath Nico's eye, wiping away a tear before it could fall in a gesture that seemed somehow familiar to her, as though maybe her mother had done that for her when she'd cried. "We're crazy, schizophrenic heretics."
"And violent, and possessed," Nico added. Zia didn't know if she should be pleased or alarmed to see that Nico had gone from being on the verge of tears to being on the verge of laughter in about two seconds flat, but she decided she'd much rather see him laughing than crying. "And psychotic. And I think we're kind of megalomaniacs too. We've obviously got god complexes."
That made Zia laugh too. "It obviously runs in the family."
Zia sat back down again. Nico reached across the table and pulled his own Happy Meal to him and began eating once more. Zia went back to work, and simultaneously managed to choke down the saturated-fat-soaked meal that Nico had brought for her. They ate and worked in silence, but it wasn't uncomfortable. In fact, Zia felt more at ease with Nico right then than she ever had before. She was glad that they had come to an understanding.
And she was sure that they'd have spats again in the future when Nico took unnecessary risks, or when he took calculated risks that she didn't approve of because of her overprotectiveness, but she was certain that they'd get through them alright now that this was behind them.
"You should go to bed," Nico said after they had both finished eating. "You look tired."
"I want to get this finished tonight," Zia told him.
"It will still be here tomorrow," Nico pointed out.
"I know, but it's okay. I'll finish this tonight."
Nico studied her, and it was obvious he was debating with himself about whether or not to argue. Finally, he must have come to the conclusion that he wouldn't win that fight, because he stood up and began gathering the food wrappers and stuffing them all into one of the Happy Meal bags. "Thank you," he told her, and it was clear that he knew she was doing this all for him. "I appreciate all your help."
"You're welcome," Zia returned.
"And I think . . . I think that you're going to be a great mother someday," Nico said, his cheeks flushing as he got the words out. He stepped away from the table very quickly, and into the shadows, beyond the light that lit Zia's workspace. In an instant he'd disappeared into the darkness like he was part of it.
Zia was grateful for his speedy exit because her own vision had begun to blur from tears, and the last thing she wanted was for him to see her getting misty-eyed. She blinked several times then wiped her eyes and got back to work. She still had a lot left to accomplish.
But she had also already accomplished far more than she'd hoped to that night.
AN: I hope you liked this. I wasn't planning on writing another fic in this AU until after Throne of Fire, but I got infected with this idea and couldn't let it go. It always struck me how similar Zia's and Nico's situations were, how they lost both their memories and their families, and now, in this AU at least, they're hosting a mother-son god duo. I don't know if Zia's going to keep being a host to Nephthys after they find her, so I tried to keep it deliberately ambiguous about whether or not she's still a host in this story, but in the preview chappie of Throne of Fire, Carter mentions that he still has the urge to hunt down rodents and challenge people to the death as a side effect to having hosted Horus, so it's clear that there are lasting effects to hosting a god and it does change your way of thinking, so how could I not write a fic about the effects of this on Zia and Nico? lol Thank you to sarlovesoccer, because the idea for this fic stuck after I sent you that PM, and also thank you to ChickWithThePurpleGuitar who referenced my fics in her stories.