Breakfast was nice. It was the first time that they hadn't had to worry about the end of the world in weeks. Nico was able to catch up with Sadie and Carter and explain to them why he'd been missing so long.
"Well, I'm glad things turned out okay," said Carter once he was finished. "We knew something was wrong when we didn't hear from you after the first few days."
Sadie punched him affectionately, but hard enough to raise a bruise on Nico's arm. "Worry me like that again and you'll be sorry, Death Boy."
"Sorry," muttered Nico, rubbing his bruised arm. He did feel bad about making them anxious, and it still seemed like a novelty to have people care about whether or not he was okay.
"Stop threatening him and beating him, Sadie," said Carter. "Our whole plan would have fallen through without him and Anubis."
"What about Anubis?"
Everyone cringed as Zia approached. There was suspicion in her golden eyes that made Nico feel like he'd definitely done something wrong and was about to get scolded for it.
"Nothing," said Percy, bristling at the very sight of Zia. "Why?"
"I wasn't talking to you, sea god spawn."
"What's your problem, anyway?" demanded Percy.
Zia looked like she was going to insult Percy again. Then she bit her tongue and blushed. "I . . . I apologize. While I was sleeping these past few months, and hosting Nephthys, her thoughts seemed to have polluted mine. She . . . doesn't care for sea gods or their ilk. Again, I apologize."
Percy still looked a little confused, but less annoyed.
"Nephthys is a river goddess," Nico reminded him.
"Oh. Oh, right. Well that explains why you reminded me of a river nymph."
"What were you saying about Anubis?" asked Zia, not to be deterred from her original question.
"Nephthys is also Anubis's mother," said Nico, in case Percy had forgotten this too.
"I'm well aware of that," said Zia. "I just wondered what you were saying about him."
"Just . . . talking about Mythomagic," lied Nico weakly. "He and I play together sometimes."
Zia looked unconvinced. Her eyes moved to the Kanes, then to Percy. "May I have a word in private, Nico?" she asked once she turned back to him.
Nico glanced at the others nervously, then shrugged and followed Zia off the terrace. They crossed the Great Hall, which was still a wreck, then came to the hallway where everyones' rooms were, including Nico's.
"Um, here is fine, I think," said Nico. "There's no one around. We can't go into my room because they've got a rule about no guys and girls being alone in a room together." Plus Nico didn't want Zia seeing how his room was decorated. Sadie often called his room the room of death, and even Percy found the decorations a little morbid. No doubt Zia, with her misplaced maternal instincts, would be horrified to find him living in a room with so many death relics.
"Are you hosting Anubis?" asked Zia without any preamble.
Nico froze. Then he moved his mouth, probably quite similarly to a fish's He was trying to talk but the words wouldn't come.
Zia's expression grew alarmed by his reaction. "You are, aren't you?" she demanded. "How? It shouldn't be possible."
"I don't know," admitted Nico. Denying it seemed useless now. Zia knew and lying wouldn't convince her otherwise. "We didn't mean for it to happen. It just . . happened. It was more of an accident than anything else."
Zia stared at him so long that Nico started to feel uncomfortable.
"I . . . we think it might be because of our powers. He's a death god. I'm the son of a death god –"
"That shouldn't have made a difference. Thoth tried taking children of Athena as hosts in the past. Other gods tried to match up their powers with demigods they selected. It never worked, not once. Just trying should have killed you."
"I know," said Nico miserably. "Like I said, we don't know how it happened. It wasn't deliberate and we're trying to undo it, but we're kind of stuck together and can't figure out how. Just . . . just don't tell anyone. If anyone finds out, it could start a war, Zia. That's something none of us can afford. Well, maybe the Greek pantheon could afford it, but the Egyptian Pantheon is already against the ropes with Apophis rising and the House of Life being . . . well, being the House of Life."
"And no matter what happens, you'll be right in the middle of it," said Zia, looking at him with sad eyes.
"Yeah . . ."
"Well . . . now I understand why you're here . . . why you've thrown your lot in with the Kanes even though you don't have to –"
"What?" Nico blinked at her. "Of course I have to. Even if I wasn't possessed by Anubis, I can't sit by and do nothing when my friends need help . . . or when something's trying to destroy the world. I can't sit by when that's happening either."
Zia put one hand to her mouth, as though trying to cover a laugh, like she found Nico's priorities amusing.
"That's why Percy's here too," continued Nico, even though he guessed correctly that any mention of Percy would annoy Zia. "He's my cousin, and my best friend. The closest thing I have to a big brother. And he's the most heroic person I know. Stop scowling. He saved the world last summer, you know. If there's one person in the world I trust to save me, it's him."
Zia looked a bit upset by that comment. Almost like her feelings had been hurt, which was completely ridiculous. Nico had only known her about 12 hours. Why in Hades would he have so much faith in her to think that she could save him?
He fought back a sigh then forced himself to meet her eyes. "You probably know this on some level, but . . . what you're feeling isn't real."
"What?" Zia looked at him sharply.
"A side effect of hosting a god is that you start to take on some of their personality traits. Things that are important to them become important to you. Their habits start to become your habits. Sadie and Carter have both told me about the things that have happened to them since they hosted Isis and Horus. I can tell that some things about me have changed since I started hosting Anubis. And you . . . you're thinking of me the way Nephthys would think of Anubis."
"I . . ." Zia didn't seem to know what to say.
"If you acknowledge it, you can fight it. And you should fight it as much as you can. Because those feelings aren't really yours. And they're not really directed at me."
Zia continued to stare at him. Nico wanted to shrink away under her gaze. Instead he kept his eyes locked on hers and forced himself to keep up the front that he knew what he was talking about.
"You're right," said Zia finally. "And I apologize. I hadn't realized what was happening . . . not consciously. And I'm sorry to have troubled you."
"You didn't," said Nico quickly. Then he bit his tongue. He didn't want to say anything that could be taken as encouragement. "It's just that it would get troublesome eventually. Those feelings will end up driving us both crazy if you don't fight them down. But now that you know . . . yeah . . . So, I'm going to go back and . . . do stuff. I'm sure we'll see more of each other . . . yeah . . ." Without further ado, Nico walked awkwardly away.
You might as well have told her, 'Yeah, excuse me while I go hide from you,' teased Anubis.
That aside, you handled that very well, Anubis told him.
I noticed you were cowering in the far corners of my mind during that conversation. Thanks so much for your support.
That conversation was between you and Zia, said Anubis defensively. I had no wish to interfere.
You're useless, you know that?
Anubis just laughed.
Nico couldn't help but feel relieved when Zia left with Amos near sunset. He'd tried to avoid her the rest of the day and stuck near Percy. They'd spent the morning on sentry duty, then let the shabti army take over because Percy was bushed after fighting all night, and Ra's blessing seemed to have missed him, which Nico didn't think was fair for his cousin. While Percy slept off the effects of overusing his curse of Achilles, Nico helped out with some of the repairs. His magic had inexplicably improved, and he guessed that could only be attributed to Ra's return.
Nico also tried to avoid Sadie, without being as obvious about it. He still hadn't gotten her a present yet, and even though he'd finally thought up a good gift for her, he wasn't able to go retrieve it.
He got his chance shortly after sunset, after Anubis and Bast fetched Sadie and Carter to go speak with the other gods and welcome Ra back.
"I'm heading to camp," Nico told Percy. "You want a lift?"
Percy shook his head. "I'm going to catch the subway back home. To my apartment. I have school tomorrow. I should have had school today, but . . ." he shrugged, a smirk on his face.
"I can give you a lift there, too," Nico told him "It's the least I can do."
"No, it's fine, I can –"
Nico grabbed onto his arm and shadow traveled them both the balcony of Percy's apartment.
"Hey, hey, hey!" Percy sounded a little upset as he grabbed Nico's arm, preparing to steady him. "Don't you dare overdo it, Nico! Not after everything –"
"I keep telling you, I feel perfectly fine," said Nico. "Ra's blessing was like a full restore. All my physical strength and endurance back, as well as all my capacity for using my demigod powers, and a refill for what little Egyptian magic I'd used, all at the same time."
"Even so, I don't want you using anymore nectar or ambrosia for a month," said Percy sternly. "Not after you lived off of it for two weeks."
Nico decided not to argue and just nodded. He'd already pointed out several times in similar arguments that the time compression turned that two weeks into about three days for him, but Percy wasn't listening. And Nico couldn't really fault him for it. He still felt bad about making Percy worry so much, and nearly dying in front of Percy, and all that. "No ambrosia or nectar for a month," he repeated after Percy. "I promise."
"And you be careful," said Percy, catching his eye. "If you need help, then you ask me for it. I'll be there as soon as I can get there. You know I will."
"I know. And thanks for everything, Percy. I don't know what would have happened to me if you weren't around." Nico wrapped one arm around him awkwardly in a kind-of hug, then quickly released him and jumped back. "So thanks. I'll see you later."
He quickly shadow traveled away, thus avoiding any awkward chick-flick scenes, and breathed a sigh of relief when he was on the perimeters of Camp Half-Blood, alone.
He'd arrived just in time for campfire, which was good, not because he planned on attending, but because it meant he'd run into as few other people as possible.
Nico made a bee-line to Cabin Fifteen, the Hypnos Cabin. When he got there, he was pleased to see that once again, the three children of Hypnos had slept through dinner and missed campfire as well. He approached Clovis's bed, grabbed hold of the mattress, tilted it, and spilled the calf-like boy onto the floor to wake him up.
"Michael Jackson!" shouted Clovis as he was startled awake. "Wh-what? What?" He looked around bewildered. "Nico? What did you do that for?"
"I wanted to get your permission for something," said Nico. "Then you can go back to sleep."
Clovis blinked at him with sleep filled eyes, then climbed back into bed without actually ever standing back up. It was like watching a worm trying to climb up steps, but somehow Clovis managed. "Yes . . . yes . . . anything is fine. If we're finished, I'll just . . ."
"Certainly," said Nico as Clovis laid his head back down on his pillow. "So I'm just going to take a few drops of Lethe water from one of your tin bowls, since it's alright."
"Fine, fine," muttered Clovis. His eyes were already closed.
Nico turned to the poplar branch that was dripping white liquid into tin bowls near the fireplace. That branch, he knew, had been dipped into Lethe, and was the symbol of Hypnos. The properties of the Lethe water changed just slightly after being affected by the lesser god's power. Nico moved to stand in front of the tin bowls and studied them carefully before removing a syringe and two small glass vials from his Duat storage locker.
Be very careful, said Anubis in his mind.
You don't have to tell me that, said Nico. Shouldn't you be giving Sadie and Carter and your fellow gods your full attention right now?
I knew what you were planning to do, of course. I thought I'd better watch in and make sure nothing went wrong, said Anubis.
Then stop distracting me. Nico used the syringe to extract a few milliliters of Lethe water from one of the tin bowls then dropped three drops into each vial. When he was finished, he stored them all back in his locker and left the cabin.
Nico hadn't strictly needed permission to take the Lethe water. Stealing it would have been easy enough, and chances of getting caught were extremely low, but Nico figured he had taken enough risks recently. It was a very small thing to ask permission from someone who was too drowsy to even pay attention to what Nico was asking, and would rather just say yes to get him to leave than listen to what he was saying. No, Clovis wouldn't even remember. Sometimes forgetfulness could be a great blessing.
He hurried to the camp's borders then shadow traveled back to Brooklyn House. Jaz and Alyssa were playing checkers in the Great Hall, and Felix was playing with some penguins under their table.
"Are Sadie and Carter back yet?" he asked them.
"Yep. They've been back for a little while. Where have you been?" Jaz wanted to know.
"I stopped by Camp Half-Blood," he told them. The demigod camp and his demigod status had been officially explained to all the trainees earlier that day, during the first of several meetings that they used to break up the long hours of repairing the house. Thankfully, everyone seemed alright with that, mainly because few, if any of them had any House of Life ties, and hadn't been affected by any prejudices or misconceptions that the House of Life freaks had about demigods. Combine that with Percy's extremely badass performance throughout the night, and Nico's own not-too-shabby demonstrations of powers, and all the trainees were more than happy to have a couple demigods on their side. No one even seemed freaked out by the fact that Nico was the son of Hades . . . but then, they'd already known he had an affinity for necromancy, so they were probably a little prepared for that.
"Can I come next time?" asked Felix, poking his head out from under the table.
"Sorry, but that's not a good idea," said Nico.
"That mess with Hades almost declaring war?" asked Alyssa.
Nico nodded. That incident had also been relayed to all the trainees. In fact, about the only thing they hadn't been told was how Nico was inadvertently hosting Anubis. That was something that the fewer people who knew, the better. As far as everything else, well Nico felt good to have it all out in the open, finally.
"Most demigods see threats everywhere, because we're constantly being attacked by monsters, magicians, sorcerers, even other demigods sometimes. Camp Half-Blood is the one place where they don't have to be afraid, so they don't –"
"It's alright, Nico," said Jaz. "We get it."
Nico talked with them a few more minutes before heading up to Sadie's room. It was nice now that they finally knew everything. Before, he hadn't been an outcast at Brooklyn House by any means, but he hadn't exactly been part of the team either. He'd deliberately kept a bit of distance from the trainees because he hadn't been sure how they'd feel when they found out what he really was. Now he would have felt silly for ever feeling that way, except precedence had taught him that the magicians of Brooklyn House were the exception, not the rule. But he was damn glad that he'd found them.
He was in a good mood when he went up to Sadie's room, and raised his hand to knock on the door . . . then stopped as he heard someone talking inside. It was Sadie, he realized, and at first he thought she was talking to herself. Then he heard Carter take over and realized that they were recounting their escapades from the past few days, recording it on Sadie's cassette recorder, just like they had their first adventure about the Red Pyramid.
Nico leaned against the wall beside the door as he listened in, not quite eavesdropping since he knew they'd be distributing the tape anyway. He just didn't want to interrupt while they were on a roll. Especially since they were such good story tellers.
He was a little surprised by a few of the things he heard, especially the part where Sadie was recounting what happened in the graveyard in England.
What? You kissed Sadie? Anubis, what the Hades?
. . . Shut up.
And also a bit annoyed about other parts.
Did you know she went questing with Walt?
I was aware of it, but there was hardly anything I could do about it.
It stung a little bit that they completely left him out, glossing over any mention of him and Percy, but Nico knew why they did it. They were trying to keep attention away from him as much as they could, so that no one would discover his secret, that he was hosting Anubis.
Nico didn't realize how much time had passed that he just stood there, listening to their story, but suddenly they were nearing the end, and his internal clock told him that it was almost dawn. He'd spent all night just listening to them.
He didn't open the door until Sadie had clicked off the recorder. Both Kanes looked up startled, then looked at each other guiltily.
"I guess you heard that," said Carter. "And we were going to tell you before we showed it to anyone –"
"You mean let anyone listen to it," corrected Sadie. "And Nico, we know how important you were to all of this, but –"
"I get it," said Nico quickly. "I'm not mad, so don't worry about it. I actually came to give you something . . . I know I'm a few days late, but I was stuck in the middle of the Duat during your birthday, and missed the week before it because of some stupid time-warp stuff, but . . ." Nico trailed off embarrassed and glanced at Carter out of the corner of his eye. He hadn't planned on giving Sadie her present in front of anyone. He'd wanted to do it when it was just the two of them, for some reason . . . but now he couldn't help but wonder at his own motives. Anubis had kissed Sadie. Kissed her. Like what Percy did with Annabeth that made everyone shout at them to go get a room. Nico couldn't believe it and wasn't sure how he felt about that. Remembering how hosting a god could affect the host made that even more confusing for Nico, but for now he tried to shove those thoughts aside.
Besides, there wasn't anything wrong with Carter seeing him give this to Sadie. It actually concerned him too. So Nico reached into his Duat locker and pulled out the vials he'd procured.
"This is water from the River Lethe," he told Sadie, and held the vials out to her. "Well, not directly from Lethe. It's from a tree branch that Hypnos dipped in Lethe, that his kids have in their cabin, back at camp. The water's properties change a little because of his power, so it becomes more predictable what memories will be erased."
"What?" Sadie looked bewildered and made no move to take the vials. "I don't understand."
"Lethe is the river of forgetfulness from Greek mythology," supplied Carter. "The water washes away memories."
"Yeah, I know, I remember that much," said Sadie. "I wasn't asleep when Nico told us about his past, and why his memories are gone, you know. I just don't get why he wants me to have that."
"Your grandparents," said Nico. "They were possessed by those two enemy gods. The tried to kill you. They'll never be able to forget that . . . well, normally they'd never be able to forget that."
"You want me to wash away their memories?" Sadie's voice made it hard to tell what she thought of the idea.
"I want you to know that you have that option," said Nico. "I don't . . . I don't know a whole lot about families and how things work, so it probably seems weird me of all people giving you this . . . But I know sometimes bad things happen and they can ruin a family forever . . . and I have heard plenty of people wishing that there was some kind of reset button. So that's what I'm giving you. Each of these vials has three drops in it. These doses will take away the past five to ten days worth of memories, and no more. So . . . if your grandparents need more help than a doctor can give them . . . and you just want things to go back to the way they were before all that happened . . . you can use this water. If you think they're fine without it, then you don't have to use it. You can save it. It's something that can be used in a lot of ways, on allies or enemies, depending on the situation."
"Thank you," whispered Sadie as she accepted the vials and stored them safely in her Duat locker. Then she stared at Nico with an intense expression, like she was looking straight into his soul. Nico wasn't sure if she was upset with him or not. After hearing about what had happened to Bes . . . well he could see how this gift might make Sadie uncomfortable. And erasing peoples' memories was a touchy subject even at the best of times.
Then Sadie lunged forward. At first, Nico thought she was attacking him. Then her arms wrapped around him tightly in an almost violent embrace, and he realized she was hugging him. He returned the hug but much less violently. Sadie held on to him for a long time, pressing her face against his shoulder. Nico couldn't tell if she was crying or not, but didn't feel any sobs shaking her body. If there were tears coming from her eyes they wouldn't have leaked through his jacket, so that was no indicator.
"Are you okay?" he asked softly after nearly a full minute standing like that. He could feel Anubis lurking in his mind, trying to pretend he wasn't, and it was disconcerting but Nico let it pass.
"Yes," said Sadie. "I'm just so tired."
Nico looked helplessly toward Carter who shrugged, looking awkward. So Nico held Sadie for a few more minutes, until she finally pulled away.
"I'm glad you're our friend, Nico," said Sadie Maybe it was Nico's imagination, but it sounded like she put a lot of stress on the word 'friend.' "And I'm really glad you're okay. I was really worried about you when you and Anubis were in the Duat."
"We were both worried," said Carter. "But we're not going to get violent about it again, right Sadie?"
Sadie scowled at her brother.
"It's . . . um . . . almost breakfast time," Nico told them. "I haven't slept tonight, and I know you guys haven't either . . . so why don't we get something to eat before we crash?"
"Yeah," agreed Sadie. She turned her face away from Nico and her brother and sniffed rather loudly. "You owe me some McDonalds, Death Boy."
"And I always pay my debts," said Nico, relieved that the strange tension had passed, or so he thought. "Let's go."
"Let's," said Carter, looking relieved too. He led the way out of Sadie's room.
As soon as Carter's back was turned, Sadie grabbed Nico's arm to keep him from walking away too, and leaned in close to kiss him on the cheek.
"Thank you," she whispered, and kept her forehead pressed against the side of Nico's face for a moment, turning what could have been interpreted as just a friendly gesture into something at least a little deeper . . . but how much deeper, and whether or not that deepness was even directed at him, Nico couldn't even begin to guess.
"I – uh – welcome," stuttered Nico, his face burning like he'd gotten too close to an open fire.
Stop stuttering, Nico. It's unbecoming.
Shut up! This is your fault! Nico told the god. He wasn't sure what 'this' was, or if his feelings were even his own anymore. The only thing he was sure about was that his life had gotten infinitely more complicated, and that the Egyptian gods in general were to blame for projecting their personalities onto their hosts.
Sorry, said Anubis. And he genuinely sounded sorry. This... we'll figure it out.
"Nico? Are you coming?" asked Sadie. She stood in the doorway now, looking completely collected and cool, and very well put together even though she'd been awake for at least thirty-six hours now.
"Yes. Coming." Nico hastened to follow them.
"Are you alright?" asked Carter. "Your face is flushed."
"I'm fine, just fine," said Nico very quickly.
And despite everything, he was fine. Yeah, the world was still in peril, and he was confused, but everything that was important to him was safe for the time being, and he was among friends . . . friends who, somewhere along the line, had become his family. Together they would figure everything out.
"Actually, I'm better than fine. Now let's hurry to McDonalds!"
AN: Thank you everyone for reading to the end! And yes, there will be sequels! Like I said last chapter, I'll be taking a break to concentrate on school work for a little while, but I do have more fics in this series planned.
What did you think of Nico's gift to Sadie? Surprised? Disgusted? Think he should have gone with the Duat rock instead? Well, I'm sure Sadie will find some use for the Lethe water. It seems like really useful stuff, lol.
If you've sent me a PM and I haven't responded yet, I promise to do that soon. I'm a little behind b.c of other stuff I have to do, but I do respond to all messages I receive. And I read all reviews too, so please let me know what you think!
(btw, MoonSurfer3343, eventually it is going to be discovered by everyone that Nico is hosting Anubis. I haven't decided quite when yet, but I'm building up to it. And when it happens, neither Hades nor Set is going to be happy)